Summary of our side event on NGO recommendations

On Tuesday 17th September, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and UPR Info held a side event for the launch of a new publication by Professor Edward McMahon "Do NGO recommendations Matter?"

Professor McMahon's paper highlights that Non-governmental organisation (NGO) submissions are an integral part of the UPR, and in many countries, NGOs are picking up this new instrument of participation, hoping to benefit from the UN human rights system for the protection and promotion of their rights. The paper also raises the following questions: 1) how important are NGO recommendations really in this process? 2) is it worth the effort for NGOs to engage in a lengthy and structured process? and 3) what would the representation of NGOs voices mean for the effectiveness and legitimacy of the UPR process itself?

The discussion was moderated by Mr. Felix Kirchmeier, from the Geneva Office of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. The four panelists included H.E. Ambassador Laura Dupuy-Lasserre, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva, Nalini Elumalai, from SUARAM; a Malaysian NGO and June Ray from the Civil Society Section at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) .

The side event included an initial presentation, followed by comments from the panellists and a wide variety of questions and comments from participants in the room.

Presentation of the publication

Prof. McMahon began by outlining his thesis, which undertook a study of UPR recommendations from NGOs perspectives and the extent to which NGO recommendations were reflected in the States recommendations to the State under Review (SuR). He examined the level of impact that NGOs really have in the UPR process. Prof. McMahon noted that "without NGO input into the recommendation process, the UPR would be a more isolated, weaker and less legitimated mechanism."

The paper looked into UPR sessions 3 to 13 and is based on the recommendations contained in the OHCHR's Summary of Other Stakeholders' Information for each SuR. In conducting his research, Professor McMahon used UPR Info's database at UPR-Info.org. Out of 6,967 recommendations identified as proposed by NGOs in the OHCHR summaries, Professor McMahon analyzed 2,448 of those recommendations. Professor McMahon developed a "match level" system to demonstrate how closely the correspondence is between NGO and state-made recommendations. This level ranges from 0-2, with 0 (no match), (1 - general match), to 2 (specific match). He also developed a classification system that denoted whether the recommendations made by NGOs were 1) not reflected in the UPR process; 2) somewhat reflected; and 3) fully reflected.

The results of the study are that 2/3's of those 2,448 NGO recommendations were reflected somewhat or specifically in State recommendations. More specifically, a small percentage (27%) of recommendations were exactly reflected and 40% of were somewhat reflected. Prof. McMahon therefore concluded from the results that there is a real connection between proposed NGO recommendations and actual State given recommendations.

Comments from panellists

Ambassador Laura Dupuy-Lasserre stated that NGO recommendations did matter to the Permanent Mission of Uruguay and that was the reason why they were participating in UPR Info's pre-sessions. H.E. Dupuy-Lasserre also emphasised that this process could work better if the recommendations made were of a more general nature. On sensitive issues, States would have more liberty to decide how to implement recommendations on the ground. States usually accept recommendations that can be implemented in the short term. She also highlighted the key for the UPR process is the role of the NGOs in the follow-up process.

Ms. Nalini Elumalai, from SUARAM, explained that in her opinion involving NGOs in the UPR process is the way to bring change on the ground. The UPR gives a voice to NGOs who voice concern about their local human rights issues. Often, the NGOs home countries and governments do not listen or take into account the NGOs concerns, views, and or opinions. Ms. Nalini Elumalai also clarified that at the UPR process NGOs can bring controversial issues to light, in order to create an interactive dialogue between the different NGOs that operate within the same country.
June Ray, from the Civil Society Section of the OHCHR focused her presentation on the importance to engage a much broader spectrum of civil societies in the UPR process. According to her, NGOs provide credibility in UPR process itself, however, much remains to be done to facilitate dialogue between Governments and NGOs as interactive dialogues remain problematic in many countries.

Finally, a vast number of participants also contributed to the discussion by raising key issues such as the reprisals faced by NGOs while participating in the UPR, the high number of recommendations made by States and the importance to demonstrate the causality of NGOs' engagement on the States recommendations, in addition to the correlation demonstrated by the study.

The side event was a success with a high level of attendance and interaction. The important conclusion by Professor McMahon that NGO recommendations are extremely necessary in the UPR process and are reflected in State recommendations is an encouragement to the continued participation of NGOs.