Strengthening Civil Society Advocacy in the Universal Periodic Review

On Tuesday 13th December, UPR Info co-hosted the event, Strengthening Civil Society Advocacy in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), with the Permanent Missions of Ireland and Switzerland, to launch its newest publication UPR Info Pre-sessions: Empowering human rights voices from the ground. Approximately 20 Permanent Missions and 80 people attended the event in Room XXVII of the Palais des Nations. H.E. Ms O’Brien and H.E. Ambassador Mr Valentin Zellweger offered opening statements, followed by remarks from Aoife Hegarty, author of the publication and UPR Info Programme Manager. The panel, chaired by Roland Chauville, UPR Info Executive Director, was composed of former UPR Info Pre-sessions participants and key civil society actors: Ms Urantsooj Gombosuren, Centre for Human Rights and Development (Mongolia); Mr Subodh Pyakurel, Informal Sector Service Center (Nepal); Mr Gilbert Onyango, UPR Info Africa Regional Director (Kenya); Mr George Morara, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights; Mr Abdoulaye Kanni, Collectif des Organisations de Défense des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie (Niger) and Ms Bihter Moschini, Arab NGO Network for Development (Lebanon).

During the opening remarks, both the Ambassador of Switzerland and Ireland underlined the important and unique role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the process of the UPR. Whilst H.E. Ms O'Brien explained that civil society holds governments to account and the work of CSOs must be supported, the important role of the UPR Info Pre-sessions was highlighted by H.E. Mr Zellweger, who explained that the Pre-sessions ensure States without country offices can engage with CSOs to have up to date information on the human rights situation on the ground.

Aoife Hegarty, author of UPR Info Pre-sessions: Empowering human rights voices from the ground, which is now available to download here, explained the purpose and the content of the publication. Its aim is to take stock of the five-year Pre-sessions programme, drawing on testimony from former Pre-session participants, including States, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI), national and international CSOs. The results of the evaluation, coupled with the lessons learned by UPR Info will serve two purposes. The first objective, reflected in Part I of this publication, will evaluate what the Pre-sessions have accomplished to date, and how they can be improved. The second objective is to serve as a guide for future participants as what they can expect and gain from participation at the Pre-sessions.

During the panel discussion, the speakers shared their country-specific experience of engaging with the UPR and how the UPR Info Pre-sessions helped them in this process. Urantsooj Gombosuren explained the use, production, and added value of advocacy fact sheets. Subodh Pyakural shared that in Nepal, a UPR coalition was created in relation to the UPR Info Pre-sessions and the UPR. In the same vein, Abdoulaye Kanni commended the UPR Info Pre-sessions, which encouraged Nigerian CSOs to form a coalition. Gilbert Onyongo, Regional Director of UPR Info Africa, commented on the success of In-country Pre-sessions,organised by UPR Info, and stressed the importance of linking the United Nations in Geneva, to the villages. George Morara, spoke of the key role of NHRIs, as they can offer facilitation to stakeholders and bring States and other actors together to formulate draft recommendations for the UPR. The last speaker, Bihter Moschini, explained the realities and logistics of both creating a CSO coalitions (specifically in Lebanon) and how to disseminate UPR information.

Key challenges to CSO engagement in the UPR were highlighted, namely: the knowledge on the UPR process by stakeholders outside Geneva; the shrinking space for CSOs to work in safe and enabling environments; the lack of expertise in forming coalitions; the lack of funding for said platforms. Significantly the panel commented that the lack of dialogue between CSOs and with States and NHRIs prevents progress through the UPR. Finally expectations for the third UPR cycle were addressed. The panel explained that dialogue and advocacy between CSOs and other UPR stakeholders must be improved upon, the focus on human rights education and monitoring implementation but be increased, and finally, synergies between development and human rights must be solidified.