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What other tools can you use to respond to reprisals?

Find out what other resources you can use if you face reprisals

Sources of protection beyond the UN

The mechanisms within the UN system may not provide sufficient protection. There are other sources of protection, including at the national level, that human rights defenders may access in an effort to protect against reprisals when engaging at the regional and UN levels. In particular, States and NGOs can provide effective support.

Diplomatic community

The diplomatic community can be an important source of protection, albeit limited in most cases, at the national level. Some States have developed specific guidelines for their missions on the protection of human rights defenders in the countries in which their missions operate. Therefore, those missions would be particularly responsive to human rights defenders who have faced or are facing reprisals as a result of their engagement with regional or UN human rights systems.

Keep in mind:

  • Sometimes defenders seen going to and from embassies may be putting themselves more at risk.
  • Embassies can be limited in what they can do if their actions would put their own staff at risk.
  • Some smaller embassies do not have enough staff to dedicate resources in this area.

For more information on this, see the ISHR Reprisals Handbook.

Other State support

It can also be helpful to lobby States that are responsive to concerns about reprisals to raise cases bilaterally or in multilateral spaces and push States to ensure the safety of human rights defenders. For example, States might be persuaded to raise cases of reprisals in their statements at the Human Rights Council, in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, or at the General Assembly.

Defender Story

Illustration of a women speaking

Cuba – States respond to reprisals

During a pre-session meeting for Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council in April 2018, two of the scheduled panellists were not in attendance as they had been detained by Cuban authorities at the airport (in Cuba). NGOs participating in the pre-session condemned this reprisal by the Cuban government, and noted that the OHCHR and the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been informed of the incident.

Representatives from Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, the UK, Finland, USA, Ireland, Slovakia, Croatia and Mexico all made interventions reinforcing this point.

Non-governmental organisations

NGOs can also be an important source of support and protection, whether administrative, material, financial, logistical, or practical. This could include:

  • urgent monitoring
  • reporting and advocacy support
  • appeals to relevant authorities
  • protective publicity
  • practical help with temporary relocation or assistance with medical or legal expenses
  • rapid practical support
  • emergency subsistence
  • legal advice
  • physical security
  • digital security
  • communications
  • capacity building in security
  • secure transportation and social assistance (including family support)

ISHR aims to highlight cases of reprisals and communicate those cases to the international and regional human rights systems, provide protective publicity to human rights defenders at risk, and work towards ensuring that national, international and regional human rights systems have the mechanisms to prevent reprisals and ensure accountability where they occur.

Useful Organizations for Human Rights Defenders facing Reprisals:

Some options available for human rights defenders facing imminent threats or who have experienced targeted violence include the following organisations. This list is by no means exhaustive, nor is the inclusion of an organisation here an endorsement of any kind: