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The European Union welcomes once again this interactive dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General, which provides an opportunity for the Human Rights Council to address this critically important issue.
We thank you, Mr Gilmour, for the report presented to the Council today.
The EU remains a staunch supporter of civil society; a central pillar in our multilateral work. Civil society plays a crucial role at local, national, regional and international levels to achieve the purposes of the United Nations. Civil society organizations and human rights defenders contribute daily to the promotion and protection of human rights, peaceful dialogue and in building pluralistic democracies – all of which the European Union is built. Civil society actors play a particular role as advocates and ensures that international discussions and decisions are informed by what is happening on the ground, that a full range of perspectives are heard and that expertise is provided to the decision-making processes. Civil society plays a crucial role in holding states to account. A vibrant and pluralistic civil society, both online and offline, free from threats, intimidation and reprisals is essential to a democratic society.
The European Union expects all states to respect and protect persons cooperating with the UN System and condemns any form of intimidation, harassment and reprisal against those persons. We reiterate our support for the work of the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights in this regard.
The European Union remains gravely concerned about the increasing pressure in all regions against civil society and human rights defenders, including violent attacks, sexual and gender-based violence, forced disappearances, malicious prosecutions, punitive registration regimes but also arbitrary restrictions on the receipt of funding.
We also deeply regret that intimidation and reprisals against civil society and human rights defenders cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights is a recurrent phenomenon, also here in the Human Rights Council. We underscore that acts of intimidation or reprisal carried out against any individual or group is unacceptable and should be promptly and impartially investigated to ensure accountability and effective remedies and that steps should be taken to prevent violations. Impunity is not an option. Although it is welcome that this year’s Secretary-General’s report acknowledges good practices as part of State responses to reprisals, the report also highlights several worrying trends.
The EU condemns the intimidation, harassments and reprisals described in the report in the strongest of terms.
The EU notes with great concern the findings in the report, including the finding that those working on the rights of women and LGBTI persons seem to be particularly targeted. We are also deeply troubled by the finding that “the misuse of the online space against those who have pivotal roles in the United Nations” remains common.
As last year, the report addresses the troubling issue of “growing self-censorship by victims and civil society actors who decide not to engage with the United Nations, both in the field and at Headquarters”. The nature of this issue means that it is particularly difficult to assess the full extent of this deeply damaging phenomenon.
Could you share any views on steps that States can take to tackle self-censorship, in order to provide a safe and enabling environment for individuals seeking to engage with the system that exists to protect them?