On Friday evening of September 20th, 2013 the Human Rights Council ("HRC") concluded its adoption of the reports of the Sixteenth (16th) Working Group Session of the Universal Periodic Review ("UPR"). Due to extensive discussion during the adoption process, the HRC held the general debate under item 6 of its agenda, on Monday morning September 23, 2013. Member States, Observer States and NGOs discussed a wide range of issues that included: 1) the reaffirmation of following UPR guidelines and procedures; 2) calls for cooperation from Israel on its non-compliance with the UPR; 3) Voluntary Trust Funds of the OHCHR and Technical Assistance; 5) a controversy on what NGOs are allowed to speak about during the General Debate; and 6) follow up on recommendations.
The HRC President reaffirms the established processes and procedures of the UPR
The main topic of discussion was the support given by almost all speaking member states to the HRC President's letter from September 18th, 2013. This letter provided clarity to the following of established UPR procedures and guidelines. The President's letter clarified that all recommendations needed to be included in the body of the report and a State under Review needed to respond to all recommendations made. The letter comes after much controversy surrounding the adoption of footnotes in the working report of Russia. The Lithuanian delegation presented a strong supporting statement to the President's letter on behalf of the European Union ("EU"). The statement stressed that "in accordance with the existing rules and practice, all recommendations made during the interactive dialogue needed to be included and noted as such in the report of the Working Group." States supporting the President's letter included: Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania (on behalf of the EU), Maldives, the Netherlands, and Uruguay. UPR Info also presented a statement during the general debate supporting and thanking the President for his clarifications regarding UPR procedures and practices.
States and NGOs call for the Cooperation and Compliance of Israel
Malaysia, Maldives, Venezuela, all called for the cooperation and compliance of Israel in the UPR process. All noted their concern that Israel's choice to not to participate in its Country review scheduled for January of 2013 undermines and is detrimental to the universality of the UPR mechanism. Malaysia took the view that Israel's choice not to participate was in non-compliance with UN Resolution 5/1 which was a grave breach not to be addressed lightly. The Maldives stated that "there must be appropriate measures to move forward with the review if a State decides not to participate." In essence they call on the HRC to implement measures that would allow for the review of Israel (and any other members states in non-compliance) in absentia. The Maldives also urged the participation of all states to preserve the credibility of the process. Venezuela noted that persistent refusal to participate in the UPR is of the utmost seriousness and that the delegation will support the ongoing negotiations with Israel ensuring Israel fulfils its reporting obligations. Amnesty International noted with approval that Israel is scheduled for a review on October 29th, 2013 and hopes that Israel will fully comply and participate.
Voluntary Trust Funds of the OHCHR and Technical Assistance
Russia, Morocco, and the Maldives all asked for an accounting of how their donations to the Voluntary Trust Funds of the OHCHR were being used. Russia and Morocco noted the importance of the UPR Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance to give technical assistance to small and developing countries in the implementation of adopted recommendations. As a main contributor to the fund Russia asked to be informed of the dates of the seminars that the OHCHR conducts with small and developing nations in educating these nations in drafting their UPR reports. Morocco stated they contributed approximately $500,000 to the fund and would like to know what their funds are being used for. The Maldives highlighted the value of the UPR Trust Fund for Participation in its ability to encourage member states to interact and participate in the UPR process through technical assistance in the education of drafting and developing a country report.
Controversy in NGO Representative Statements
A bit of controversy arose during the general debate when Cuba asked for a point of Order. Cuba requested the President make a ruling limiting NGO statements to only those that were "on topic." Cuba interrupted the UN Watch representative who was speaking about the high number of NGO submissions to the OHCHR on behalf of Cuba (454 submissions were made). Venezuela, China, Egypt, and Iran all took to the floor to support the request of Cuba, while the U.S. and the U.K. both objected to this limitation on NGO speakers. The U.K. noted that "all registered NGOs should be allowed to speak" their piece "regardless if a country disagrees with an NGO statements." The U.S. also noted that in fact the UN Watch representative was speaking about the UPR process which is a topic related to Human Rights and the general debate under item 6 of the HRC's agenda. The HRC President did rule against UN Watch, stating that NGOs must follow procedures and that all statements should be limited to the UPR process.
Follow-up on Recommendations
The importance of the mid-term reports to the UPR process was again highlighted by many countries. Austria, Belgium and Sudan underscored the importance of such reports by announcing their submissions of stated mid-term reports. The latter explained that 75% of their accepted recommendations have been implemented. The Republic of Moldova announced its intention to submit a midterm report in 2014 and Solomon Islands provided updates on the implementation of the recommendations received during its first UPR and notably the submission of three periodic reports to treaty bodies.
Webcast of the General debate