Summary of UPR Info side event held on 3 December 2009

On Thursday 3 December UPR Info held its first side event, entitled "Analysis of UPR Recommendations: Informing the 2011 HRC Review" which was attended by over 50 Government officials, NGO delegates and individuals. The event was chaired by Roland Chauville from UPR Info. Speaking were Professor Edward McMahon (University of Vermont), Muriel Berset (Swiss Delegation) and Marianne Lilliebjerg (Amnesty International).

Professor McMahon presented his analysis on the 6,000 UPR recommendations that have been made over the first five sessions. His analysis is based on a database of all recommendations, which allows for the recommendations to be sorted by, for instance, state receiving the recommendations, regional groups, but also topics raised and categories of action. The five categories of action Professor McMahon developed range from very general, light action that is relatively uncostly for a state to perform, to very specific and action-oriented high cost recommendations. He noted that recommendations calling for new general or specific action, rather than recommendations emphasising continuity or the consideration of certain action, accounted for two thirds of the recommendations.

Some other figures presented by the professor indicate that while the number of recommendations has been rising throughout sessions 1 to 4, session 5 showed a slight drop, which may or may not be indicative of a saturation point. Nevertheless, the percentage of recommendations accepted, as well as the percentage of specific action-oriented recommendations accepted is higher in session 5 compared to the previous sessions. What also became apparent from the analysis is that there are some regional differences in the use and acceptance of recommendations, as well as in the issues addressed by the recommendations. In general, Africa, Asia and parts of the EEG take a softer approach. Finally, the professor concluded that how recommendations are phrased is critical. The aim should be for recommendations to be specifically implementable, while generating as many acceptances as possible.

Muriel Berset noted some specific characteristics that the UPR possesses, which also have an impact on the recommendations made and how they are used. She emphasised the universal nature of the UPR, as well as the fact that it is a cooperative mechanism in which every country so far has cooperated in a relatively constructive way. Furthermore, recommendations made within the context of the UPR are bilateral, rather than coming from a regional group, which can be considered an asset of the system. It is important also to think about continuity and a smooth transition from the first review cycle to the second review cycle. This involves questions like the practice regarding follow-up of recommendations. Ms Berset also noted the importance of having a coherent view of all recommendations made, also with a view to the second cycle of reviews.

Marianne Lilliebjerg drew attention to the importance of recommendations. First, they represent a tool to improve the human rights situation on the ground, which should be the ultimate goal of the UPR. Second, states can be held accountable both for accepted recommendations and for action suggested to other states. In her view, for the UPR to have a positive effect, recommendations should be concrete and measurable. With regard to the role of civil society, she noted that since NGOs do not have a direct role during the Working Group, they have to find a way to work with and influence the states that will be making the recommendations. Timing is very important in this regard, since state interventions are usually planned some time in advance.

See Professor Edward McMahon's powerpoint here