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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS A GENERAL DEBATE ON THE UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW

20 March 2015

The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review.

In the debate, States reiterated their attachment to the Universal Periodic Review and stressed the importance of following-up and implementing recommendations in order to have impact on the ground.  The principles of universality, dialogue, objectivity, independence and impartiality were also reiterated.  Some speakers encouraged States not to bow to powerful States when issuing recommendations.  Others considered it extremely important that the Universal Periodic Review be conducted in a transparent and non-confrontational manner free from politicization and selectivity.  The mechanism was not to be used for naming and shaming.  All rights had to be protected and promoted, without selectivity.  Some of the challenges identified were the provision of clear and specific replies on States’ intentions on the recommendations.  States underlined the fundamental role of civil society and the importance of capacity building and technical and financial assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  States had to present a reasonable number of recommendations to avoid overloading the system.  A recurring problem was the lack of quality of some of the recommendations made.

Speaking were Latvia on behalf of the European Union, Algeria on behalf of the African Group, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Paraguay on behalf of a cross regional group of States, China on behalf of a group of 25 like-minded countries, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of States, Morocco, India, Albania, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Iran, the Philippines, Serbia and Tunisia.

Australian Human Rights Commission took the floor, as did the following non-governmental organizations: UPR Info, Human Rights Law Centre, the International Service for Human Rights Advocates for Human Rights,  Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Alsalam Foundation, United Nations Watch, the International Catholic Child Bureau, Rencontre Africanize pour la defense des droits de l’homme, World Jewish Congress, AUA Americas Chapter, Indian Council of South America, World Environment and Resources Council, International Association for Democracy in Africa, African Technology Link, the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, United Schools International, the Centre for Environmental and Management Studies, International Institute for Aligned Studies, and the Centre for Reproductive Rights. 

At the end of the meeting, Tunisia thanked the President and the Human Rights Council for the sympathy and condolences expressed on the occasion of the terrorist attack on Bardo National Museum, which had killed 19 persons.

The Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  At 3 p.m., it will hold a debate on the state of racial discrimination worldwide, focusing on learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination. 

General Debate on the Universal Periodic Review

Latvia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the universality of the Universal Periodic Review remained a salient feature of its success.  The European Union welcomed the increasing practice of States presenting a mid-term report on the implementation of their recommendations.  The European Union commended the invaluable support of non-governmental organizations and emphasized that reprisals must not be tolerated.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Universal Periodic Review principles of universality, transparency and dialogue enabled countries to evaluate the progress they had made in promoting human rights, to learn from the best practice of other States, and to make improvements.  The process must be preserved from attempts to politicize it.  The African Group attached particular importance to technical assistance but it must guarantee consistency in terms of support given to States. 

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the Universal Periodic Review played an important role in promoting cooperation between States, but for it to be fully effective Member States must present a reasonable number of recommendations to avoid overloading the system.  Furthermore, recommendations must take into account the cultural, political and religious characteristics of States and respect their national sovereignty, said the Arab Group. 

Paraguay, speaking on behalf of a cross regional group of States, said the Universal Periodic Review was one the most universal mechanisms for the protection of human rights, and stressed the importance of non-selectivity and objectivity.  The credibility of the Universal Periodic Review relied on positive change on the ground, and therefore on States’ efforts to implement and follow-up on accepted recommendations.  The fundamental role of civil society and of its contribution was emphasized, and reprisals against human rights defenders were unacceptable. 

China, speaking on behalf of a group of 25 like-minded countries, said it was essential that the Universal Periodic Review process remained universal, independent and impartial, and that it was conducted in a transparent and non-confrontational manner free from politicization and selectivity.  The Universal Periodic Review Voluntary Fund should be strengthened to better assist developing countries.  States had the primary responsibility to implement recommendations, and their sovereignty should be respected. 

United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of a group of States, said the Universal Periodic Review provided a positive opportunity for inclusiveness and cooperation.  A number of recommendations had triggered reforms and change, but a recurring problem was the lack of quality of some of the recommendations made.  There was also a difficulty to effectively manage the increasingly high number of recommendations.  Fewer and more focused recommendations had to be made.  The importance of technical assistance and the trust fund for the implementation of recommendations was underlined.  

Morocco said the Universal Periodic Review was a very important mechanism, not least to promote cooperation between States, and thus any politicization of it must be avoided.  Morocco welcomed the role played by the Voluntary Contribution Fund in the provision of technical assistance and called for it to be bolstered.  It was essential that the Universal Periodic Review remained streamlined with a reasonable number of recommendations that were feasible for the country concerned to implement.

