A year at the UPR: our analysis of the UPR process in 2013

2013 was a test for the UPR process; a test for the engagement of States, institutions and civil society in the mechanism and an opportunity for all actors to demonstrate their genuine interest in safeguarding the mechanism.

The pinnacle of the threats against the universality of the UPR was the review of Israel which was facing the absence of the delegation due to its conflicting relation with the Council. In May 2012, Israel had decided to suspend its relations with the Council and as a consequence was absent during its second review, initially scheduled on 29 January 2013. Following intense negotiations with different stakeholders, Israel finally decided a couple of days before its new review date to be present. Israel’s decision to resume cooperation with the UPR was an important step to preserve the universality and the credibility of the mechanism, and was dully reviewed on 29 October. The biggest threat to the process, a country absent from its own review, was successfully avoided. Notwithstanding, this event has been a missed opportunity to define cases of "persistent non-cooperation" as contained in Article 38 of Resolution A/HRC/RES/5/1.

The UPR was also put to a test when the Russian Federation tried to create second-class recommendations by moving some of them in footnotes in the Working Group report. However, thanks to the determination of the Council’s President, this event will not be repeated. Indeed, on 18 September Mr. Romigiusz A. Henczel circulated a letter to all delegations reminding them of the modalities and practices of the UPR, clearly stating that all recommendations suggested during the UPR will, in the future, have to be included in the body of the Working Group Report and that all recommendations included in the Report are part of the outcome that States under Review must address. UPR Info was at the origin of this letter. In June, we had called on the President to tackle the issue of these footnotes in order to prevent the event from setting a worrisome precedent. Our statement made at the 23rd Human Rights Council (HRC) session was joined by 76 other civil society organisations (CSOs) from all over the world. By joining our call, they clearly demonstrated the importance of the UPR process to them and the need for the UPR to be protected from States manipulations. We successfully followed up on that statement.

An increased focus was also put by the HRC President and CSOs on reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the UPR. On several occasions, Mr. Henczel reiterated the crucial role CSOs were playing in the process and the responsibility for States to protect them.

The year was marked by an expansion in the number of States participating in the reviews. The symbolic mark of 100 speakers was reached on several occasions, with a peak on China with 137 States taking the floor.

Finally, the negotiation of recommendations continued in 2013, especially during the 17th UPR session. Saudi Arabia managed to get the wording of recommendations it had received modified and to get a reference to the Rome Statute removed from a recommendation made by Tunisia. However, this move backfired when the delegations of Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States took the floor during the adoption of the Working Group report to complain about such practice.

Now that the UPR is in the middle of the second cycle, the international community should start looking into the third cycle and what we want the UPR to be. The focus on implementation will have to be strengthened and States will have to start delivering concrete results on the ground. Armed with the experience of our last three years working on this very issue, we are well equipped to lead the debate in the years to come.