NEW YORK, October 6, 2022 — The top official at the UN Human Rights Council stands accused of ordering his staff to manipulate speakers lists and engage in other illicit activities to block speeches by a watchdog that is the UN body’s staunchest critic, according to explosive new testimony from a UN whistle-blower, and from the release of a first tranche of leaked internal emails.
In a 30-page legal complaint filed in New York today with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the independent non-governmental organization UN Watch charged Eric Tistounet, the chief of the Human Rights Council branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with “systematic harassment, censorship and discrimination.”
Tistounet, a French national, helped negotiate the creation of the council in 2006, has overseen its running ever since, and is considered its institutional memory and central figure.
UN Watch targeted for being critic of UNHRC
Tistounet, 61, is accused of instructing his staff at the UN Human Rights Council to systematically discriminate against UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, an outspoken critic of the council.
Based in Geneva for 18 years, the Canadian-born human rights advocate was the one of the first to call out the supposedly reformed council’s dysfunctionalities, double standards, and dominance by dictatorships, in op-eds published in the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN.
In March 2007, Neuer addressed the council to say that it was “turning Eleanor Roosevelt’s dream into a nightmare.” When the Mexican chairman responded by castigating Neuer, and threatened to strike his speech from the records, video of the exchange went viral on YouTube, and was reported in newspapers worldwide.
More than any other group at the Human Rights Council, UN Watch also routinely brings high profile dissidents to address the council, from China, Cuba, Libya, Russia and elsewhere. Many of the regimes have in turn pressured Tistounet’s office, as China recently did when UN Watch hosted Hong Kong activist Tania Chan.
Tistounet has separately been accused of putting in place a UN policy of handing over to China in advance the names of dissidents registered to speak at the UNHRC.
Tistounet was obsessed with trying to cancel UN Watch speeches, ordered staff to manipulate lists
Increasingly, UN Watch began to be targeted by Tistounet. According to new testimony by UN whistle-blower Emma Reilly — a former UN human rights officer, lawyer and Cambridge University graduate, who worked for Tistounet when she was in charge of overseeing speeches by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — Eric Tistounet “repeatedly instructed me to move UN Watch further down the list for interactive dialogues and panel discussions, such that they would fall below the maximum number of NGO participants and lose the opportunity to speak.”
According to Reilly, Tistounet was determined to preserve his power to remove UN Watch from lists.
When she proposed to publish NGO lists online, to save the activists from making repeated trips to the UN to find out their placement and schedule, he turned it down.
“Mr. Tistounet refused this suggestion, explicitly on the basis that it would prevent him from manipulating the lists. He once again referred only to UN Watch as an NGO that he would move down a list to prevent them from
taking the floor.”
Other methods used by Tistounet to to cancel UN Watch’s speaking slots included his creation of a fictitious requirement that the texts of speeches be submitted in advance, and his orders for staff to suddenly cut off the NGO portion of a debate, just when it was the turn of UN Watch to take the floor, Reilly reveals about her former boss.
Tistounet handed UN Watch speeches in advance to his friend Jean Ziegler, the UNHRC expert who created the Qaddafi Human Rights Prize
In a June 2006 report, UN Watch exposed the role of UNHRC expert Jean Ziegler in co-creating and managing the Muammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize, an award that was given to dictator Hugo Chavez, antisemite Louis Farrkhan and convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, in the same year that Ziegler himself won the prize.
According to Emma Reilly, “Mr. Tistounet extended his targeting of UN Watch to his personal friend Mr. Jean Ziegler, whose UN appointments have often been criticized by UN Watch. Uniquely among mandate holders, Mr. Ziegler would frequently come to the NGO liaison office and request to see lists of speakers to verify whether UN Watch would take the floor.”
“He would also request advance copies of UN Watch speeches, which we were instructed to provide. No other NGO was targeted in this manner, and no other mandate holder was accorded this favor.”
