UPR Info wraps up a dynamic first round of "Pre-Sessions"

April 4th marked the conclusion of the first Universal Periodic Review "Pre-Sessions" organised by UPR Info. The "Pre-Sessions" were an opportunity for NGOs and State delegations to meet and discuss the human rights situations of the States to be reviewed at the upcoming 13th session of the UPR Working Group (21 May-4th June).

13 "Pre-Session" meetings were organised for the following States: Bahrain, Ecuador, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, India, Brazil, Philippines, Algeria, Poland, the Netherlands and South Africa. About 70 NGOs participated, of which half were national organisations and half were international organisations. On average, 20 state delegations were present at each session.

As UPR Info's President Bertrand G. Ramcharan stated in the introductory remarks, the UPR has tremendous potential to strengthen national human rights protection systems by facilitating State and NGO collaboration. The "Pre-Sessions" were an opportunity for NGOs to present their assessment of the progress made by each State since the previous Review, and to highlight particular issues that demand urgent attention at the upcoming Review.

In the "Pre-Session" meeting of Bahrain, there was ample discussion concerning the right to freedom of opinion and expression. It was noted that in the wake of the anti-governmental protests over the past year, individuals have been subject to job dismissal as a result of protest participation, and that there has been excessive harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, and torture of journalists and human rights activists. To this end, NGOs called for an end to the violent repressions of protests, the reinstatement of those who faced job dismissal as a result of protest participation, and amnesty for those unjustly imprisoned while exercising their right to freedom of expression. In addition, NGOs called upon Bahrain to investigate allegations of torture and unlawful killings, and to ensure swift prosecution of the responsible parties. NGOs expressed excitement about the newly established National Human Rights Institution of Bahrain, and urges the government to make sure it functions in alignment with the Paris Principles.

In the "Pre-Session" meeting of South Africa, NGOs acknowledged the progress South Africa has made with respect to its national health goals, and encouraged the government to push further in its plans to uphold the rights to life and basic health. In this regard, NGOs commended the widespread educational campaign on HIV/AIDS, but asked South Africa to intensify efforts to reduce its child mortality rate and to promote equal and adequate access to nutrition, water, and medical treatment facilities. It was noted that although a high proportion of national GDP is spent on health, that the government ought to ensure that health concerns particular to children, such as malnutrition and the risk of HIV transmission from the mother during birth, are not overlooked in its national health plan. Additionally, NGOs called for increased attention to issues of sexual violence, recommended the introduction of hate crime laws into domestic legislation, and suggested that more stringent disciplinary measures be taken against those responsible for sexual harassment and intimidation.

In the "Pre-Session" meeting of the Netherlands, significant attention was drawn to concerns about the rights of immigrants, migrant workers, and asylum seekers. NGOs urged the government of the Netherlands to improve the conditions of detention facilities, to take measures to limit excessive lengths of detention, and to consider alternatives for detention wherever possible. In addition, apprehension was expressed about the increasing number of surveillance measures adopted in the name of "counter-terrorism" such as the development of a biometric database, the use fingerprinting for national ID cards, the use of electronic health records, and the excessive storage of telecommunications. In this regard, NGOs called for greater civil society inclusion in the development of such policies, and for periodic impact evaluations after policy adoption to assess their constitutionality and societal impacts. Finally, NGOs encouraged the Netherlands to devise a national strategy to mainstream human rights into its national and local governmental bodies and policies.

UPR Info received extensive positive feedback highlighting the importance of the UPR "Pre-Sessions" as a forum for collaboration and information exchange. The sessions filled the expressed need from both State delegations and NGOs to meet prior to the Working Group Session to identify, discuss, and further develop recommendations to ensure focused attention to the most relevant human rights issues at the upcoming Working Group Session.