Council highlights continuing challenges for the UPR mechanism
Wednesday, 16 June 2010 16:06

The Human Rights Council (the Council) held a general debate on item 6, the universal periodic review (UPR) in the afternoon of 11 June 2010. Discussion revolved around outstanding issues in the functioning of the UPR mechanism, including the list of speakers, and the clarification of acceptance or rejection of recommendations by States under review. A number of States also took the opportunity to showcase their progress on implementing UPR recommendations including France, the Netherlands, Morocco, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, and Columbia. Additionally, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain presented its second annual UPR progress report.


In the context of the upcoming review of the Council’s work and functioning, many States expressed the hope that the universality and fairness of the UPR process would be strengthened. A primary concern for many States continues to be the list of speakers (Spain on behalf of the European Union (EU), Russian Federation, Norway, Republic of Korea, Japan, United States of America (US), Turkey). Under the current framework, delegations must queue outside the plenary to be inscribed on the list on a first come, first served basis. States complained that this system is ‘untenable and undignified’ (US), a ‘barrier to open and fair participation’ (Spain on behalf of the EU), leads to delegations leaving the plenary while it is in session (Republic of Korea), and prevents recommendations from States who were not able to take the floor from being recorded in the report of the Working Group (Japan). Another fundamental concern of States was that recommendations are often not clearly accepted or rejected by the State under review, and when rejected the justification is not made explicit (Spain on behalf of the EU, Norway, Republic of Korea, US, Australia). A related issue that was raised concerns the practice of some States to reject recommendations with the justification that they are allegedly not in line with international or domestic law (for example Iran), or for political reasons (in particular Turkey in regard to recommendations by Cyprus).


Several other issues were addressed during the general debate. Norway expressed concern that an increasing number of States submitting candidacy to the Council were not submitting voluntary pledges, thereby detracting from the ‘basis of the UPR’; Finland suggested that the UPR cycle be prolonged to five years, while adding the requirement of a mid-term report; the Russian Federation stated that documents provided by OHCHR should be ‘reflective of reality’ but did not raise a specific instance where this was not the case; and Turkey complained that some States try to interfere with the summary of statements made by delegations. In a candid and insightful intervention, Singapore lamented that the ‘interactive dialogue’ mechanism of the UPR is in fact not interactive. It regretted that  delegations often read out non-specific, generalised prepared statements, and repeat recommendations and issues already raised by other States, that UPR sessions are not well-attended except during reviews of particular interest and that States often send junior delegates who lack the authority to participate dynamically in the discussion.


Eight NGOs took the floor during the general debate, echoing many of the concerns raised by State delegations. Amnesty International specifically highlighted that the opportunity for civil society participation in the UPR process is limited, noting that securing one of the few spots on the NGO speakers list often depends on ‘athletic footwear and stamina’ and urged the Council to put in place mechanisms to allow for ‘dignified NGO interaction’.


Although many States noted that the upcoming review of the Council should address the problems with the UPR, a number also suggested that interim measures be put in place as soon as possible. Despite the concerns raised, virtually all States acknowledged the value of the UPR mechanism when it is used in a spirit of universality, impartiality, and open dialogue.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 17:02
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