Baudelaire Ndong Ella ( right ) President of Human Rights Council speaks with Eric Tistounet ( left ) Chief of Human Rights Council Branch during High Level Segment of the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council. 5 March 2014. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The Complaint Against Eric Tistounet

This page contains documents related to the UN Watch Complaint Against Eric Tistounet which was submitted to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on October 6, 2022.

The Complaint

Based on evidence that includes whistleblower testimony and leaked emails, the Complaint documents how Mr. Eric Tistounet, the head of the UN Human Rights Council staff over the past two decades has systematically rigged the system to target UN Watch, an accredited non-governmental human rights group that has been recognized for giving a global platform to dissidents of authoritarian regimes.

Mr. Tistounet tampers with speakers’ lists to prevent UN Watch from speaking at the United Nations, and has engaged in wilful and illegal harassment against its executive director, Hillel Neuer, by instructing his employees to go to internet cafés to anonymously spread false information about him online, and he plotted with his staff on ways to have Mr. Neuer physically detained by UN security in order to block him from entering the Council chamber in Geneva.

Latest Developments: As of July 2023, the UN has refused to act. On the contrary, In the latest Human Rights Council session that concludes on July 14, Mr. Tistounet blocked UN Watch from testifying in debates concerning abuses in Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Venezuela and Russia. In response, more than 100 NGOs and prominent human rights dissidents and former political prisoners — from China, Russia, Cuba, Turkey, North Korea, Libya, Belarus, Venezuela and Zimbabwe — signed a joint appeal urging Secretary-General Guterres to take action, saying they were “gravely concerned by any restrictions on the ability of UN Watch to exercise its legitimate rights to take the floor at the UN Human Rights Council.”

Exhibits in Complaint

Exhibit 1 – Compilation of speakers lists for the 47th session

UN Watch had applied to speak for 31 debates during the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, but astoundingly only received one speaking slot. By contrast, International Service for Human Rights received five slots (out of only eight requested); Amnesty International received six slots (out of 14 requested); and the International Commission of Jurists received eight slots (out of 17 requested). In other words, for these other groups, the ratio of speaking slots received to those requested ranged from 43% to 62%. For UN Watch, it was 3%. The numbers speak for themselves.

Exhibit 2 – Letter from UN Watch to UNHRC President dated July 7, 2021 regarding denial of speaking slots in 47th session.

See explanation for Exhibit 1 above.

Exhibit 3 – UN Ethics Office Memo to Emma Reilly dated October 5, 2020

Raising questions about the independence of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). This UN Ethics Office Memo determines that OIOS has a conflict of interest vis-à-vis Emma Reilly, who reported a Director in that office for refusing to investigate certain misconduct by UN staff, but instead merely asking staff accused of wrongdoing to state under oath that they are not guilty. As Emma Reilly will be an important supporting witness regarding Eric Tistounet’s instructions and conduct concerning UN Watch for the period 2012-2013, as well as the computer algorithm used to establish lists of speakers, UN Watch considers that this conflict of interest must also apply to the present complaint.

Therefore, UN Watch proposes that the Secretary General and UN Watch mutually agree on the selection of an independent expert or entity to conduct the investigation into this complaint.

Exhibit 4 – Letter reply from Eric Tistounet to UN Watch dated July 26, 2021 regarding 47th session speaker lists

In the letter Eric Tistounet insisted that the list of speakers was “automatically generated by the system, based on the requested priority, time of registration and the number of requests received.” At the same time, he did not contest UN Watch’s assertion that it had registered promptly, and he failed to provide any explanation whatsoever for the disparate treatment of UN Watch.

Exhibit 5 – Compilation of speakers lists for the 50th session.

At the 50th session, UN Watch received even worse treatment. UN Watch applied to speak for all 36 interactive dialogues, but received zero speaking slots. By contrast, in this same 50th Session, NGOs deemed “friendly” by Mr. Tistounet were allowed to speak. The International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights each received eight slots, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch each received nine, and CIVICUS received 10. UN Watch received 0.

