While Halloween was gathering a greater following with more and more people partying around the planet, another global phenomenon was reaching a respectable plateau completing its second cycle. While UNICEF is the only acquaintance most people have with the United Nations around the end of October, an accomplishment was achieved with the launch of the final session of the second Universal Periodic Review cycle covering human rights in every single country.
The UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group conducted its 26th session from 31 October to 11 November concluding the final group of States to be examined equally by their peer UN members in the second cycle which began in 2012. States under review prepare reports regarding their human rights record and fellow States question current realities and suggest recommendations to change conditions in the country.
A milestone was met at the United Nations in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room marking the second time there was 100 percent participation with all 193 UN Member States preparing, presenting and participating actively in the UPR. It’s an accomplishment for all countries to comply to discuss openly declare their commitment to human rights and defend their current challenges faced to forge fundamental freedoms at home.
States don’t always do what’s demanded under international public law obligations and deserve applause for accomplishing a perfect record with every State submitting to the UPR. The Universal Periodic Review is universal and unique with a 3.5 hour standard review of every UN member State by colleague countries reviewing the human rights record every handful of years. Now, it is essential to ensure implementation of recommendations to realize human rights for all.
The UPR was born on 15 March 2006 with adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, specifically para 5(e) for the Council to create and coordinate a Universal Periodic Review. The Council shall “Undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism based on an interactive dialogue” and geared toward complementing current human rights commitments.
The idea of the new international human rights institution specificity was set-up through adoption of UN Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 on 18 June 2007. The institution-building package provided the process for the UPR taking place from April 2008 to October 2011. The first cycle created a 3 hour review and a limit of how many States could register to speak in the time slots. Civil society could also run to secure one of the 10 seats to speak for 2-minutes during the adoption at the following UN Human Rights Council in the four year cycle. The Human Rights Council adopted resolution 16/21 on 25 March along with decision 17/119 for the second and subsequent UPR cycles. The second cycle, from April 2012 – November 2016, improved the UPR, based on constructive negotiations, to a longer 3.5 hour review and limitless number of States being able to provide interventions with the time divided equally among all State signing up prior to present questions and recommendations to the State under review. Civil society also now registers, without running, via electronic sign-up process the week prior in the 4.5 year cycle. During both cycles there was three sessions in January/February, April-May and October-November for two weeks each.
The UPR is an cooperative, collaborative, creative and constructive campaign to promote and protect human rights. The UPR scrutinizes the situation in every State with ever increasing involvement of States to intervene in the UN Human Rights Council UPR Working Group.
It is unprecedented that every State has appeared to be reviewed and acted to share suggestions to other States as well. With the UPR, there is acceptance and even action to change conditions in one’s country based on colleague country comments. The conclusion of the second cycle suggests a new norm to recognize universality of human rights and understanding to realize recommendations. The result is under a decade of UPR, there are nearly 57.000 recommendations with every State receiving its own report card from colleagues consisting of questions and recommendations to improve the human rights record.
Tales of the truth are now provided in a pattern every handful of years with everyone from stakeholders to States submitting their perspective on human rights. Every person can contribute a five-page report to speak truth to power and share own situation or address specific theme in State. Every report appears on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website. The OHCHR also submits a compilations report summarizing the civil society contributions in a 10-page report. The OHCHR also creates a 10-page report from all of the United Nations specialized agencies, programs and funds as well as the UN Human Rights Council special procedures and the UN human rights core treaty bodies including OHCHR country and regional offices sharing its unique perspective on how States implement their international obligations as duty bearers to their people. The State creates a 20-page report sharing its national agencies and departments approaches to implement recommendations. The State authors a report sharing steps taken to serve its people and respect human rights. These three documents covering 40 pages provides the basis for the review. Now, the global human rights community has substantive reports on every state for the first time in human history from various sources. It’s a library for liberty.
The Universal Periodic Review is a tool to take the temperature of the human rights in a State. It consistently offers an opportunity for people to organize to measure the gains and growth government have accepted based on the community action and global civil society advocacy roughly every four-five years. It also has achieved important milestone in global fundamental freedom movement to have completed two consecutive cycles with marked improvements in peoples pursuits of justice and international institutions efforts to engage States to promote and protect human rights.
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, believes the UPR “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world.”
