A year at the UPR: an analysis of 2014

The UPR process underwent numerous debates and challenges over the course of 2014. For the very first time, and long after repeated calls from UPR Info, States spoke about the “lack of implementation of UPR recommendations” and the necessity to address this issue. In a statement read by Macedonia FYR on 22 September 2014, 39 countries called on the Human Rights Council (HRC) to react to the lack of implementation of UPR recommendations. Noting that the human rights situation in certain countries was “deteriorating and in some others […] stagnating in implementation of the supported UPR recommendations”, the statement encouraged the HRC to “explore the existing documents” to determine how to react. Though a small step, it was an important one.

Throughout the year, special attention was brought to mid-term reporting. In a statement at the HRC in June, UPR Info underlined that the number of mid-term reports submitted had dramatically increased: approximately half of all mid-term reports had been published during the preceding 20-month period. In September, a side event was hosted by the Governments of Morocco and the United Kingdom, with our participation. Mid-term reports were valued as a very interesting tool by the panellists as they were considered to be a good way to evaluate the work that has been done thus far, learn from it and allow the process to move forward.

In 2014, numerous recommending States, which are important actors in the process, demonstrated positive signs of engagement by strengthening the cyclical nature of the UPR. In order to ensure that States under Review were reminded of their previous commitments, and that accountability was ensured, those recommending States added the phrase “as previously recommended” at the end of the recommendations that were repeated from the last UPR. However, much remains to be done regarding the recommending States’ overall quality of engagement. As denounced by 19 CSOs in March, under the initiative of UPR Info, recommendations in the second cycle are less specific. The overall number of recommendations made has increased, but the quality has decreased. Another negative trend was the attempt by Costa Rica to make joint recommendations. Costa Rica convinced Botswana and Uruguay to associate Costa Rica with the recommendations they made to New Zealand and Chile, respectively. However, in a decisive move, the HRC President ruled out joint statements and joint recommendations at the UPR. Basing this clarification on the “institution building package” and the “practice established during the first and second cycle”, the President recalled to States that statements and recommendations were “exclusively bilateral” and invited all delegations “to continue respecting those practices”.

2014 was the year of the Parliamentarians at the UPR. A new resolution adopted by the HRC in June called on States to involve Parliaments in the preparation of the national report and in the implementation of recommendations, acknowledging the crucial role that parliaments play in translating international commitments into national policies and laws. The resolution also encouraged “cooperation between national parliaments and national human rights institutions and civil society”. The Inter-Parliamentary Union held a series of regional seminars on the role of Parliamentarians at the HRC and the UPR. In February 2014, UPR Info participated in such a seminar in Romania to underline the role of CSOs and their cooperation with Parliamentarians.

Civil society space in Geneva came under attack during China’s UPR report adoption. The State under Review prevented a NGO from being able to “observe a moment of silence” in memory of Cao Shunli, a Chinese human rights defender who died following the lack of medical treatment while held in detention. This triggered a discussion among States in which Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, the Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Venezuela, and Viet Nam disputed the right of CSOs to use their two-minute statements freely while Austria, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece on behalf of the European Union, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States defended the space of CSOs.

In a joint response to this negative move, 54 States came together to reaffirm the important role that CSOs play at the UPR. The statement acknowledged the “positive contribution” and “constructive participation” of civil society in the process, notably at national consultations and emphasised “the need for all States to ensure a safe and enabling environment” in which human rights defenders can work “free from insecurity”. It also called on States to “refrain from or prevent, and prosecute as needed, any act of intimidation or reprisals against those who cooperate” with the UN.

As we reflect back on 2014, it appears that the UPR is an evolving mechanism. Every review, every actor, shapes the mechanism in its own way. This pluralism nourishes the mechanism and makes it organic. As underlined in our publication, Beyond promises, 48% of UPR recommendations trigger action after three years. This encouraging note should give us all the strength to continue shaping the mechanism in the right way.

Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré