These methodological notes serve to provide additional details on how the data was collected, and to create transparency about decisions made during the coding process.
The initial dataset used to establish the #EndReprisals Database was collected in the context of ISHR’s 2021 study ' UN Action on Reprisals: Towards Greater Impact, A Quantitative Analysis of the Scope and Impact of UN Action on Intimidation and Reprisals Through the Lens of the Secretary-General’s Annual Reports ', authored by Janika Spannagel. This study covers the reports of the Secretary-General (SG) from 2010-2020.
The dataset has since been updated with information from the 2021 report and will be updated annually after the report’s release in September.
To establish our initial dataset of acts of intimidation and reprisals raised by the SG, we coded cases and situations from every annual SG report from 2010 to 2020. In a first step, we focused on what is now contained in Annex I of the SG reports – ‘Comprehensive information on alleged cases of reprisals and intimidation for cooperation with the United Nations on human rights’ – and what was previously the ‘Summary of cases’ section in earlier reports.
Separate dataset entries were created for:
- Each ‘case’ – defined as a named individual or organisation, an unnamed individual or organisation, or an unnamed group of individuals or organisations;
- Each ‘situation’ – referring either to a general situation (for example, a draft legislation of concern, or the overall situation faced by human rights defenders seeking to engage with the Human Right Council (HRC)) or a pre-emptive UN statement discouraging intimidation and reprisals (for example, ahead of a UN expert’s country mission, or an upcoming Treaty Body session).
Where a group of individuals or organisations was described, separate entries were made for each named individual or organisation. An unnamed case, in contrast, can refer to several individuals or organisations if they are described as a group that experienced similar acts of intimidation or reprisals related to similar forms of engagement with the UN (e.g. 'several detainees who participated in interviews with OHCHR').
In recording information about cases, we followed the ‘who did what to whom’ framework, typical for coding incident-based human rights data. It breaks down narrative reports to extract information on the victim, the perpetrator, and the violation (here: intimidation or reprisal) that occurred. In addition to such information, we also recorded any information provided about engagement with the UN prior to the instance of intimidation or reprisal as well as on actions taken by the UN prior to the SG report. Since unnamed cases were often vague, and descriptions of ‘situations’ did not necessarily include much detail, the type of record determined how much information would be collected for each entry out of a total of 27 items of interest, most of which were single- or multi-select drop-down categories:
- Entry information: SG report year; location in report; country;
- UN body/mechanism(s) that have previously raised the case/situation; date(s) of prior UN actions; record type.
- Person/organisation identity: name; gender; foreign national (yes/no); minor (yes/no); activity description; civil servant/member of security forces/judiciary (yes/no); issue area.
- Reprisal trigger: description; engagement entity; engagement date(s); engagement type(s).
- Reprisal information: description; date(s); location(s); violation type(s); perpetrator type(s); reprisal based on new legislation (yes/no); general comment about the country's environment for UN engagement made (yes/no).
- Further information: further case developments (within original report); date(s) of government response; substance of government response.
As a principle, we only recorded information provided in the SG reports. We did, however, make a few exceptions where the provided information seemed contradictory or alluding to something that was not clearly stated. In such cases, we looked up the referenced communication or report cited for the case – if such references were provided – to clarify the information.
In a second step, we proceeded to coding information from what is now contained in Annex II of SG reports (‘Information on alleged cases included in follow-up to previous reports’) and what, in earlier reports, was a follow-up section within the main report. The information provided here was added to the cases and situations in the dataset we had previously coded, thus allowing us to track cases across the various reports. For each follow-up to a case, the following information was recorded separately:
- Follow-up information: SG report year; description; overall trend described in follow-up; further UN action: UN entity & date(s); further government response reported (yes/no).
- Some follow-up descriptions provided additional information on the original case that had not previously been given (including, in some rare instances, the name of the affected individual or organisation). In such cases, we modified the original entry but added a corresponding note. Moreover, there were some isolated instances in the reports where the follow-up section raised a case that had in fact not been addressed in a previous SG report. We added such cases as new entries to the dataset.
Since the overall trend of a case is not categorised by the SG reports, this determination was made based on the description provided and choosing one of the following categories: improvement; stayed same; deterioration/further reprisals; significant positive and negative developments; no substantive information provided by SG report. The determination was usually relatively clear, except for cases of intimidation and threats, where we coded additional, concrete threats as ‘deterioration/further reprisals’, and a continuation of a diffuse threat situation as ‘stayed same’. If a person was not released from prison at the end of their sentence, the description was coded as ‘deterioration/further reprisal’; accordingly, a release after a served sentence was coded as the situation staying the same. Where follow-up information did not provide any details on the case itself (but instead, for example, only an acknowledgement that a government response was received), it was coded as ‘no substantive information provided’ (even if the quoted government response declared a development).
We have added a filter to select cases from different regions. We relied on the geographical groups as defined by the World Bank (Development Indicators): East Asia & Pacific, Europe & Central Asia, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa, North America, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa.