Civil society participation at the heart of the 25th session of the Universal Periodic Review

The 25th Session of the UPR Working Group took place from 2 to 13 May 2016 in the UN Office in Geneva. At the session, Antigua and Barbuda, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand and Trinidad and Tobago underwent their second UPR. During the 14 inter-active dialogues, a total of 2553 recommendations were made. Ireland totalled the highest number of recommendations (262) at this session, followed by Thailand (249) and Sudan (244). Civil society organisations organised side-events on the reviews of Thailand, Tanzania, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

During the UPR of Sudan, States expressed their concern at the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country. Particular attention was given to the fact that, in the context of UPR Info's Pre-sessions in March, four Sudanese HRDs due to travel to Geneva had their passports confiscated by security agents before boarding their planes. Ireland “deplored that HRDs were prevented from travelling to Geneva”. Similarly, Germany expressed “concern about the decision taken by the Government to wilfully and disingenuously obstruct the participation of Sudanese civil society at the UPR pre-session”, while Czech Republic recommended to Sudan to ensure that civil society can meaningfully participate in all stages of the UPR process without hindrance or fear of reprisals. Similar concerns were also expressed by the Netherlands, Slovenia and the United States.

The reviews of Thailand, Tanzania and Ireland were marked by record attendance of civil society representatives. NGOs were not only present in Room XX of Palais des Nations but also organised screenings of the reviews locally while debate sparked online. During the review of Thailand, States expressed concern at the lack of freedom of expression and assembly in the country and at the fact that the National Human Rights Commission lost its “A” status according to the Paris Principles. The State received recommendations on protecting HRDs, abolishing the death penalty, ending civilian trials by military courts, eradicating child labour and intensifying efforts to fight human trafficking. Establishing a moratorium on the death penalty was a recommendation also received by Tanzania which, in addition, received recommendations regarding child marriage, decriminalisation of homosexuality, freedom of expression, and the rights of persons with albinism. States welcomed the adoption by referendum of same-sex marriages in Ireland but expressed concern at the country’s restrictive abortion laws as well as at the situation of asylum seekers, homeless people and Travellers. During the review, the State delegation announced that Ireland will ratify the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities by the end of this year.

While Italy commended the Hellenic Coast Guard and the people of Greece for the hospitality, solidarity and assistance provided to refugees, Bangladesh regretted that its first cycle recommendation on migrant rights was not accepted. During this session, Greece also received recommendations on hate speech and racism. Similar concerns were expressed during the UPR of Hungary which also received recommendations on respecting the principle of non-refoulement and on ending segregation against Roma children in schools. The issue of restrictions imposed on civil society was raised by States during the review of Tajikistan which further received recommendations on strengthening the right to fair trial. Many recommendations received by Swaziland focused on independence of judiciary, freedom of expressions, conditions of detention and ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Delegations recommended to Papua New Guinea to take measures to tackle land-grabbing and illegal logging as well as to establish a juvenile justice system and a national human rights institution. Both Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were recommended to ban corporal punishment, to adopt measures to achieve gender equality, to abolish the death penalty and to decriminalise homosexuality. The latter recommendation was also received by Samoa which was also recommended to eliminate patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that discriminate against women and to ratify the core human rights treaties.

States called on Suriname to take further measures to protect children, to recognise indigenous people’s right to access to education and to combat trafficking in human beings. Recommendations on measures to tackle human trafficking were also received by Trinidad and Tobago which was further widely recommended to take measures to improve prison conditions and to ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture.

All of the draft reports were adopted by the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Working Group between 6 and 13 May. Only Antigua and Barbuda has already given clear indications regarding its decision on noted and accepted recommendations, all the other States examined at Session 25 will have to provide an answer on pending recommendations by no later than the 33rd session of the HRC in September 2016.

In closing the 25th Session of the UPR, H.E. Choi Kyong-lim said: “As President of the Council, I found extremely rewarding the constructive spirit of our deliberations and the support for the fundamental rules that preserve the integrity of the UPR and that govern the work of the Working Group. This continues to enhance the credibility of the UPR process and ensure it is a success during this second cycle”.