India said the Universal Periodic Review had steadily and visibly improved human rights in all participating countries of the United Nations.  It had the potential to treat all countries on an even keel.  The contribution of the Office of the High Commissioner to the process was laudable, as was the Board of Trustees that administrated the Voluntary Contributions Fund for technical assistance.  The second cycle showed a trend for repeated recommendations and called for guidelines to address this challenge. 

Albania commended States’ engagement in submitting a mid-term report, which was an opportunity to continue the dialogue on the implementation of the recommendations of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.  Albania commended the active role of civil society in the process, and also underlined the importance of capacity building, and technical and financial assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Turkey said the Universal Periodic Review was one of the most important human rights mechanisms, and welcomed its impact on the ground.  The mechanism should not be used for naming and shaming or politicization of the debates.  Recommendations had to be assessed with diligence, and national platforms on implementation of agreed recommendations had to be created.  Turkey underlined the important support of the Office of the High Commissioner to the functioning of the Universal Periodic Review. 

Czech Republic said it would circulate its mid-term report in the forthcoming weeks, and underlined measures it had taken since its review, including in terms of the ratification of international instruments.  The Universal Periodic Review remained a viable tool to improve the human rights situation on the ground.  It underlined the importance of the participation of civil society and condemned all acts of reprisals against it. 

Iran said the Universal Periodic Review was a civilized model of dialogue and cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights in a transparent and non-confrontational manner.  The Universal Periodic Review should be the main human rights mechanism, and all attempts to undermine its credibility had to be avoided.  Iran warned that the reorganization of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should not break these principles. 

Philippines agreed that the Universal Periodic Review was one of most important mechanisms.  The preservation of the principles of universality and impartiality in the Human Rights Council was extremely important, and the politicization of certain issues was not welcomed.  The Human Rights Council had to be mindful of States’ rights to self-determination.  The Philippines had hosted a workshop with 19 countries from the Asia Pacific region, discussing best practices of the Universal Periodic Review.

Serbia said that in line with the recommendations received, the Government had adopted and implemented a decision on establishing a Council for Monitoring and Implementing the Recommendations of the United Nations mechanisms for human rights.  The Council’s duties were to review and monitor the Republic of Serbia’s implementation of the recommendations obtained in the process of the Universal Periodic Review.  The implementation of this important recommendation was another example of good practices and the real impact of the Universal Periodic Review process.

Australian Human Rights Commission, through a video presentation, applauded Australia for its national disabilities scheme, the appointment of a Human Rights Commissioner and its efforts in combatting slavery.   However only 11 per cent of Universal Periodic Review recommendations had been accepted and this showed a substantial weakness.  The National Action Plan on Human Rights had to be amended.  There was also work to be done with regards to the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
 
UPR Info, in a joint statement with several NGOs1 said that by the end of the second cycle, over 50,000 recommendations would have been made, and there were repeated calls for the reduction of the number of recommendations.  It would be misguided to focus on the quantity of recommendations, because the main problem in the Universal Periodic Review was the proportion of weak and unspecific recommendations.

Human Rights Law Centre said that Australia’s strong human rights record was being diminished by serious violations and regressions in key areas, while the Government’s increasing hostility towards the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms was an issue of concern.  The Government had eroded basic democratic freedoms by introducing anti-protest laws.

International Service for Human Rights urged States to use the Universal Periodic Review to make recommendations for the development of safe and enabling environments for human rights defenders, because if they were safe and active, States had a better chance of implementing their other recommendations.  States should reflect on measures to protect the most vulnerable human rights defenders and whistle blowers.

Advocates for Human Rights said that most executions in Iran stemmed from drug-related charges, but the executions did not deter the crime.  Iran had rejected all recommendations on the death penalty, including on a moratorium for drug-related charges.  The United Nations Office for Drug Control and donor countries cooperating with Iran in the fight against drugs should condition their support on a moratorium on the death penalty for drug-related crimes.

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said that at the twentieth session of the Universal Periodic Review, the majority of States had participated with less preparation and discipline.  Many States were no longer prepared to respond to their peers’ recommendations, and instead delayed their replies until the outcome session.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain said that the Government of Kuwait had not taken seriously recommendations regarding certain human rights defenders who had been arrested.  Many, including an ex-parliamentarian, had been imprisoned for saying or writing things about Saudi Arabia, the Emir and the Prince.

