States and NGOs discuss the modalities of the UPR ahead of the third cycle

On Friday 18 2016, the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) held the General Debate under Agenda Item 6. This provided States and NGOs with an opportunity to take the floor and deliver statements related to the modalities and functioning of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). During this session, marking the 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Council, reoccurring themes in oral interventions delivered by states included the upcoming 3rd UPR cycle, technical cooperation and participation of civil society permeated the statements of the speakers.


The 3rd Cycle of the UPR

Bearing in mind the 3rd cycle of the UPR, scheduled to commence in April/May 2017, some States expressed that it would be a timely exercise to discuss lessons learnt and potential improvements to the peer-review mechanism. According to Namibia, the UPR could be made more efficient and effective without compromising its stability and success. China noted that any measures taken to further improve the UPR must be agreed upon on the basis of consensus. On the contrary, Pakistan – on behalf of the Like-Minded Group of States (LMGs) - defended the idiosyncrasy of the UPR mechanism and expressed its opposition to any changes -“why fix it if it is not broken”-.

Morocco and Georgia expressed their support for mid-term reporting, which according to them contributes to strengthening accountability and “represents an extra tool for an inclusive dialogue”. Similarly, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain called on States to issue mid-term reports to the Council, in the spirit of transparency. In addition, the Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries shared good practices in submitting mid-term reports and together with the Arab Coalition for Human Rights, called for the creation of proper national follow-up mechanisms to ensure increased implementation rates of UPR recommendations. Moreover, several NGOs regretted the failure by some States to provide a response to the non-implementation of accepted recommendations.
 
UPR Info drew attention to the shift in the time span between two reviews during the upcoming 3rd cycle, from 4.5 years to 5 years, and the importance not to extend this length in the future, hoping that a five-year cycle will not have an adverse impact on stakeholder’s engagement with the UPR. In addition, UPR Info seized the opportunity to encourage all actors to engage positively in the process by sharing best practices, holding national consultations and developing national follow-up systems.
 
UPR Recommendations
Statements regarding the UPR recommendations were formulated throughout the General Debate. The African Union, in a joint statement, stated that “effectiveness and credibility of the recommendations relies upon manageable numbers of qualitative recommendations”. The LMG, aligned with this statement, asked Recommending States (RS) to take into consideration the development level, the size of the country and its cultural context when drafting recommendations. As in the previous General Debate, Morocco suggested limiting the number of recommendations to a maximum of two per RS. Challenging this perspective, the Maldives stated that “the success of the UPR should be placed on the level of commitment shown, the resources and capacities of a State, and the progress of states human rights records rather than the number of recommendations received, accepted or implemented”.

Addressing urgent human rights situations
Some Member States challenged the legitimacy of  discussions under Agenda Item 4, human rights situations that require the attention of the HRC, stating that county-specific deliberations should only take place within the framework of the UPR, under Agenda Item 6. During the General Debate on the UPR, Namibia vindicated the more constructive approach of this mechanism, which brings an opportunity to “acknowledge the achievements of the States […], instead of mere mudslinging without an effective outcome”. Likewise, Venezuela expressed its opposition to “the imposition of interventionist mechanisms or procedures which are promoted by some powers to supposedly assess the human rights situation in sovereign states”. Cuba, China, DPRK and Eritrea also made statements echoing the position of Venezuela during the General Debate on Agenda Item 4.
 
Countering efforts by states to employ the UPR as the only forum for country-specific deliberations, UN Watch stressed the necessity for the Human Rights Council to address without delay urgent human rights situations and to seek and provide timely remedies for victims. Similarly, International Educational Development assured that the continuation of the Council’s Special Procedures is essential for addressing pressing issues of human rights.

Technical and Financial Cooperation
South Africa, on behalf of the African Union, highlighted the importance of technical assistance in supporting States to implement accepted recommendations. The African Group regretted that requests for technical assistance are denied due to lack of sufficient funding and called for the prioritization such requests from African countries and SIDS. Pakistan, on behalf of the Like-Minded Group, aligned with this statement and emphasized the impact of technical assistance and capacity-building on the ground.

Participation of Civil Society and other Stakeholders
The Netherlands, on behalf of the EU and other States, recognized the contribution of NGOs in the implementation of UPR outcomes and called on States to provide an enabling environment that allows civil society to continue their crucial work. Georgia shared its national experience, pointing at the benefits of cooperating with NGO representatives in the implementation of UPR recommendations. International Service for Human Rights suggested using the break between cycles as an opportunity to reflect on how the UPR can be more accessible to civil society and achieve real change. Its representative recommended the creation of an institutionalised mechanism to investigate reprisals against NGOs.

Many NGOs, such as the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, vindicated the role of human rights defenders in Honduras, Myanmar, China, Bahrain and Yemen, and called on States to comply with their pledges and accepted recommendations to ensure a safe space for them. On a different note, the International Bar Association underlined that UPR recommendations do not adequately address the role of lawyers, prosecutors and judges in the protection of human rights and the threats they face.