Updated March 2, 2011
Late February the 7th meeting session on Universal Periodic came to a close in Geneva. UPR is a mechanism introduced in 2006 — and first started early 2008 — that might allow scrutinizing the overall human rights situation in the 192 UN member countries during four years. 112 countries have been examined so far. This seventh session assessed in detail states as El Salvador, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq – Iran and Egypt especially generated the most reactions. Two years gone after this mechanism kick off, what conclusions can we draw?
The presentation takes about 2 or 3 hours by country. Previously, each country under review presents the measures that have been launched to improve the inland situation of human rights, while other states put forward their questions and offer their recommendations: that is what the UPR is. In fact states examine each other – but when this instrument first started, many NGOs feared that the states concerned do not act condescending each other.
For Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, after two years the balance is ultimately positive:
“For us, this is a useful tool because it allows open debate on the human rights situation in a country, despite being an assessment between states (…) NGOs have the opportunity to enforce the discussion in presenting documents which provide support for the review, and otherwise enable us to make allegations on countries participating in the review (…) Thus, proposals of the NGOs have been accepted in the final recommendations.”
Eric Tistounet, Secretary of the UN Human Rights Council, makes a fairly positive assessment despite the initial reluctance:
“We shared the initial fears with NGOs. As High Commissioner our vision (…) is that peer review has given a more effective result than if it had been carried out by experts. Another positive point was the attendance of all participants. At first we feared an audience of only 60 or 70%, which is usual, ie normally countries cooperate within the system. This time all were there, including micro-states and states without delegation in Geneva. That allowed us to realize our influence over a majority of states, which we have been able to run in a non-controversial or political mood. “
For Julie de Rivero it is also essential that discussions raised during the UPR have to be undertaken at a national level – and here it is where international and domestic NGOs are involved to attempt influencing political decisions. In the case of Egypt and Iran both rejected criticism during the session. Iran has categorically rejected all criticism and has not supported favorably the request for inspection by independent experts on torture and freedom of expression, although the authorities had promised to do so earlier.
“It’s just an opportunity for a state to face up its commitments and promises (…) It is clear that there is no enthusiasm on the part of Iran – more reason to maintain the pressure.”
The downside, as a result of each session, is post monitoring. After examining, each state returns home with lots of recommendations (between 150 and 200, on average), and this is where the mechanism has shown its limits. Eric Tistounet, from the UN Human Rights Council:
“The recommendations can not be in the air (…) It is necessary to implement a proper monitoring system so that the main recommendations come into effect at least. Knowing what kind of action or how it will work is the next project. “
112 states have been examined to date. 80 remain from now till late 2011. At the 8th meeting in May Guinea, Haiti, Kenya, Belarus, Turkey and Spain will be examined among many other countries.