For impact on the ground the UPR needs SMART recommendations

Over 50 Permanent Missions in Geneva attended UPR Info’s second seminar on ‘The role of Recommending States at the UPR’ held on Tuesday 20th October. The Permanent Missions of The Netherlands and Sierra Leone, represented by Mr Thomas Falkenhagen and H.E. Ambassador Ms. Yvette Stevens respectively, sat on the panel with Ms. Shahrzad Tadjbakhsh, head of the OHCHR UPR branch, and UPR Info Executive Director Roland Chauville.
UPR Info firmly believes that the UPR, as a mechanism for improving the human rights situation in every country, must be treated as a process that stretches far beyond the one UPR Working Group, per state, every 4.5 years. The aim of this seminar, with contributions from the OHCHR UPR Branch, was to stress the different roles recommending States can take throughout the entire process of the UPR and to promote the use SMART recommendations at the upcoming 23rd UPR Working Group Session in November.
“Good” recommendations
UPR Info’s Executive Director took the floor to address the questions ‘what is, and how can a State make, a “good” recommendation?' Roland Chauville explained that a “good” recommendation is one that falls in line with the UPR’s governing resolutions, in that it should be action-orientated, and must have a positive impact on the ground. The notion of making SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) recommendations was introduced as they enable monitoring of implementation and give the State under Review (SuR) a direct action to follow and a timeframe within which to do this. SMART recommendations at the UPR would improve the accountability of the review and also increase the impact of the mechanism. The need for States to be precise in their recommendations was also reiterated. Currently only 1/3rd of recommendations are classified as specific using UPR Info’s methodology, yet research, such as the Beyond Promises publication, indicates that specific recommendations lead to a greater positive impact on the human rights situation on the ground. The Missions present were reminded to ensure that each of their recommendations addresses a single issue. This, as both Roland and Ms Tadibakhsh commented, ensures the SuR is able to either accept or note the recommendation without confusion.
Quality, not quantity
As the second cycle of the UPR draws to a close many stakeholders are contributing ideas on how to improve the mechanism. One idea, which has recently come to light, is to limit the number of recommendations a State can make. However UPR Info strongly believes the focus should in fact be on the quality, not the quantity, of recommendations received by the SuR. At the seminar it was explained that recommendations that are most likely to have an impact on the ground are SMART, clear, and precise. UPR Info also believes that quality recommendations can be made when recommending States engage with evidence from, and experiences of, CSOs and communities on the ground in the SuR. Further instructions on how to ensure quality recommendations can be found in UPR Info’s recently published ‘Guide for Recommending States at the UPR’, which is available online in French, English and now Spanish. Roland concluded the advice from UPR Info by giving the Missions in attendance an introduction to the UPR Info database.
Practicalities and a timeframe for State engagement
Ms Tadibakhsh offered the attendees plenty of practical examples on how recommending States can participate successfully in the UPR. Recommending States have opportunities, and in fact responsibilities, if they are serious about affecting positive human rights changes, to engage with the UPR at all stages of the process, not solely in Geneva.
Before the UPR Working Group
Prior to the UPR, Ms Tadibakhsh explained that, States should try to reflect on the SuR’s previous UPR recommendations. The UPR Info Database, as Roland Chauville explained, is a tool that makes this task much more manageable for recommending States of all capacities. It was also discussed that attending UPR Info’s Pre-sessions, so to receive concrete updates from CSOs on the human rights situations in the SuR, should in fact be seen as ‘part of the parcel’ of engagement in the UPR.
During the UPR Working Group
Whilst the Working Group is meeting, and in the weeks before, there are many deadlines and rules that States much follow in order to ensure the fair treatment of all participating in the UPR. Ms Tadibakhsh stressed both the need for strict time management and for strict use of language with engaging with the UPR, for example recommending States must use the exact phrasing “we recommend” in order for their recommendation to be recognised.  
After the UPR Working Group
The OHCHR concluded their contribution by calling on States to engage further in the follow up of the UPR; be that by bi-lateral engagement, steering development aid towards actions that implement recommendations or by contributing to the UN Trust Fund for Implementation of the UPR. UPR Info also added that the simple, and yet often overlooked, task of disseminating the recommendations giving in Geneva to embassies and staff within the SuR will also help recommending States monitor the implementation of their recommendations.
Ambassador Stevens of the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone closed the seminar expressing her appreciation to the panellists for the “informative, clear and very useful” session and commented on the need for SMART and precise recommendations, as discussed, to feature heavily at the 23rd Session of the UPR Working Group 2-13 November this year.