Efficiency of UPR third cycle at the heart of Human Rights Council’s debate

On Monday 27 2016, the 32nd Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) held the General Debate on Agenda Item 6 on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). States and NGOs took the floor to take stock of the first two cycles of the UPR and to elaborate on their views to improve the efficiency of the UPR during the upcoming third cycle.
Implementation and follow-up
States and NGOs focused on the implementation of UPR recommendations noting that the lack of an established follow-up mechanism on received recommendations is one of the aspects that are most in need of improvement in view of the third cycle. Portugal highlighted a proposal by Ms Catarina de Albuquerque, former Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, on putting in place a “traffic light system” that would indicate the level of the implementation of recommendations received by States. In its statement delivered on behalf of 17 NGOs, the Centre Catholique International de Genève (CCIG) stressed the need for a more systematic evaluation of the status of implementation of recommendations. In particular, the CCIG called upon States to institutionalise a mechanism at the national level to follow up on the implementation of UPR recommendations. The mechanism should be permanent in nature and have consultative capacity to engage with civil society and national human rights institutions. International Educational Development also expressed concerned at the fact that there is no follow-up in between reviews while the International Service for Human Right (ISHR) suggested that, in order to ensure greater follow-up to, and implementation of, recommendations, the OHCHR should publish an evaluation of the implementation of recommendations received during the previous cycle prior to Working Group reviews.
Voluntary mid-term reporting
The European Union (EU), Morocco and Georgia all stressed the importance of voluntary mid-term reports for the implementation of UPR recommendations. Netherlands, on behalf of the EU, noted “how voluntary practices and tools, such as implementation plans, mid-term reports and follow-up mechanisms contribute positively” to the implementation of recommendations received by States. Uruguay highlighted their recent submission of a mid-term report providing details on the level of implementation of accepted recommendations. In its statement Belize informed the Council that it was not in a position to submit a mid-term implementation report and used the rest of the statement to illustrate progress on implementation achieved since their second review, in 2013. Indeed, using the General Debate on Item 6 to update the Council on implementation of recommendations received is one of the measures suggested by the ISHR in their statement on improving the efficiency of the UPR during the third cycle. Other countries which provided updates on follow-up to recommendations included Samoa, Tonga, Nauru, Libya and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Number of recommendations
A number of countries, including the Maldives and Sierra Leone, reported on the challenges posed by receiving a high number of recommendations. In particular, Sierra Leone noted that the “number of recommendations, as well as [their] complexity [...] make it difficult, if not impossible to ensure implementation of all recommendations within a given circle, particularly for small countries, with limited capacity” and suggested that States could “prioritise the accepted recommendations and [...] classify the recommendations into short, medium and long term, when they prepare the appendix to the UPR report.” India proposed to “consider addressing the growing trend towards proliferation of repetitive recommendations” and suggested that instead “it might be more productive to work towards consolidation of recommendations” and, in particular, that “the Council may consider deliberating upon how we can come up with guidelines for the Working Group to address this challenge so that we can have an even more efficient mechanism at our disposal.” The proliferation of recommendations was an issue also raised by Morocco which reminded the Council of their initiative to only make two recommendations to each States under Review.
Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, and The Netherlands, on behalf of the EU, stressed the role played by National Human Right Institutions and NGOs in the UPR. The EU noted that, while in many cases the relations between States and NGOs are exemplary, the EU remains concerned by reports of incidents and reprisals towards civil society and NGOs and called on all States to enable and encourage their legitimate participation in the UPR process. In this context, ISHR suggested establishing an institutionalised reprisals mechanism and called on the HRC President, Bureau and Secretariat to elaborate a comprehensive policy to prevent, investigate, remedy and promote accountability for reprisals associated with the UPR.
Role of parliaments
After the HRC panel on the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Council and the UPR, held on Wednesday 22 June (on which you can read our report here), the role of parliaments in the UPR was also touched upon during the General Debate. The topic was addressed in the statements of Georgia and of Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme (RADDHO). Georgia underlined that parliaments play a crucial role in promoting and respecting human rights and reported on measures taken to increase the participation of the Georgian Parliament at all stages of the UPR reporting process. RADDHO noted that it is imperative to fully involve parliamentarians to speed up legislative reforms which are hampering the implementation of recommendations.
Small States
Nauru, on behalf of the Small Island Developing States and Least Developed States, acknowledged the importance of the UPR Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance. 16 Least Developed States were able to attend this session of the HRC thanks to the support granted by the Fund. Namibia urged the international community to take into account that levels of development differ and that the ability of States to implement the recommendations accepted often depends on the availability of means and resources. Namibia also stressed the importance of participation of all States during the Working Group session independently of the State that is being reviewed.
UPR Info
UPR Info delivered a statement suggesting three measures that could improve the efficiency of the UPR during its third cycle. Firstly, more prominence should be given to advance questions as a tool to start the discussion and ask additional information to the State under Review. The President of the Council could introduce the advance questions at the beginning of each State’ UPR. Secondly, the adoption of the UPR reports should be moved during the last week of the HRC. At the moment, adoptions take place during the HRC’s penultimate week, during which delegates are busy negotiating resolutions and, as a result, are not fully focused on UPR adoptions. Thirdly, States’ responses to UPR recommendations should be streamlined in a manner that is consistent with HRC resolution 5/1, according to which recommendations can either be accepted or noted. This would be helpful in tackling the problematic use by States of inconsistent categories such as “accepted partially” or “accepted in principle”.