On 15th March, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review process in the framework of its 22nd session. States, national human rights institutions and NGOs seized this opportunity to discuss the absence of Israel to its own UPR, the consequences of a persistent non-cooperation, the number and quality of recommendations, and conditions for meaningful implementation.
Absence of Israel to its UPR
The recent absence of Israel to its own UPR was a recurrent issue at the general debate. Speakers gave their views on whether the absence of Israel constituted a case of non-cooperation. The Egyptian delegate was of the opinion that the letter sent by Israel to the HRC President on 1st March was not a sign of cooperation while Tunisia considered that this absence, following the decision to suspend cooperation in May 2004, was indeed a case of persistent non-cooperation. In a joint statement, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers deemed the non participation of Israel to its review as a threat to the credibility of the Council while WILPF thought it could jeopardize the mechanism. WILPF further explained that if Israel did not resume cooperation with the Council, a review in absentia should take place. Representatives from Malaysia and Egypt expressed their fear that this absence would create a precedent while the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and WILPF qualified this non participation as a dangerous precedent.
Cases of non-cooperation
The issue of non-cooperation was also addressed in broader terms by several speakers. UPR Info, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and WILPF firmly called on the Council to develop a robust mechanism to deal with persistent non-cooperation. UPR Info and ISHR further explained that participation in the UPR included many different steps such as submitting a national report; selecting its own troika; participating in the interactive dialogue; submitting an addendum; and presenting updates at mid-term on implementation and that failing to engage in three or more of those steps should be considered as a persistent case of non-cooperation. The two NGOs also encouraged broadening the definition of non-cooperation to include cases of non implementation and non acceptance of recommendations.
As a possible solution to prevent States from disengaging, WILPF recommendations reviewing countries in absentia and UPR Info and ISHR suggested referring the case to the General Assembly, nominating a special envoy to resume cooperation or holding another mid-term review before the third UPR.
On this important issue, ISHR asked States to establish multi-stakeholders implementation strategies with the involvement of members of the Government, national institution and civil society. Such strategies should identify the actors responsible for implementation and include time frames, bench-marks, and indicators.
Ireland, on behalf of the European Union (EU), underlined that, while the second cycle should look into the implementation of previews recommendations, space should also be allocated to report on developments.
In its statement, Brazil explained that the follow-up was not limited to mid-term reports, but also other initiatives such as the presentation of achievements on implementation during side events. Along the same lines, Morocco, on behalf of 89 states, undertook the commitment to present such a mid-term report.
Good practices during the UPR process
A series of good practices were also shared by the speakers aiming at improving the UPR mechanism. First of all, Morocco, in a statement on behalf of 89 States, took the pledge to only make two recommendations to each State under review (SuR), following a commitment already made in March 2012.
Another proposal, shared by Ireland, on behalf of the EU, and Morocco, on behalf of 89 States, was to cluster further the recommendations that are identical or nearly identical, with the consent of the state concerned and without reducing their strength.
The quality of the recommendations is also a key point and, in its statement, the delegate of the United States highlighted it clearly: States should ensure that their recommendations are useful to the SuR and the latter should therefore be practical, actual, relevant, opportune, measurable and achievable.
Furthermore, as Morocco, Ireland and IIMA (on the behalf of 36 NGOs), said, the SuR should communicate its position on all the recommendations received with a clear answer.
Both Ireland, on behalf of the EU, and Bahrain, on behalf of the Arab Group, underlined the important role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the UPR process.
Ireland, on behalf of the EU, also reiterated its condemnation of acts of reprisals and intimidation of those who have cooperated with the UN human rights machinery while Bahrain, on behalf of the Arab Group, recalled that the UPR was an opportunity for dialogue with civil society to ensure awareness and implementation of human rights in society.
Mid-term reports and oral updates
Moldova seized the opportunity of the general debate to announce that it was going to present its mid-term report in 2014. The Colombian Commission of Jurists made an update of the implementation of recommendations by the Government of Colombia and the National human rights institution of Australia briefed the Council about progresses in its country. In its right of reply, the delegation stated that the Government was pursuing its efforts to improve the protection of human rights defenders.