Human Rights Council discusses strengthening of the voluntary fund and the quality and quantity of recommendations

On 20th March 2015, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held, during its 28th Session, a general debate on Item 6; the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). During this debate several States and NGOs took the floor to underline the current challenges of the UPR while recognising its added value to share best practices and improve the human rights situation on the ground. The main issues raised were the following:

The UN Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance

Morocco along with Albania, Turkey, Algeria – on behalf of the African Group- and India underlined the key role that the UN Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance provided by the OHCHR, plays to help countries improve their national capacity to implement recommendations emanating from the UPR. Moreover, China, taking the floor on behalf of 25 countries, raised attention to the need to strengthen this fund ‘especially to help the least developed and small island developing States’.

The Quality and Quantity of the Recommendations

The United Kingdom (UK), on behalf of Brazil, Morocco and a total of 50 countries, emphasised the need to improve the quality of recommendations made during the UPR since their precision is essential for their implementation. Thus, according to their statement, all recommendations must be precise, practical, constructive, forward looking and implementable. Also the Philippines encouraged States to make practical recommendations while, according to UN Watch, the UPR should be a mechanism that asks specific questions about specific instances of government action.

Furthermore, the UK, in its joint statement, raised a concern that the increasingly high number of recommendations is becoming a difficulty for the States under review to manage and successfully implement them. Consequently, they commit to exercise restraint on the number of recommendations given, with a maximum of two for each state. Along the same line of thinking, Bahrain, in its statement on behalf of the Arab Group, also considered achieving a reasonable number of recommendations to avoid overloading the UPR. 

However, UPR Info, on behalf of a total of 47 NGOs, suggested that limiting the number of recommendations will lead to important issues being left aside. In addition, having similar or identical recommendations on a given issue does not overload the State under Review as it calls for similar action, but rather it shows the concerns of the international community on that specific issue. The group of NGOs concluded that the main problem at the UPR was the proportion of weak, unspecific recommendations, not the overall number itself.

Role of recommending states

Different statements made during the general debate referred to the need to increase the role of recommending states by improving the follow-up on the recommendations they made to other states. The UK and Paraguay, taking the floor each on behalf of a group of 50 countries, emphasised the need to reiterate recommendations made in previous reviews when they have not been fully or at all implemented and when the recommending states found it appropriate. Furthermore, the UK, Morocco, Latvia – on behalf of the European Union (EU) - and Algeria - on behalf of the African Group – highlighted that the international cooperation and assistance between States to promote a good implementation of the recommendations plays a key role in strengthening the national capacity of the State under review.

Mid-term reporting

As declared by China, on behalf of 25 countries, States bare the primary responsibility in the promotion and protection of human rights. Following this rationale, through their statements, the EU along with the African Group welcomed the practice to submit a mid-term report in order to strengthen the follow up and to improve the credibility of the UPR. As Paraguay stated ‘without the follow up, acceptance of the recommendations would become shallow promises’. 

Role of civil society and human rights defenders

Most participants agreed on the important role that civil society plays in the UPR. On one hand, as Turkey highlighted, the involvement of different stakeholders during the overall process is an opportunity to share best practices. On the other hand, as mentioned by Paraguay, CSOs are a cornerstone to carry out the follow-up.

In this sense, the EU emphasised that while in many cases relations between States and NGOs are exemplary, in others, CSOs and human rights defenders are still suffering attacks and reprisals. Moreover, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Czech Republic condemned those attacks and called on States to prevent any form of intimidation against individuals or groups who cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms. Thus, ISHR urged States to take this issue into consideration while drafting their recommendations.

Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré