Role of NGOs
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a state-driven exercise. However, despite the limited role during the actual review, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have many opportunities to take part and influence the UPR process.
NGO participation can take five main forms:
- Participate in the national consultations held by the State under Review;
- Send information on the human rights situation in the country;
- Lobby members of the Working Group;
- Take the floor at the Human Rights Council during the adoption of the report;
- Monitor and participate in the implementation by the State under Review of the UPR recommendations.
- Take part in national consultations
In order to write a National Report to be submitted to the Working Group for the review, the SuR is “encouraged” to hold a “broad consultation process at the national level with all relevant stakeholders" (Resolution A/HRC/RES/5/1). These consultations should take place at least a year before the review in different cities and parts of the country and include a broad range of civil society organisations such as the national institution (if any), NGOs, human rights defenders, local associations, grass root organisations, trade unions, indigenous peoples, etc.
NGOs can seize this opportunity to run a national campaign to promote the UPR and bring it to the attention of the general public and the media.
- Submit information on the human rights situation
The review of a country is based on three reports:- A National Report prepared by the State concerned on the human rights situation in the country;
- A compilation prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) containing information from treaty bodies, special procedures and UN agencies such as UNDP and UNICEF;
- A summary of ten pages prepared by the OHCHR containing information from the civil society.
Any civil society actors, national institution, NGOs, human rights defenders, local associations, grass root organisations, trade unions, indigenous peoples, can submit information to the OHCHR, with or without the ECOSOC status.
A individual submission by an NGO is limited to 2815 words, excluding foot notes and annexes. A joint submission submitted by a coalition of NGOs (two NGOs or more) can reach 5630 words. An NGO can submit only one individual submission but can be part of as many joint submissions as wanted.
Submissions have to follow the OHCHR Technical guidelines (updated in March 2015). Please read them carefully.
Submissions have to be submitted to the OHCHR through their new online system. NGOs have first to register on the OHCHR’s website (this registration can be done at any time, there is no need to wait for the deadline to register). When the submission is finalised, one has to login to the online system and upload the document. The new submission should then be listed in the system. Please read the OHCHR's guide on the online registration system.
The deadline for the submission of information is about six to eight months before the session. Late submissions are not considered. Deadlines for the entire third cycle can be accessed by country and by session.
The National Report, the compilation and the summary as well as NGO submissions are usually available on the OHCHR website six weeks before the start of the UPR working group.
- Lobby States
NGOs can lobby States in order to bring to their attention specific issues and to obtain that such issues be addressed during the interactive dialogue in the form of questions and/or recommendations. Those issues can also be raised through advance questions.
Due to the high number of NGO submissions, not all the listed issues are brought to the attention of members of the Working Group nor included in OHCHR summaries. Therefore, lobbying is a crucial part of the process to make sure that issues of interest are raised during the interactive dialogue.
Lobbying can be made both in Geneva and in the State under Review:
- In the State under Review (SuR): lobbying can take place in the country under Review through embassies. This lobbying must be done 3 to 4 months before the date of review as the information has then to be sent to the capital and to the mission in Geneva.
- In Geneva: it is strongly advised to come at least one month before the date of review as drafting a statement takes time and notably consultations between the capital, the embassy in the country under review and Geneva. For more efficiency, make sure to contact the diplomat who is in charge of the UPR or the Human Rights Council. You can find the contact details of all missions here.
To facilitate NGO lobbying, UPR Info organises "Pre-sessions" in Geneva between NGOs and Permanent Missions. One month before the review, we organise a one-hour meeting on the State under Review and give the floor to national and international NGOs to brief Permanent Missions about the human rights situation in the country. For more information about the "Pre-sessions", see here.
When meeting with delegates, whether in the country or in Geneva, it is important to concentrate on priority issues and present for each about 4 or 5 specific questions and recommendations in a short document of one or two pages. This will allow those delegates to easily incorporate them in their statements. For example of document, see the Advocacy Charter prepared by Kenyan NGOs.
Those recommendations should be action-oriented. On this issue, Professor Edward R. McMahon from the University of Vermont has developed a scale from 1 to 5 ranking the specificity of action requested by the recommendation (to learn more about this, see here). Recommendations labelled as category 5 are those containing a concrete measure to be implemented (ex: "Set up of a mechanism..") and not only an aim to reach (ex: "Eradicate.."). It is therefore strongly suggested to make category 5 recommendations to facilitate their implementation and assessment. To see example of category 5 recommendations as well as types of recommendations made at the UPR, please see our Database.
In order to find out which States to contact, use this database as it contains all recommendations made at the UPR as well as statistics detailing the issues raised by each Recommending States. Please note that the troika members have not more influence than any other State and that they do not necessarily take the floor during the review.
II. During the review
- Attend the review
Civil society organisations are not allowed to take the floor during the review but they can be present in the room.
- Hold a side event
As during the Human Rights Council, NGOs have the possibility to hold side events during the session of the Working Group. However, side events the day before the review should not be organised for lobbying as it will have limited impact on delegations’ statement. Lobbying in Geneva should be made 1-2 months before the review. Side events can also be organised right after the review to debrief on the content of the review and the responses given by the Government.
- Organise a screening of the webcast in the country
Each review is "webcasted", which means filmed by the UN and accessible live and in archive on the UN website. NGOs can organise in a cinema or in a conference room the screening of the review and invite civil society, the media, the parliamentarians, the opposition, the UN agencies, etc.
- Hold a press conference/statements
Right after the review, NGOs can hold press conference and/or issue press statements to share their assessment of the review.
III. Between the review and the report’s adoption at the Human Rights Council
- Lobby the State under Review to accept recommendations
NGOs should lobby the SuR, in the capital, to accept as many recommendations as possible. They should also ensure that the Government submits to the Human Rights Council an "addendum" containing clear and detailed responses to each recommendation received.
IV. During the report’s adoption at the Human Rights Council
- Make an oral statement
During the adoption of the report of the Working Group at the HRC plenary session (usually, a few months after the review), 20 minutes are allocated to NGOs to make a statement. In total, ten NGOs are given two minutes each.
To speak, NGOs need to sign up online at 2:00 pm, Geneva (CET) time, the Friday before the beginning of the HRC session and to confirm in person at the List of Speakers' Desk in Room XX the day before speaking. The ten slots will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis. The online form for the sign-up is available here. Prior to signing up, NGOs have to obtain account log-in details. More information about the sign-up is available in the OHCHR Guidelines - EN, FR, ES.
NGOs also have the possibility to deliver their statement by video instead of travelling to Geneva. This option will be given to organisations involved in the national process or having sent contributions for the summary of stakeholder information prepared by the OHCHR. The conditions to participate via video is to not have an office or representative in Geneva and not have individuals accredited to the relevant session of the Council. NGOs need to indicate in the online form that they wish to participate via video. Guidelines for video statements are available here.
- Submit a written statement
As during any Human Rights Council plenary, NGOs can submit written statements under any item, including "item 6" which is dedicated to the UPR. However, written statements have less impact than oral ones.
For more details on how to take the floor or submit statements, see the HRC website.
V. Between two reviews
States have to implement the recommendations they have accepted and the voluntary pledges they have taken. At the next UPR, they will be reviewed on the implementation of those recommendations and pledges and on the human rights situation in the country since the previous review.
NGOs have an important role to play between two reviews. They can:
- Make recommendations and pledges public;
- Monitor their implementation;
- Engage in dialogue with the State reviewed to participate in their implementation;
- Report to the Human Rights Council on the progress by publishing a mid-term report or by making a statement at any "general debate" under item 6.
You can learn more about the follow-up with our "Follow-up Kit".