Leaked emails show Tistounet instructed staff to use internet café to anonymously post negative material against UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer
According to disturbing internal emails from the first tranche of those leaked to UN Watch by other concerned UN colleagues of Tistounet, when the latter learned in November 2007 that Hillel Neuer was the victim of a wrongful arrest by U.S. police in a case of mistaken identity, his response, copied to the team of some 50 UNHRC staff, was “You made my day.”
Tistounet wrote to his staff: “Question is: how to put it on youtube without leaving a trace. It would be nice if someone (obviously from outside the UN, and as was suggested recently from an internet café for instance) could place it discreetly next to his videos concerning the Council…”
Tistounet dreamed of Interpol arrest warrant against Neuer,
told staff to violate rules to comply with it if it came
Tistounet also wrote to his UNHRC staff:
“Forgot to mention: Should the individual below [Hillel Neuer] be subjected to an Interpol arrest warrant (so called ‘red notices’), do not hesitate to let us know. I have the feeling that in this specific circumstance we may ponder about the validity of these Interpol tools in a less dogmatic manner. It may be the case that together with the civil society unit we may forget to raise our usual objection to the Security Unit when they will exclude him from the list of those authorized to enter our premises… Cheers, eric”
In other words, the chief of staff to the world’s highest human rights body instructed his staff to violate their own UN procedures to comply with any false Interpol arrest warrant that might be filed against Neuer, in order, he hoped, to block his entry to UN premises in Geneva, and thereby prevent him from testifying before the Human Rights Council plenary.
Tistounet personally intercepted UN Watch speeches, drafted unjustified reprimands for chair to read, tampered with the time clock to run out UN Watch’s speaking time
Tistounet personally obtained all UN Watch speeches in advance, so he could draft unjustified reprimands for the chair to read out afterwards.
“Mr. Tistounet had a standing instruction that when a statement was received in advance from UN Watch, it was to be given directly to him either in his office or on the podium, and placed on the desk of his office if he could not be immediately located. This instruction did not exist for any other NGO,” said Reilly.
“On occasion, when a UN Watch speech was received in advance, Mr. Tistounet would request that I draft new language for the President to give a false impression that the speeches broke the rules.”
“He was fully aware that his advice to successive Presidents to reprimand UN
Watch for disobeying rules was false, and that no rule was in fact being broken.”
In addition, when he could get away with it, Tistounet manipulated the clock to remove time from UN Watch.
“When points of order are made during speeches, the NGO liaison and Secretary are responsible for pressing a button on the podium to pause the NGO speaking time. it.”
“Mr. Tistounet issued a standing instruction that the button was not to be pressed during UN Watch speeches, but instead that their speaking time should be deemed to continue during the point of order. This instruction applied only to UN Watch.”
“Mr. Tistounet made clear on a number of occasions that his ultimate aim was to exclude Mr. Neuer and UN Watch more generally from UN premises.”
After Tistounet Manipulated Speakers List of June 2022 Session, UN Watch Registered for 36 Debates, Received 0
In its complaint, UN Watch produced the lists of speakers for the UN’s June 2021 and June 2022 session, to demonstrate how Mr. Tistounet clearly tampered with the results generated by the computerized registration system in order to prevent UN Watch from speaking.
In the 50th session held in June and July of 2022, UN Watch registered promptly for 36 debates with UN experts known as interactive dialogues, yet received zero. Other NGOs based in Geneva that requested far less debates received as many as 10 speaking slots.
Tistounet also allowed several Chinese regime front groups to use the slots denied to UN Watch.
UN Watch Demands Independent Investigation
UN Watch is demanding that the Secretary General create an independent investigation, and that he immediately suspend Mr. Tistounet from his functions for the duration of the investigation.
“We’re calling for remedial action to ensure that UN Watch may once again exercise its right to speak at the UN Human Rights Council on an equal basis with all other NGOs,” said Neuer.
“There will be resistance from the bureaucracy as well as from dictatorships like China who despise UN Watch, and so we arre calling on all democracies including the US, UK, Germany, France, Canada and others to publicly express their support by calling on Secretary General Guterres to launch an independent investigation,” Neuer added.