General debate on the UPR discusses lack of focus on implementation and reprisals against human rights defenders

On 29th June 2012, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held, during its 20th Session, a general debate on Item 6; the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). During this debate over twenty States and five Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) took the floor to present brief assessments of the UPR mechanism and process to date. The debate can be summarized into five main themes, namely: modalities of the process, implementation of first cycle recommendations, reprisals against those who participate in the UPR, media highlights and follow-up.

UPR Modalities

States applauded the UPR as an important mechanism for the advancement of human rights and for its success in the first cycle. Moreover, several States including Cuba, Algeria, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, and Denmark on behalf of the European Union (EU) welcomed the incorporation of new modalities into the UPR process in particular the speaker's list which allows all States wishing to take the floor during the reviews to do so.

Implementation of first cycle recommendations

The Republic of Korea, Austria and UPR Info, through its joint statement with Geneva for Human Rights, reminded the HRC of the importance of focusing on implementation of previously made recommendations in the second cycle. The Republic of Korea regretted that the focus of the first session in the second cycle was not the recommendations made in the first cycle nor the assessment of the effectiveness of the implementation of accepted recommendations. Consequently, the Republic of Korea expressed its anticipation that the focus on implementation be maintained, ensuring that recommendations made do improve the human rights situation on the ground and encouraged all States to maintain their commitments through concrete actions towards implementation. Austria called for a clear focus on implementation, for previously made recommendations to receive continued attention in the second cycle and to analyze and assess progress made on the implementation of recommendations.

Moreover, UPR Info emphasized the failure of States in the 13th Session to address recommendations made in the 1st Session in a satisfactory manner highlighting that only 16% of 2008 recommendations were followed up by similar or additional recommendations in the 13th session. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in suggesting parameters for a successful second cycle urged for implementation of accepted recommendations to be the primary focus while calling on the UPR Working Group to continue to focus on human rights developments including those that might be related to rejected recommendations made in the first cycle. The ICJ also called on States to voluntarily develop national plans for implementation and to present mid-term reports to the Council. Action Canada also on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative expressed its confidence that States in the second cycle would refine their recommendations making them more relevant and useful for implementation on the country level.

Reprisals against human rights defenders

Denmark, taking the floor on behalf of the EU, called on States, in accordance with resolution 16/21, to stop and prevent any form of intimidation or retaliation against individuals and groups who cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms. Moreover, the United States while highlighting the role of NGOs in the UPR process as essential to gaining a full understanding of a country's human rights situation, also urged all States to take every possible measure to protect and encourage the active engagement of NGOs and civil society actors in the UPR process. In Addition, Austria condemned the recent incidences of intimidation against civil society representatives who actively participated in the UPR mechanism and called upon States to ensure the safety and security of those members of the civil society that engage with the human rights council and its mechanisms.

Media Highlights

The Russian Federation along with China, Cuba, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Iran and Brazil raised concerns on the publication of "meeting highlights" on the OHCHR website which was seen by many as a breach of the UPR principles of universality, objectivity, non-selectivity, the elimination of double standards and politicization, set forth in resolution 60/251 and the IB text. These States also called for this practice to be corrected or stopped or in some cases to only be published with the consent of the State. India reiterated its request that the meeting highlights made on India be removed from the website and called for the practice of creating such documents to be discontinued.

This concern was later addressed by the OHCHR Secretariat which expressed its willingness to discuss the matter with interested states and as a last resort to remove the "meeting highlights" from the website if necessary.

Follow-up

Turkey and Norway presented their mid-term reports on the implementation of recommendations during the debate while Sudan discussed its strategy to implement previously accepted recommendations. Azerbaijan also called attention to its interim report it submitted to the council on 17 January 2012 and the country's recent updating of the High Commissioner for human rights on its progress in this regard.