Exhibit 6 – Letter from UN Watch to High Commissioner for Human Rights dated June 28, 2022 regarding denial of speaking slots in 50th session.

See explanation for Exhibit 5 above.

Exhibit 7 – Emma Reilly Witness Statement

The statement details the impossibility of UN Watch receiving zero speaking slots, by reference to the parameters of the computer algorithm and other lists of speakers for the 50th session that were apparently not subject to illegal tampering by the UN Secretariat. (See Paras 32-37). It also describes the standing instruction to his staff that written statements from UN Watch, uniquely among NGOs, be transmitted directly to him upon receipt.

Exhibit 8 – 50th UNHRC Session speakers lists referred to by Emma Reilly in her witness statement.

Other lists of speakers for the 50th session that were apparently not subject to illegal tampering by the UN Secretariat.

Exhibit 9 – 2013 Email showing that Eric Tistounet attempted to delete UN Watch from a speakers’ list

Contemporaneous email sent by Emma Reilly to Eric Tistounet opposing his instruction to move UN Watch to the end of a list of speakers rather than applying the rules of NGO participation on an equal basis.

Exhibit 10 – UN letter dated November 9, 2021 firing Emma Reilly

Showing that Emma Reilly was dismissed explicitly for her efforts to change the policy put in place by Eric Tistounet whereby ahead of UNHRC sessions, OHCHR regularly handed over to the Chinese government the names of dissidents who were registered to speak in the Council, referred to in the dismissal letter as the “policy of the Secretary-General.” This strongly indicates that her efforts failed and the policy remains in place.

Exhibit 11 – UN Watch letter to UN Secretary General dated July 8, 2020 protesting censorship of UN Watch written statements.

Letter complaint concerning double standard applied by the secretariat to written statements submitted by UN Watch according to which the secretariat routinely and summarily rejects UN Watch written submissions on a range of matters concerning human rights and the United Nations. In 2019-2020, the secretariat forcibly disappeared at least 13 UN Watch submission for unexplained reasons.

Exhibit 12 – Leaked emails showing Eric Tistounet inciting staff to  target UN Watch’s Executive Director Hillel Neuer

Shocking internal email exchange among Eric Tistounet, his colleagues and subordinates at OHCHR, and senior UN officials in New York, dated 6-9 November 2007, demonstrating that the escalating pattern of harassment and incitement to harassment of UN Watch is both deliberate and approved at the highest levels of the Organization.

The email contained the text of a newspaper article describing a case of mistaken identity in which the director of UN Watch was mistaken by staff in a restaurant for a murderer on the loose and very briefly wrongfully detained, on Friday, November 2, 2007. The tone of their email exchanges regarding the report of a wrongful arrest of a human rights activist, who was described to police as “olive-skinned,” was positively gleeful. Eric Tistounet, apparently immediately upon arrival in the office at 9:42 am on Wednesday, November 7, 2007, responded “You made my day.”

Exhibit 13 – OHCHR press release dated February 2, 2017

Official OHCHR press release defaming UN Watch. Neither Eric Tistounet nor any other UN staff member at any point reached out to UN Watch to let us know of the intention to name our organization and accuse us of an “outright lie” in an official communication of OHCHR, which was published online and directly transmitted by email to all independent human rights experts, national human rights institutions, UN staff worldwide, and persons who have at any point signed up for any OHCHR email list. This represents a total of more than 2 million people.

Exhibit 14 – Email from Andrew Gilmour to Eric Tistounet and OHCHR staff dated February 2, 2017

Email from then Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Mr. Andrew Gilmour to Eric Tistounet advising him to modify his use of language in the press release in regard to UN Watch. Mr. Tistounet apparently disregarded the advice. It is also telling that Mr. Gilmour nonetheless recommended a “gloves off” approach to an established NGO that played no role in the scandal itself, but merely commented upon information in the public domain. No other NGO with no prior knowledge of the scandal was so singled out.

UN Watch