On 19th April, 2016, UPR Info Africa Regional Office was formally launched at a conference held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi. The launch was attended by over 40 guests including diplomats, Government of Kenya officials and civil society representatives.
In her welcome remarks, Ms. Christine Alai, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, UPR Info Africa, reminded the attendees that the United Nations General Assembly created the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2006 as a mechanism that would review the human rights record of all UN Member States with a view to improving the protection and fulfilment of human rights by ensuring “universality of coverage and equality of all UN member states”. To date, the UPR has undergone two cycles during which 193 UN member States were reviewed. Indeed, the second cycle concludes in 2016. Ms. Alai noted that the UPR has galvanized long term and sustained collaboration both between civil society organizations working on different themes, as well as between governments, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and civil society actors towards the practical advancement of rights across the world.
Mr. Jean-Claude Vignoli, Director of Programmes, UPR Info Headquarters in Geneva, informed that in July 2015, UPR Info organised the first ever CSO-Government dialogue in Nairobi under the Follow-up programme which shaped the organisation’s approach. Indeed, the Government of Kenya and Kenyan CSOs have always been an inspiration for UPR stakeholders in the world. Mr. Vignoli shared with the attendees that UPR Info has been supporting UPR stakeholders since 2008 when UPR Info was just a website. Today, the organisation has grown and is collaborating with over 4,000 NGOs in the world; dozens of Governments; and advises UN agencies. UPR Info has organised 150 meetings in Geneva to enhance the quality and relevance of recommendations by putting together CSOs and diplomats in the Pre-sessions. The success of the UPR has meant that UPR Info is presently receiving numerous requests from Governments and CSOs that would like to benefit from the organisation’s technical expertise. As a result, UPR Info opened an office in Nairobi whose responsibility is to take the process to the implementation phase. However, meeting these requests is faced by the challenge of limited funding for domestic NGOs and NHRIs; and lack of political will in certain countries.
Marcella Favretto, Senior Human Rights Adviser, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), noted that the UPR has enjoyed unprecedented 100% participation of all Member States and that, even though such an engagement is something to be proud of, the real test on the success of the UPR will inevitably lie on whether and how its recommendations are implemented, and the impact this is has on the ground. Ms. Favretto concluded by saying that with UPR Info now opening regional offices, the OHCHR looks forward to strengthening its partnership with the organisation to facilitate greater engagement of civil society in the process, in particular in the assessment of implementation of recommendations and in supporting coordination by the Kenyan State as they carry out implementation.
Mr. Jamie Pennell, First Secretary, Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, informed that Canada actively engaged and supported the establishment of the UPR mechanism to ensure universality and impartiality through the regular review of all UN Member States. There have been tangible positive impacts of the UPR on the ground, specifically the creation of space for civil society engagement both with States under Review and with States engaged in the review process. He noted the vital role UPR Info plays by strengthening the direct link between civil society and States and in particular, the direct connection in the provision of information by civil society to States, coupled with UPR Info’s capacity-building support to both States under Review and civil society as this has improved the quality of recommendations made, thereby strengthening the effectiveness of the UPR mechanism. He lauded the establishment of UPR Info’s new Africa regional office as a milestone as it will help ensure that the promising trend we see in terms of UPR recommendations triggering concrete action on the ground will continue.
Ms. Janssen Stijn, First Secretary and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Royal Netherlands Embassy in Nairobi, congratulated UPR Info for launching the office as this was a major step in bringing the work closer to where the demand is. Ms. Stijn reminded the audience of the important role that UPR Info plays in bringing together NGOs to prepare for the review. This enables them to access the right information and lessons learned in order to effectively participate in the mechanism. This helps develop a full picture of where a country stands with regards to its human rights situation. Ms Stijn concluded by noting that it is also crucial to involve NGOs during the implementation phase, as well as different actors with their respective roles to work towards a common goal.
Mr. David C. Jourdan, First Secretary, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Nairobi, said he was pleased to witness the realisation of UPR Info’s presence in the field. He stated that the UPR is a wonderful instrument for global discussion on individual countries’ human rights obligations. He said that in the same vein that Norway sees the UPR as one of its children, Norway sees UPR Info as a one of its grandchildren.
Ms. Maryann Njau-Kimani, Secretary, Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice read the remarks of the Honourable Attorney General. She reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the entire UPR mechanism and to the implementation of all the accepted recommendations and a realistic review of the noted ones towards their implementation. Kenya has embraced the UPR process as a viable mechanism for human rights promotion and protection; as a practical tool to implement the Kenya Constitution; and as a valuable policy resource to the national development agenda and planning. Ms. Njau-Kimani thanked UPR Info for choosing to establish its regional office in Nairobi. This is not only an acknowledgement of the progress that Kenya has made as a country towards becoming a more human rights respecting State but also an appreciation of the democratic space enjoyed by CSOs and other non–State actors.