Human Rights Council discusses UPR implementation and role of stakeholders

The item 6 general debate that took place at the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 22 September 2014 was once again a good opportunity to discuss on the UPR. Several issues were dealt with: the implementation of recommendations, mid-term reports, the role of the “other stakeholders”, and reprisals against human rights defenders.
Implementation of recommendations
It was repeatedly underlined that the implementation of recommendations is key to the UPR process. UPR Info highlighted from the assessment of over 11000 recommendations that about 48 % of received recommendations were given effect. In this matter the role of Parliaments was specifically underlined as Macedonia FYR, on behalf of 39 States, commended the initiative to increase their role in the process. It stated that Parliaments could “further contribute to the implementation of the accepted recommendations at national level. Macedonia also thanked the States which had contributed to the Voluntary Fund for Participation in the UPR process that provides technical support for States in implementing their recommendations.
Although the aforementioned figure looks rather positive, there are still some challenges to face. The organisation Sudwind stated that many countries did not accept a large range of recommendations whereas others were prone to accepting some without taking the trouble of implementing them effectively. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights presented the case of Bahrain: although it has accepted many recommendations, Bahrain reportedly has done few toward their implementation. It was asserted Bahrain even took steps to contradict UPR recommendations with its terrorism law that restricts freedom of speech.
In order to address such lack of implementation, 39 States, led by Macedonia FYR, called on the Council to "explore the existing documents" to determine how to react. Sharing this concern, the Korea Centre of United Nations Human Rights Policy called on the Council to adopt a resolution that includes, inter alia, to “translate, publicise and support dissemination of the received recommendations”; “to engage in substantive consultation with civil society” and “ensure their participation in the process of implementation, including monitoring”; to establish a National Plan of Action”; and to “submit a mid-term report”.
The issue of the quality of the recommendations was also raised and discussed. Ethiopia, Morocco and Sudwind recognised the relevance of making specific recommendations in order to monitor their implementation. Sudwind also urged recommending States to avoid the use of “wide and vague concepts” in their recommendations so that they can be monitored later on.
Mid-term report
Italy, on behalf of the European Union, noted that a growing number of States have accepted to present a mid-term report on a voluntary basis. Tunisia presented its own mid-term assessment report after it had conducted a national process allowing all stakeholders to participate and discuss on the issue. The United Kingdom (UK) said it also engaged in a dialogue with civil society and national human rights institutions in order to adopt its own mid-term report. It highlighted that conducting a mid-term assessment was an example of best practice and encouraged the other States to do the same. Save the Children took the floor to comment on UK’s mid-term report and criticised the document as it allegedly failed to present “a critical assessment on how far the UK has implemented the recommendations in relation to children’s rights”.
The role of civil society
Italy, on behalf of the EU, commended the role independent NGOs played in the UPR process as they spoke out and documented human rights violations; such contribution “has given a further impetus to this important mechanism”. As for Moldova, it recognized that the UPR is unique because it is a participative process and it specifically said that civil society contribution was essential to the process. The Maldives also welcomed the increasing participation of non-state actors in the UPR, which has rendered the process “more transparent and objective”. After regretting that civil society did not have enough resources and necessary guidance “to contribute to the process constructively”, the Maldives thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for having promoted wider civil society participation.
Reprisals against human rights defenders
While covering the importance of other stakeholders, the speakers also covered the issue of reprisals. Italy, on behalf of the EU, was particularly alarmed by “reported incidents of harassment, intimidation and reprisals towards civil society representatives and their organisations”. The UPR can give human rights defenders visibility; it is not then surprising that many of them engage with the mechanism. As the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) stated, such defenders are often subjected to acts of intimidation or reprisals such as threats, detention and even murder. According to Amnesty international the situation in Gambia is deteriorating as both defenders and journalists are targeted. For ISHR, since such acts undermine human rights mechanisms (the UPR included), therefore the UPR should address this problem: this was a unique opportunity for States to demonstrate serious commitment to human rights in general, and human rights defenders more specifically.
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré