On 30 March – 1 April 2015, the 13th round of UPR Info Pre-sessions was held at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève, in preparation for the 25th UPR Working Group (2 – 13 May 2016). More than 50 civil society organisations (CSOs) were represented during the three-day international human rights conference on the following States: Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Papua New Guinea; Samoa; Sudan; Suriname; Swaziland; Tajikistan; Tanzania; and Thailand. In just over one month, these States, alongside Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, will undergo their second-cycle UPR review.
UPR Info had the pleasure of welcoming Shahrzad Tadjbakhsh, Chief of the UPR Branch of the Human Rights Council, on the first day of the event. Ms. Tadjbakhsh opened the Pre-sessions with an address to CSOs, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and Permanent Missions on the role of the UPR for the advancement of human rights. She encouraged all actors to work together, referring to examples where CSO have successfully supported States in areas where they can share their know-how, while acknowledging that these collaborations require very active and continued dialogue. Finally, Ms. Tadjbakhsh highlighted the role of civil society within the UPR and praised the CSO’s determination to be the ears and eyes of the UPR process throughout its implementation.
On the second day at the beginning of the Pre-Session on Sudan, Roland Chauville, Executive Director of UPR Info, expressed regret and deep concern that four human rights defenders (HRDs) from Sudan had been banned from travelling to Geneva to participate in the UPR Pre-session.; One of the defenders was due to speak on the panel on behalf of a coalition of Sudanese civil society organisations named “Our Rights Group”. Another defender who was due to speak at the Pre-session decided not to risk travelling to Geneva after the crackdown on his colleagues. UPR Info strongly condemned this restriction on civil society participation in the UPR process, and called on Sudan to remove the travel bans and to ensure that NGOs can freely participate in the UPR process. UPR Info further urged all States to raise this issue bilaterally with the State, as well as during Sudan's UPR in May 2016.
This round of Pre-Sessions was of particular significance for the HRDs of Tanzania and Thailand, two of our partner countries for the Follow-up programme. In preparation for the Pre-Sessions, the civil society representatives worked closely with our Africa and Asia regional offices respectively, which provided training on the UPR mechanism and advocacy strategies. In addition, prior to the conference in Geneva, our regional representatives supported in-country Pre-Sessions in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Bangkok, Thailand. These in-country meetings made it possible for the Tanzanian and Thai activists to meet with diplomats based in the capital, whom in turn could relay the information to their respective States.
During the three days of Pre-sessions, CSOs and NHRIs from eleven States delivered statements. The speakers briefed the Permanent Missions on both the current human rights situation and the implementation of first cycle recommendations ahead of the UPR in May. The conference enabled civil society to update diplomatic missions in Geneva on a variety of human rights issues on the ground. A wide variety of issues were raised over the three days including, but not limited to: land rights, the right to housing, women’s rights, limitations to freedom of expression, assembly and association, LGBTI rights, independence of the judiciary and interference with the duties of lawyers, the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, the rights of the child and minority rights. While acknowledging the areas in which States have made progress since their first UPR in 2011, CSOs and NHRIs highlighted persisting human rights challenges where governments have not done enough to ensure the effective implementation of their accepted recommendations.
The conference also offered the occasion for NGOs and NHRIs to directly lobby the State representatives on human rights issues that often go unnoticed. This is especially the case for civil society from smaller States with reduced representation in international forums, such as the Small Island Developing States. For example, during the Pre-session of Papua New Guinea, the human rights consequences of the mining industry was addressed by the panel speakers, while during the discussion on Suriname land rights of indigenous people was also highlighted. In the case of the Pre-session of Samoa, participants were briefed about the situation of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in the State.
The Pre-session speakers not only gave accounts of the human rights situation on the ground, but also presented Permanent Missions with draft recommendations to take into consideration. In this regard, NGOs hope to see their issues and concerns translated directly into recommendations that will be made in Room XX of Palais des Nations in May 2016. For their part, the Recommending States broadly praised and acknowledged the efforts by all CSOs and NHRIs in preparing and delivering their statements.