Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia accuse UN Human Rights experts of breaching code of conduct

Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia accuse UN Human Rights experts of breaching code of conduct

Saudi Arabia accuses Agnès Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, of violating the Code of conduct of the rapporteurs.

Saudi Arabia is accusing Agnès Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions of violating the Code of conduct of the rapporteurs. In a letter sent on August 31 to the current president of the Human Rights Council, Austrian Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, co-signed by China and Russia and nine other countries, Saudi Arabia also accused Callamard of overstepping her mandate “by persistently making conclusions and recommendations to different entities” within the UN system. In their complaint, seen by The Geneva Observer, the signatories alleged that her statements are not based on “verifiable and duly cross-checked information.”

They request that the President “conveys this as well as other available relevant information to the Council for consideration at its 45th session in the form of a separate discussion"  and take "further action if deemed necessary.” A second letter, also signed by China and Russia but with a slightly different groups of countries, targets Joseph Cannataci, Special rapporteur for Privacy, alleging breach and non-compliance by not respecting the rapporteurs’ obligation to provide timely country reports. “I categorically rebut any allegations that I have violated the SR Code of Conduct by whomsoever they may be made,” Cannataci told The Geneva Observer by mail.

“This is a transparent attack by Saudi Arabia on the independence of UN expert Agnès Callamard, simply for doing her job," John Fisher, director of the Geneva office of Human Rights Watch, told The Geneva Observer. "

Callamard launched an investigation into the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi—a case falling squarely within her mandate as UN expert on extrajudicial killings. Saudi Arabia has offered no credible or transparent accountability for Khashoggi's killing and is now lashing out at the UN expert, simply because they dislike her findings." Most other signatories, Fisher points out “have been accused of gross abuses of human rights and in some cases of crimes against humanity by UN bodies.”

For Michael Ineichen of Amnesty International Switzerland, the letters represent an “inappropriate attempt to control the independence of the Special Procedures and the ability of the Special Rapporteurs to conduct their work.” Ineichen also tells us that Amnesty International see them without merit: “Based on our examination of the letters, there is no breach of the Code of conduct or non-compliance with it.” Amnesty International shared its position in a letter sent to Tichy-Fisslberger on September 3, signed with twelve other human-rights organizations. It asks her not to agree to a special debate that might set “an unfortunate precedent that could lead to interference with or undermining of the independence of the Special Procedures more generally in the future.”  

We understand that Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger has decided against a special debate. Member states, instead, will be free to comment on the letters during the general debate.  Long-time observers of the Human Rights Council remarked to us that while member states have often criticized Special Rapporteurs in the past during general debates before the Council, sending formal letters targeting a specific rapporteur on a specific subject is rare.

A reliable source with particular expertise on the HRC Special Procedures believes  this could be the beginning of a push by some members to force the creation of an oversight body for the Special Procedures, which would amount to “reining them in.”  “Any member could throw a complaint to such a committee, de facto paralyzing the Special Procedures,” they explain. “Ever since the creation of the Council, several countries, Russia in particular, have always pushed for the creation of such a body. One has to wonder if this is not what motivates the Russian Federation in signing those letters,” they told The Geneva Observer.