Widespread concern over reprisals against NGOs

Member States, Observer States and NGOs took the floor during the item 6 general debate at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council ("HRC") to share their concerns about the reprisals that human rights defenders are facing when engaging in the UPR.

On Friday afternoon of March 21st, 2014 the HRC concluded its adoption of the reports of the 17th Working Group Session of the UPR. A wide range of issues were discussed during the general debate that followed: 1) The restriction of civil society participation in the UPR process ; 2) The quality and quantity of recommendations ; 3) The importance of Mid-Term reporting ; 4) Follow-up ; 5) Right of reply

The restriction of civil society participation in the UPR process

A major theme of the General Debate on the UPR was the role civil society plays during the UPR process ; in particular, concern over the silencing of NGOs and individuals participating with the mechanism. Greece, speaking on behalf of the EU, condemned all acts of intimidation or reprisals towards individuals or groups who cooperate, or seek to cooperate, with the UN. The USA took the floor to stress the participation of local NGOs to the UPR process is essential to gaining a full understanding of a country’s human rights situation and said all participants must be able to speak openly without fear of persecution, retribution or physical harm. The Czech Republic suggested the openness of the UPR process vis a vis civil society has been “increasingly under attack” ; not only has civil society been prevented from taking part in the preparation of national reports and implementation recommendations, it said, but there has been reports of persecution, harassment and criminalization of people involved with the mechanism. Uruguay, speaking on behalf of a Group of 58 Countries, also expressed deep concern for cases in which the civil society participation in or follow-up to the UPR process has been threatened in various ways. Their statement said that everyone has the right to unhindered access to, and communication with, the UPR and called for all States to ensure a safe and enabling environment in which all members of society, including human rights defenders, and women human rights defenders, can operate free from insecurity. Greece, on behalf of the EU, the United States and the Czech Republic each made a reference to the late Chinese human rights activist, Cao Shunli.

Some NGOs also expressed disquiet on the issue. Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme (RADDHO) raised concern over harassment, arrest and reprisals against individuals seeking to engage with the UPR process, with specific reference to China. The World Alliance for Citizen (CIVICUS) said that despite the explicit acknowledgement of the crucial role of civil society in the UPR process, governments across the world routinely attempt to obstruct and prevent civil society groups from effectively participating in the process. It also criticized Malaysia’s flagrant exclusion of NGOs in the UPR process, including its repeated rejection of meeting with Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango) in the UPR Process.

The quality and quantity of recommendations

The need for precise and manageable recommendations was also highlighted at the debate. Morocco, speaking on behalf of a 47 States, stressed the effectiveness and credibility of the UPR relies upon a manageable number of precise, practical and constructive recommendations. It called on States to offer a maximum of two recommendations so the State under review has the best chance of implementation. Yemen, on behalf of the Arab Group, emphasised that the success of the UPR will depend on the capacity of States to introduce a reasonable number of recommendations. We at UPR Info, making joint statement on behalf of 19 NGOs, called for a “qualitative leap regarding the precision of recommendations” and underlined that the number of specific recommendations had fallen since the second half of the 1st cycle. We also stressed that without a specific action it was hard for Sates under review to understand what was required from the recommendation and encouraged States to consult NGOs and use information from treaty bodies.

The importance of Mid-term reporting

Greece, on behalf of the EU, noted it was pleased States were making use of valuable Mid-term implementation reports as a tool for monitoring implementation and urged States to continue to follow-up on implementation status. Morocco, speaking on behalf of 47 States, echoed these thoughts by stressing the importance of Mid-Term reports as tool for States to monitor and measure the progress of implementation of their recommendations. Amnesty International underscored that follow-up and implementation in-country was essential if the UPR process was to live up to its potential of improving human rights on the ground.

Follow-up

The Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice (IIMA), on behalf of 12 organisations, expressed concern over a lack of follow-up on recommendations issued in previous UPR cycles and stressed the importance of maintaining consistency and continuity between the dialogue and implementation of recommendations made in subsequent reviews. The IIMA called for a more systematic approach to reviewing past recommendations and ensuring that they are taken into account in subsequent recommendations.

Ireland, Estonia and Poland submitted their Mid-term report during the 25th session of the HRC, and each of them presented a brief overview of their Mid-term report during the debate while Ireland, Libya, the National human rights institutions of both Australia (through video statement) and Ireland, and the Colombian Commission of Jurists presented information on the progress, or lack of, made by their governments to implement recommendations respectively.

Right of reply for providing information on follow up

Nepal and Saudi Arabia both made a right of reply following statements by the International Commission of Jurists and Syria on the progress made by those two countries to implement recommendations. Nepal said it was important to provide a correct picture of a situation. It stressed it remains committed to accepted recommendations, of which had already been streamlined in the National Action Plan for human rights and reforms to several legal bills had been offered to Parliament. Saudi Arabia, responding to allegations concerning the lack of respect for immigrants in Saudi Arabia, said it took the UPR very seriously and reiterated its sovereignty in the context of addressing these issues and upholding human rights. Syria advised Saudi Arabia to review implement its recommendations and not to use the HRC for diplomatic compliments.

(Photo: UN, Jean-Marc Ferré)