UPR is a bedrock to build better holistic United Nations human rights bodies. While State hoped it would diminish the usefulness of other UN human rights mechanisms, the UPR has demonstrated an understanding of uniting all of the existing international human rights instruments providing the most comprehensive and constructive campaigns to coordinate human rights review and realization.
If human rights was the Olympics there are some champions that deserve credit. France, is living up to its status as the birthplace of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789, participating in UPR of fellow States making the most recommendations of roughly 1600 recommendations. Spain, Canada, Norway and Mexico rounded out the top five with Mexico making nearly 1,200 recommendations.These States researched through their foreign ministries and provide recommendations to provide suggestions for States to improve their human rights record. These States also received reports and met with civil society to be better educated to engage during the UPR. Not all States are participating positively, 23 States have not make any recommendation in the nearly ten years. However, of those, many aren’t based in Geneva.
There are also countries receiving the most recommendations — U.S. took gold with 668; Cuba took silver with 534; and Iran earned bronze with 511. Honorable mention rounding out the top five include Egypt and Myanmar with around 490 recommendations. Of course, there are two ways to read the results — one is State is worse nation with most recommendations received. The other is civil society in the State most effective providing compelling cases to country to raise their concerns during the actual UPR review.
The most important issues regarding human rights raised were around international instruments focusing on need to adopt and ratify the core conventions reached over 11,000. Women’s and children’s rights were second and third respectively with over 9,000 each. Justice and Torture including other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment were fourth and fifth with around 4,000 each.
There are important items that must be included for future initiatives around the UPR to reach the aspirations the people have placed in the UPR and to realize the recommendations suggested in the two completed cycles. The initiatives from the international institution with national actors must continue in future cycles.
National Mechanism for Reporting and Followup (NMRF) are increasing among States providing interesting experiments with engagement at the country level. It is adding to the already rich field of freedom national models existing for decades with the National Human Rights Instruments (NHRIs) based on the Paris Principles. NHRIs are increasing their inclusion in the UPR process and providing valuable role to realize human rights. Parliaments are still under utilized so far with great potential to provide another voice to the review with valuable partners in promising political positions to realize the recommendations.
One could see gains on the ground with the UPR. A statistic shares there is a start taking global recommendations and realizing at the grassroots level with halfway through the first UPR cycle, 55% of accepted and 19% note recommendations were either partly or fully implemented in the countries.
In the third cycle, implementation must be imminent and be most important focus with fearless focus on specific SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) improvements in individual’s existence on earth. There were over 18,000 specific action recommendations and that must become the norm to realize human rights. There must be reiteration of recommendations requiring results not rhetoric.
On country visits many discussions provide positive progress for grassroots people and their representative governments. One of the most powerful conversations I had to see firsthand how the UPR changes how countries make policy and treat their people was with the New Zealand Commission on Human Rights chairperson. He shared how the UPR and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reviews are being planned for the same time roughly every five years to ensure mutually reinforcing movements to achieve universal values of democracy, human rights and development. At the national level, every branch of government including the Treasury, are measuring how the UPR recommendations and SDGs targets and indicators are being realized and sharing the stories and statistics at the global level with the human rights review at the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva and the SDGs with the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York. More important, civil society and peoples movements are included in the conversations at the community and country level to generate good ideas for recommendations and contribute at the actual review in the global arena.
The UPR has some accomplishments and achievements in its early existence. Built on direct action and diplomatic advocacy, the UPR has united significant segments of society in every State to concentrate on the human rights condition in a consistent and consecutive pattern through the periodic process. It is essential in the emerging 3rd cycle to engage more with communities being the catalyst for social change and the spark for the start of the review in the UPR process in every State.
We must begin with reflections on the real situation in each state for directly impacted individuals and redouble our commitment to realization of rights recognized in the recommendations from the previous two cycles from 2008 – 20016. The third cycle is another opportunity to continue the full involvement and coordinate the realization of fundamental freedoms through the recommendations.
The UPR has honestly united people for rights like few global human rights institutions. It was not intentional but has invented many opportunities to organize for advocates, activists, analysts and authors together to tackle some tough times and most important target specific tactics to achieve human rights in own State.
If the UPR is a trick-or-treat is still being talked about. It’s important for us all to knock on the door and demand States to open up with opportunity for organizing.