​Launch of UPR publications emphasises the importance of cooperation between States and civil society in the UPR Process

Two UPR publications were launched on 7 September 2015, at the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations in Geneva. The event was co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Australia, Namibia, and Paraguay, UPR Info, and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). Moderated by His Excellency Mr John Quinn, Ambassador of Australia, the panellist speakers were: Her Excellency Ms Sabine Böhlke-Möller, Ambassador of Namibia, Ms Shahrzad Tadjbakhsh, Chief of the UPR Branch at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Professor Hilary Charlesworth from the Australian National University, and Mr Miloon Kothari, President of UPR Info.
One of the two publications launched at the event was UPR Info’s “A Guide for Recommending States at the UPR”. Published with the support of the Australian Government, the Guide shares both practical information on how to participate, and best practices in terms of drafting specific and action-oriented recommendations, and following up on the implementation of recommendations from one UPR cycle to another. Miloon Kothari, President of UPR Info, emphasised the significant role played by the Recommending States in the process as a whole. The political pressure that results from the Recommending States’ scrutiny ensures the participation of the State under Review in the UPR in partiuclar with regard to the implementation of recommendations.
The second publicationHuman Rights and the Universal Periodic Review: Rituals and Ritualism” (Cambridge University Press, 2014) is a compilation of articles written about the UPR mechanism through both a socio-legal prism and with a practitioners’ perspective. UPR Info Executive Director Roland Chauville, a contributing author of the book, assesses in his article the successes and challenges of the first cycle of the UPR.
Professor Charlesworth, co-editor (with Emma Larking), introduced the book by pointing out that its title refers to a troubling common feature faced by human rights mechanisms: the rise of ritualism. This ritualism, as suggested by the title, examines the dichotomy between States' willingness to become parties to international human rights law but a reluctance to make on-the-ground changes, e.g. by broad reservations to treaties or superficial State reporting to the treaty bodies. With the UPR, however, she stressed that the mechanism could work as a counterbalance to this development by improving the relationship between States and civil society in order to foster stronger collaboration and commitment. In a similar vein, H.E. Ms Sabine Böhlke-Möller stressed the fact that the UPR’s effectiveness is evident through its emphasis on equality, interaction and universality.
The Chief of the UPR Branch at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sharzhad Tadjbahksh, presented various ideas in order to improve interaction between States and NGOs. These included giving more importance to the stakeholders’ summaries, strengthening the civil society ownership through webcasts of the process, creating national coordinating structures for implementation, integrating civil society action plans including their midterm reports, and extending the outreach of the process to include remote, rural areas of the State under review.
An engaged discussion followed the panellists’ presentations, where various NGO representatives and other Permanent Missions all re-emphasised the critical importance of close cooperation between civil society and States if the UPR is to function effectively. The interactive dialogue called for several Important topics to be addressed in the near future including the thematic underrepresentation of issues - in particular economic, social and cultural rights (ESCRs), the accessibility and visibility of the process to all civil society actors, and the increasing incidents of reprisals against civil society actors and human rights defenders.

(image courtesy of ISHR)