How would you feel discovering that your local or state government had entered into an agreement with, say, McDonald’s to give the company advance warnings of any media queries about, say again, food hygiene or any other health concerns about an outlet in a particular location? If you were a journalist, you might not be terribly McHappy, right?
It’s just been revealed that the US State of Virginia, in efforts to lure Amazon, the world’s richest company, to that state to establish Amazon’s second service centre, agreed to provide all and any FOI requests from media or members of the public, thereby giving Amazon advance warning and time to prepare for case against it. It was only one of the enticements dangled in front of Amazon by various legislative bodies in the US, but, as it was always expected, the contest was really only between only two cities, New York and DC.
Big companies have always been offered sweeteners by cash-strapped municipalities or local governments hungry for jobs and workers moving into the area but what if a national government was given names and addresses of people it might consider a threat? What if that information, which could mean the assassination or jailing of those considered to be criminals by the regime, were made by one of the most respected institutions of all, the United Nations?
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has supposedly supplied the Chinese government with the names of Tibetan and Uighur activists, some US citizens or permanent residents in the US, since 2013according to a UN whistleblower, Emma Reilly, who last October told US Congress members and government officials of the UN’s actions.
Reilly, a British and Irish dual national, promptly lost job advancement prospects with the OHCHR for speaking out. “Instead of taking action to stop names being handed over, the UN has focused its energy on retaliation against me for daring to report it. I have been ostracised, publicly defamed, deprived of functions and my career left in tatters,” Reilly said, alleging that the UN approved a request from Beijing to supply names of activists while turning down a similar request from Turkey for Kurdish or Turkish activists.
The Washington-based NGO Government Accountability Project reported that Reilly first raised her objections to the handover of activist names in 2013, saying that after a request from the Chinese UN ambassador, she, and other staff were instructed to provide information on whether 13 activists were planning to attend a UN Human Rights Council session.
In 2016, the Irish government made inquiries at the UN about the matter, according to the Government Accountability Project.
Last month, UNCHR spokesperson Rolando Gomez dismissed Reilly’s allegations as ‘distortion’, stating that “under no circumstances the office of the High Commissioner divulged the names of human rights defenders coming to the Council.”
Combatting Gomez’s claim, Reilly stated that the UN had consistently refused her requests to cease the practice of giving the names and alluded to cases in which activists had been detailed and arrested, saying “When Chinese dissidents come to the UN to speak out about human rights abuses the last thing they expect is for the UN to report them to China.”
In April 2017, UN officials escorted prominent Uighur activist Dolkun Isa from the UN offices without explanation. In 2018, former Under-secretary-General for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo stated in an interview with China’s state broadcaster CCTV that h had personally ordered Isa’s removal from UN premises.
“As a Chinese diplomat, we can’t be a bit careless when it comes to issues relating to China’s national sovereignty and national interests,” Wu told his audience.
Emma Reilly, isolated and shamed for speaking out, said: “The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights apparently continues to provide China with advance information on whether named human rights defenders plan to attend meetings.”
Former head of Australia’s Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, is now Assistant Secretary-General for Protection, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Triggs succeeds Volker Turk of Austria, now appointed Assistant-Secretary-General for Coordination in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.
It’s unlikely that UN whistleblower Emma Reilly will be promoted to a higher level anytime soon.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.