Between the cycles: The UPR's achievements and opportunities

04.06.2016

Now at the end of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, it is clear that the mechanism has so far proven its worth. But we must now complete the UPR framework to realise its full potential, says Roland Chauville.   

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By Roland Chauville, Director of UPR Info

Now at the end of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), it is clear that the mechanism has so far proven its worth. But we must now complete the UPR framework to realise its full potential, says Roland Chauville.   

This year will mark the end of the UPR mechanism’s second cycle, with the third cycle due to begin in spring 2017. At this timely juncture, UPR Info, an NGO working to advance human rights by strengthening the UPR, takes stock of the numerous achievements of the UPR, while highlighting that there is also significant room for improvement.

By and large the UPR has accomplished its mandate of universality. No other human rights peer-review mechanism can claim 100% participation from all corners, cultures and political fabrics of the world. It has consolidated the recognition that human rights are not merely a domestic issue, but are a matter of both national and international accountability.

Having studied the level of implementation of recommendations from the first cycle, it is encouraging to note that one in two recommendations were either fully or partially implemented by mid-term. Concrete examples of the UPR in action include: Fiji’s abolition of the death penalty from its military code, and Côte d’Ivoire’s implementation of a law for the protection of human rights defenders.

The UPR is universal not only geographically but also thematically. This includes recent developments in the field such as business and human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and the rights of the elderly. The UPR itself strengthens the other UN human rights mechanisms, where recommendations call for standing invitations for the Special Procedures, ratification of international treaties and submitting reports to the treaty bodies.

As official stakeholders of the UPR, civil society organisations (CSOs) have used the broad scope of the mechanism to both engage with States and to coordinate with one another. The UPR has indeed become a vehicle for social inclusion amongst rights-holders themselves. In Viet Nam and Sri Lanka, the UPR was a key process in legitimising the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists. The mechanism has also led to coalition building amongst CSOs, both for joint submissions in advance of the UPR, and to follow up on the implementation of recommendations. Strong and effective coordination can be seen in civil society coalitions from Australia, Singapore, Ireland, Thailand, and Swaziland, to name a few.

In many national contexts, the UPR has also prompted a shift in the traditional adversarial paradigm between CSOs and governments to a more cooperative, partnership-based relationship. After Kenya’s second UPR, the national human rights institution and local NGOs helped draft the implementation plan adopted by the Government.

Despite its significant achievements, it would be both inaccurate and hubristic to say that the UPR is flawless. A critical Achilles heel of the UPR framework is the lack of any formal follow-up mechanism. This issue was addressed in a Human Rights Council resolution in October 2015, which encourages States to establish national follow-up systems and to share best practices. This discussion will take place during the 26th session of the UPR Working Group in 2016. States should use that occasion to reaffirm their commitment to the UPR by adopting stronger provisions and standards for follow-up, including the establishment of national plans of actions and national coordinating mechanisms.

While the implementation of recommendations is the alpha omega of the UPR, the reporting on implementation is also critical. Both CSOs and the State under review must significantly improve their reporting in order that recommending States know whether and to what extent progress has been made since the previous UPR.

2016 is a milestone year for the UPR. States, civil society and the international community as a whole have a vested interest in its continued success. The mechanism has so far proven its worth; we must now complete the UPR framework to realise its full potential.