Alsalam Foundation was pleased to note that attention was given to Kuwait’s stateless Bidoun population but was concerned about the broader deterioration of the status of freedom of expression in Kuwait.  Last year a Kuwaiti Member of Parliament had been charged and prosecuted in relation to comments critical of the Government of Bahrain. 

United Nations Watch said there were several ways to improve the Universal Periodic Review, an important mechanism of scrutiny of human rights records of States.  Recommendations should ask specific actions in response to specific instances of Government actions so as to help victims. The praising of States by other States should stop.

International Catholic Child Bureau drew the attention of the Council to issues that hindered the effective protection of the rights of the child in Togo.  The 2007 Child Law was still in its drafting stage, while the National Committee for the Rights of the Child had not yet been established.
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme commended the people of Gambia for their courage and determination to put an end to several decades of tyranny in the country, and said that now was the time for the authorities to ensure civil and political rights.  It was regrettable that Gambia did not present its report on the Universal Periodic Review outcomes.

World Jewish Congress said that, in its report, Iran had renounced terrorism and called for combined efforts to fight terrorism, which was a perversion because Iran had failed to bring to justice those responsible for terrorist attacks.  Iran’s involvement with terrorism had not ended.

AUA Americas Chapter asked Iraq to ensure that the Action Plan for the implementation of the accepted recommendations be widely circulated among civil society.   Iraq had rejected the recommendation to accede to the Rome Statute, thus stopping the International Criminal Court from investigating perpetrators of serious crimes, including by ISIS.

Indian Council of South America said that Resolution 5/1 of the Universal Periodic Review obliged States to abide by the principles of universal coverage and equal treatment of all States.  It was necessary not to bow to powerful States that systematically denied the rights of people with impunity, and to be courageous in giving recommendations.

World Environment and Resources Council stated that Slovenia was the most prosperous country of the former Yugoslavia, and had implemented many laws promoting democracy and human rights.  Since 1991 it had undergone many reforms, including privatization, liberalization, denationalization, and democratization.

International Association for Democracy in Africa said that El Salvador was the most densely populated state in the region.  It had taken great steps towards democracy following the civil war.   Improvements had to be made in many spheres.  One was the way municipal elections had been conducted in March 2015. 

African Technology Link said that after years of political and economic instability, Madagascar was poised to break with the past, rehabilitate the economy, restore institutions, protect bio-diversity and reinstate respect for human rights.  Madagascar was being reincorporated into the international fold, and the sanctions by the African Union had already been lifted.

Commission to Study the Organization of Peace said that Gambia had enjoyed peace and stability for a long time.  It was one of the oldest existing multi-party democracies in Africa, which played an important role in international affairs, particularly in the region and Africa at large.

United Schools International said that San Marino had maintained effective control over its security forces, while the law provided for freedom of speech and the press.  Dissemination of ideas of racial superiority or hate was prohibited and the economy had been developed.

Centre for Environmental and Management Studies said that the population in Fiji was of mixed origins and Indians formed the core of the business class.  Nearly all of indigenous Fijians were Christians, and Indo-Fijians were Hindu.  Fiji’s economy was based on subsistence agriculture, sugarcane and textile exports, and the growing tourism.

International Institute for Aligned Studies said that migration policy in the Mediterranean region was on top of the agenda for the upcoming Italian European Union Presidency.  Italy was against the push-back at sea policy and was strongly committed to search and rescue activities, often far beyond its area of responsibility.

Centre for Reproductive Rights stated that the status of recommendations pertaining to sexual and reproductive rights was disturbing.  Even though other issues, such as gender-based equality and women’s violence were emphasized, reproductive rights were ignored at best.  Only 31 recommendations on abortion had been accepted, showing the reluctance of States to make reforms in this respect.

General Statement

Tunisia thanked the President and the Human Rights Council for the sympathy and condolences expressed on the occasion of the terrorist attack on Bardo National Museum, which had left 19 people dead.  This brutal and cowardly terrorist attack went against civilization, against the teachings of Islam, and against the most universal principle of human rights, that of the right to life.  The terrorists had wished to attack the economy of Tunisia and the symbol of its moderation.


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1Joint statement:UPR Info; Article 19 - The International Centre Against Censorship; Franciscans International ; Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; International Federation of ACAT Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture; Edmund Rice International; East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project; International Lesbian and Gay Association; World Vision International; Plan International; Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd;  Save the Children International; and  Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC15/044E