UPR General Debate: Controversy over OHCHR Media Highlights, and the Evolution of the UPR Process

After the adoption of the reports of the thirteenth Working Group session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Human Rights Council (HRC) held its usual general debate under item 6, on the 21st September 2012. Both member and observer States, as well as NGOs, discussed several issues, including the publication of media highlights of the UPR, the importance of the implementation of recommendations and the follow-up, the involvement of civil society, and the new UPR modalities.

Media Highlights

Strong criticisms were made by the Russian Federation, China, Ecuador, Brazil and Sri Lanka concerning the publication of media highlights on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Russian Federation stated that these highlights of UPR discussions were subjective and selective, and China criticised the lack of consultation with concerned delegations and the lack of resolution to this issue since it was raised in the last HRC session. Ecuador took a stronger position by questioning the legality of the OHCHR's publication of these summaries, and called on the OHCHR to fulfil its promise to withdraw these publications from their website.

Responding to these criticisms, Eric Tistounet, Chief of the HRC Branch at the OHCHR, explained that the highlights are unofficial documents, and have since been moved to another area of the website to avoid confusion in that respect. Mr. Tistounet also defended the objectivity of press releases, and suggested that a workable compromise might be achieved by changing their location again and/or by changing their names.

Implementation and follow-up

The Republic of Moldova, the Republic of Korea, Morocco, Kuwait and Sweden all emphasised the importance of the implementation of recommendations by a state under review. The delegation of Cyprus, speaking on behalf of the European Union, emphasised the need for a strong commitment to implementation, and promoted the resources available to assist states in this respect, namely the provision of bilateral assistance for implementation which the E.U. provides, and the technical and capacity building tools offered by the OHCHR. Cyprus, on behalf of the E.U. called on states to use these resources to produce a plan and timeline for the implementation of recommendations. The Republic of Moldova also stated that they have been supporting the second fund for voluntary contributions for technical assistance to the follow-up of UPR recommendations, and that they intend to organise a trans-regional French-speaking seminar on the UPR early in 2013, in partnership with the International Organisation of French Speaking Countries and the OHCHR.

Involvement of Civil Society

Several states and NGOs voiced their opinion regarding the involvement of civil society in the UPR process. Malaysia warned against any use of the UPR process by civil society actors as a platform from which to make baseless accusations against states. Cyprus, on behalf of the E.U. and others, condemned reprisals against Human Rights Defenders and those who have cooperated with the UPR process, and called on more to be done to involve civil society when it comes to designing and monitoring steps for the implementation of UPR outcomes. The International Service for Human Rights highlighted several obstacles to involvement in the UPR process which civil society actors face, namely: errors in the adherence to the designated speakers list, as in the adoption of the final report for Brazil; the absence of any translation of first cycle reports into the languages most relevant to the civil society actors in that state, which makes it difficult for those actors to follow-up on recommendations; and the limited awareness in the UPR process for the risk and fear of reprisal.

New developments in the UPR Process

The Republic of Moldova applauded the new modalities for the list of state speakers, which mean that states no longer have to physically queue for several hours in order to submit their name to the list. Morocco also praised these changes, but expressed concern that the changes to the modalities for the list of NGO speakers are not well known outside of Geneva, and thus place international NGOs at an advantage. Cyprus, on behalf of the E.U., welcomed the new possibility to participate by video.

In a joint statement made with Conectas Direitos Humanos and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, UPR Info made a statement in which they raised their concern for the increasingly common practice of states altering or retracting statements they have made during a UPR review, which these NGOs argued erases the great effort that stakeholders invest in insuring that specific issues are voiced in the UPR process. Furthermore, deep concern was expressed over the practice of a state under review being allowed to draft the summary of its own statement in the report of the working group. Lastly, it was argued that the practice of restricting the submission of a request for a correction to a text to the state which made the statement in question is unnecessary and could potentially lead to inaccuracies being included in the final outcome document.

Mid-term reports and updates

In their statements Sweden and Uruguay referred to the mid-term reports they have recently produced, and the Republic of Moldova and Morocco expressed their commitment to producing the same. In addition Sweden and Kuwait each detailed their own progress in implementing recommendations made in their last review.