Promoting inclusiveness to advance human rights through the UPR

Bangkok, 29th November, LGBTI Human rights defenders from all parts of the world have come together for the 28th ‘ILGA World Conference’. As hate speech and violence against LGBTI individuals, as well as criminalization of consensual sexual activity between two adults of the same sex continues in parts of Asia, it was critical for LGBTI communities to seize the opportunity offered by the UPR to promote, protect and advance SOGIE rights. In response to this need, co-organisers: UPR Info Asia, ILGA Asia, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, and APCOM, together with the Embassy of Canada, hosted a UPR side event ‘The engagement and empowerment of LGBTI activists in the UPR to promote, protect and advance SOGIE rights’.

The event was opened by Ms. Ayesha Rekhi, Counsellor at the Embassy of Canada, and Ms. Manisha Dhakal, co-Chair of ILGA Asia, who welcomed all participants to openly and freely talk about their experiences engaging in the UPR process so that everyone could learn and benefit from good practices spread in the Asia region. The floor was then open to LGBTI activists, UPR experts, as well as diplomats to engage in an open dialogue, leaving “standing room only” for late arrivals. Discussions were held on: the importance of the UPR and other UN mechanisms to advance LGBTI rights; impact of the UPR on LGBTI rights so far, leveraging on the recent study analyzing the impact of two cycles of the UPR on SOGIESC by ILGA, ARC and IBAHRI; the usefulness of LGBTI activists joining a national CSO coalition to work on the UPR leading human rights movements and supporting other human rights issues; and how local communities and diplomats can work together in the UPR, through lobbying and partnerships. Diplomats also benefited from the event, by better understanding the challenges and constraints faced by LGBTIQ groups, and how these impact on global and regional development programs for SOGIE.

The importance of the UPR and other UN mechanisms to advance LGBTI rights

Emilie Pradichit, UPR Info Asia, opened the discussion stating that communities in Asia have not had the opportunity to engage in the UPR mechanisms, often lacking the capacity to build credible evidence to hold their national government to account. Further, there is a lack of knowledge of the UPR mechanism amongst stakeholders, which has provided only limited space for civil society to participate in the UPR. She continued by outlining the UPR process, and the different stages communities need to be engaging with stakeholders to have their voice heard.
 
Impact of the UPR on LGBTI rights so far, using a study by ILGA, ARC and IBAHRI

Diana Carolina Prado, UN Officer at ILGA UN Programme, used a recent report by ILGA, ARC International and the IBAHRI titled ‘Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics at the Universal Periodic Review’ to highlight the success of the UPR. She noted the UPR is a progressive tool to protect the rights of LGBTI people worldwide, however there are still challenges faced when using the UPR.

States will not make recommendations on SOGIE issues, if the situation is not adequate in their own country.

Countries have their own strategies and varying priorities when making a recommendation, hence it is important for LGBTI CSOs to engage with diplomats at the national level to keep LGBTI issues on the agenda. The diplomat from the US Embassy in Bangkok added that whilst a State may not make a direct recommendation on LGBTI issues, they may support in other ways such as funding opportunities. He encouraged LGBTI activists to engage in the UPR to ensure their issues are visible and understood by diplomats.
 
The usefulness of LGBTI activists joining a national CSO coalition to work on the UPR with other human rights issues
 
Ryan Silverio, Coordinator of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, highlighted the need for LGBTI organisations to involve themselves in the UPR, as LGBTI issues are under represented in part of Asia. He suggested CSO coalitions may help build capacity.

Some NGOs feel they can not engage in the UPR as they are not experts

He praised the work of UPR Info Asia in working together with UPR CSO coalitions, such as the Thai CSOs Coalition for the UPR, the Burma/Myanmar UPR Forum, or the National NGOs Coalition for the UPR in Nepal. The LGBTI community can work with these coalitions and become “experts” in the UPR, whilst also strengthening other human rights organisations.

We need to form coalitions, outside of our LGBTI networks, to have a more inclusive approach throughout the UPR.”

How local communities and diplomats can work together in the UPR, through lobbying and partnerships

Ms. Pradichit stressed that CSOs must form close partnership with diplomats at the national level, and not just rely on UPR pre-sessions and lobbying in Geneva only.

There is no need to lobby with diplomats in Geneva too early. Most diplomats begin making recommendations three months prior to the review. The most important is to build relationship with diplomats on the ground so that they can support you before and after the review. The UPR implementation phase is the most important part, when communities own the process and bring it to the local level

A diplomat from the British Embassy in Bangkok expanded.

The UPR is not one single event. We work with known organisations periodically, so it is important to approach us early to start building a partnership.”

Most importantly, he encouraged NGOs to submit factsheets, or short “packs” that outline the issue and the specific recommendations needed. His office receives an overwhelming amount of lengthy reports that do not get the attention they deserve. Ryan Figueiredo, Deputy-Director at APCOM, concluded the discussion with a passionate note on empowerment against disempowerment when working with communities on the ground.

In a sea of inequality, some are more unequal than others.” He added, “if some of us are not empowered, none of us are”.  

There is a need for funders to identify underrepresented issues, and perform outreach to the most marginalised communities. He noted that a sophisticated response, using the correct vocabulary, is required to become noticed by various stakeholders. “The availability of resources” is a form of empowerment, and that CSOs with the right level of support can rise to have a strong voice throughout the UPR.

UPR Info Asia is currently running a series of sub-regional capacity building workshops with the Thai CSOs Coalition for the UPR, in which LGBTI issues, and 22 other issues are represented. When the UPR process is owned by the community at the national and local level, everyone has a space for their voice to be heard. Through community lead initiatives, individuals have the capacity to become agents of change within their country, paving the way for human rights improvements on the ground.

The video recording of the UPR Side Event can be accessed at the following link: https://goo.gl/PsPZel