GENEVA, June 8, 2023 — UN Watch today sent an observer to the UN’s internal court to hear the evidence of whistleblower Emma Reilly.
The legal arguments were closed to the public, but it was shocking that, as Ms. Reilly presented apparently undisputed evidence of the UN passing names of human rights activists to China, it was the judge and not the UN’s lawyer who kept interrupting her, claiming this was irrelevant.
UN Watch asked Ms. Reilly about this after the hearing. “My entire defense is that because there is no dispute in court that the UN has an ongoing policy of handing names of activists to China on request, and the UN has repeatedly lied about that policy in public and to member states, I had a legal obligation to report the ongoing danger to people who come to the UN to testify about China’s human rights abuses,” said Reilly, who is a human rights lawyer.
“The judge essentially tried to stop my lawyer from even presenting the defense that is laid out in all of the legal documents. Frankly, she acted as counsel for the UN, not an independent arbiter of the compliance of their actions with their own rules and those set by member states. I knew the UNDT is biased, but that was extreme even by their low standards.”
Based on the disturbing evidence heard today, UN Watch calls on High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to immediately order an independent, external investigation into UN Secretariat staff deliberately endangering human rights activists by giving their names to China.
Ms. Reilly detailed the UN response to her repeated internal reports, backed by written evidence, to successive High Commissioners and to the present Secretary-General since 2013. Based on evidence in the case, Ms. Reilly stated that the entire response of the UN to her reports, now for a full decade, has been a single conversation of under five minutes between Mr. Mohamed al Alnsour and Mr. Eric Tistounet (both still employed by OHCHR), who had ordered names handed over.
Ms. Reilly referred to the UN’s sworn position in her previous court case, that the UN was required in all cases to hand over names of human rights activists to China, with no discretion whatsoever. She had previously thought her reports may have worked, but said it was this position of the UN in court in 2019 that prompted her to go through hundreds of documents in the UN’s internal databases to identify the victims of the policy, sending their names to their states of citizenship so that they could be warned. The UN then charged her for misconduct for trying to keep them safe when the UN itself would not.
Ms. Reilly’s lawyer referred to an internal email from Mr. Tistounet, prior to OHCHR issuing a press release that denied the policy of handing over names and attacked Ms. Reilly. In that email, Mr. Tistounet called Ms. Reilly a liar, and said no names were handed over. Mr. Tistounet selectively quoted from an internal email he claimed proved this. The lawyer then referred to the full email, pointing out that it explicitly and unambiguously said names had been handed to the Chinese delegation by OHCHR that morning on Mr. Tistounet’s instruction. This selective quotation to reverse the meaning of the email sounded to UN Watch like the action of a guilty man.
Ms. Reilly said she provided all of this documentary evidence on numerous occasions to senior UN officials and UN oversight mechanisms. No investigation whatsoever was ever conducted. She criticized the attitude of UN managers, noting that an older man calling a woman a liar without any evidence was apparently all that was required to stop the then Deputy High Commissioner Kate Gilmore and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein from investigating criminal complicity of their own staff in the human rights abuses perpetrated against the family members of the people betrayed by their office to China.
UN Watch has already called for Mr. Tistounet’s suspension related to his malicious acts to prevent us from speaking out about human rights abuses in China and elsewhere, and his underhanded stratagems to try and sabotage and discredit UN Watch. That serious abuse of authority prevented the hearing of testimony of human rights activists.
Ms. Reilly’s voice broke as she detailed in court the acts of torture perpetrated against relatives of persons whose names in fact appeared on China’s lists. It was notable that the UN Counsel did not deny that the UN’s position is exactly as stated in open court by Ms. Reilly. She has explained how Mr. Tisotunet’s apparent action of handing over names of dissidents to the Chinese government since 2006, and into the present, has actively exposed individuals to human rights abuses. Accordingly, Mr. Tistounet must be immediately relieved of his functions.
All of UN Watch’s calls for clarification and investigation of this horrific practice have gone unanswered. If High Commissioner for Human Rights Türk and Secretary-General Guterres do not immediately act on the documentary evidence apparently accepted by their own lawyer and order an immediate, independent investigation, member states must act immediately to ensure no names are handed over for the forthcoming June session of the Human Rights Council and to conduct an external investigation.
This could not be more serious. The UN Human Rights Office should not itself be complicit in human rights abuses. The only action the UN Secretary-General appears to have taken in the face of overwhelming evidence of collusion in human rights abuses is to remove the one ethical staff member who tried to stop it.