On Wednesday 19th October, UPR Info organised a Seminar on The Role of Recommending States at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and over 30 diplomats attended. The panel, chaired by Roland Chauville, UPR Info Executive Director, was composed of delegates from the Permanent Mission of Netherlands and Sierra Leone represented by Ms. Kirsten Hommes and H.E. Ambassador Ms. Yvette Stevens respectively, and Shahrzad Tadjbaksh from the UPR branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
This seminar, being the third of its kind, gave UPR Info the opportunity to look back why they created this seminar in the first place. They wanted to address the main challenge that the UPR faced after the end of the first cycle, namely, the quality of recommendations. UPR Info believes that more attention and guidance should be given to the recommending States in order to increase the quality of the recommendations. As Roland Chauville stated, the specificity of UPR recommendations has improved. The aim of the seminar focused on how States can actually make good recommendations.
UPR Info Executive Director took the floor to address the questions ‘what is, and how can a State make, a “good” recommendation?' Roland Chauville explained and insisted th at recommendations should be precise and action-oriented. If a recommendation is not precise, it is unlikely to contain a specific action, thus rendering it of little use to those wanting to improve human rights on the ground. The notion of making SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) recommendations was introduced as this enables monitoring of implementation, gives the State under Review (SuR) a direct action to follow, and a timeframe within which to do this. Currently, using UPR Info’s methodology, only 35% of the recommendations are classified as specific and UPR Info would like to see this percentage increase. Furthermore, as mentioned in the presentation, one recommendation has to contain one single, specific issue and action.
Quality over quantity
As we close the second cycle, States and NGOs have been looking back at what has happened during the past eight years and what could be improved. One issue that has been raised by several States is the high number of recommendations. However, UPR Info believes the focus should not be on the quantity of recommendations received by the SuR, but rather on the quality. The seminar’s purpose is to help States increase the quality of recommendations by giving tools and advice on how to draft a SMART recommendation. Engaging with the civil society has proven to be an effective practice at the UPR, as it enables the recommending State to access quality information directly from the ground.
Practicalities and timeframe for States engagement
Ms. Shahrzad Tadjbaksh thanked UPR Info and commended the organisation of their work, including this seminar which she considers to be a useful opportunity for recommending States to learn how to engage effectively in the UPR process, just before the 26th UPR.
Before the review
Prior to the UPR, Ms. Tadjbaksh explained that it is important for States to have information about the SuR before drafting recommendations. Thus, she highly encourages RS communication with embassies in the SuR. She also mentioned UPR Info Pre-sessions and highly recommended States to attend, as they enable them to have the most updated information. Finally, she added that States should use their embassies as a mean to have information on implementation of previous recommendations, as States must reflect on the SuR’s previous UPR recommendations. The UPR Info Database, as Roland Chauville explained, is a tool that makes this task much more manageable for recommending States of all capacities.
During UPR working group
In regard to more practical aspects of the UPR, Ms Tadjbaksh stressed the importance for States to respect the many deadlines and rules established. If the OHCHR insists in those procedures, it is to ensure that the same modalities are used for everyone and she reminded the audience that indeed, the strength of the UPR is in its universality. She also insisted on the importance of the management of the time during the UPR and the wording of recommendations. For a recommendation to be recognised it must start with “we recommend”. Furthermore, she reiterated the importance of making precise, SMART recommendations. As she stated, “the UPR is only valuable if it leads to actual change on the ground”.
After the UPR process
OHCHR concluded by recommending that States engage further in the follow up of the UPR, by continuing the dialogues on recommendations and implementation. They can encourage their embassies, in the SuR, to monitor what has been implemented on the ground. States can also, as UPR Info mentioned and strongly recommended, engage with civil society, as they can provide them with up-to-date information.
Her Excellency Ambassador Stevens, from the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone, concluded the seminar by commending the UPR and the impact it has had. She believes the UPR to be the Jewel of the crown of the Human Rights Council because States are more inclined to listen to the recommendations made by other States. For every country, actions have been taken. Ms. Stevens invited the audience to ask themselves if those actions would have been taken without the UPR. She finished by thanking UPR Info for their work.