Council debate on UPR: raising the bar for the second cycle

26.03.2012

During its 19th session, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held a general debate under Item 6 on 16 March, during which it addressed the achievements and challenges for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. Council members present gave overall positive remarks on the UPR as its first cycle concluded, assessing it as an important tool to focus States on human rights. As Portugal stated, the first cycle of the UPR contributed to put human rights at the centre of political agendas.

 

During its 19th session, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held a general debate under Item 6 on 16 March, during which it addressed the achievements and challenges for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. Council members present gave overall positive remarks on the UPR as its first cycle concluded, assessing it as an important tool to focus States on human rights. As Portugal stated, the first cycle of the UPR contributed to put human rights at the centre of political agendas. Likewise, Bahrain claimed that through the UPR process, the challenge of 'realising human rights' could be met, resulting in 'real change' on the ground. The Republic of Korea emphasised, however, that the end of the first cycle marks the beginning of a long-term engagement, and that the second cycle will test the UPR's credibility and value.

Most States emphasised the need to follow-up on the recommendations received by reviewed States during the first cycle. In the spirit of follow-up Slovenia and Sudan presented midterm reports outlining the steps they had taken to implement their accepted recommendations. Sudan noted that to date it had implemented 13 of the 164 recommendations it had accepted, including setting up a national human rights institution in accordance with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (Paris Principles). Portugal drew attention to the fact that it too had presented a midterm report and had sent it to OHCHR for inclusion on its website. In the interests of effective implementation, Hungary and Algeria stressed the importance of keeping the number of recommendations made to States under review to a manageable number.

In support of the implementation process, Morocco called for increased donations to the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights set up by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Morocco noted that the fund contained around $1.4 million, donated by a total of seven States and of which a third had been donated by Morocco itself.

Costa Rica stressed the need to involve civil society organisations in the follow-up process, as they are important monitors of what happens on the ground. Portugal also agreed on the importance of having the civil society involved in the process, stating that they constitute a key component of the implementation of international commitments on the ground. Denmark, on behalf of the European Union, further called on States to protect human rights defenders from reprisals caused by collaborating with the UPR process.

The Czech Republic emphasised that the second cycle of the UPR should include a review of all recommendations made during the first cycle, including those that were rejected. 

Observations made during the Item 6 general debate were also reflected in the first annual discussion on the sharing of best practices in the field of protecting human rights, held under agenda Item 10 on 21 March. In one of the opening speeches, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay, stressed the various opportunities that the UPR opened for all stakeholders: the UN, Council member States, but also regional organisations, civil society, and national human rights institutions. Yet, only by having the second cycle focus on successful implementation can change actually take place at the national level. In this regard the Maldives along with Barbados, who spoke on behalf of other small Caribbean States, accused OHCHR of not providing sufficient support on the ground. Furthermore, many States seem to be unaware of the funds for technical assistance. Only through exchange of best practices can States become aware of the tools at their disposal to help them implement UPR recommendations and obtain important advice on how to conduct that process.

Click here to see ISHR's statement during the general debate on Item 6.