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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW

29 June 2018

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review.

In the discussion, speakers underscored that the Universal Periodic Review was the main mechanism of intergovernmental cooperation to examine human rights issues at the national level in all countries, without distinction.  The Universal Periodic Review had to be conducted objectively, on the basis of reliable information, and taking due account of the information and observations of the country analysed.  It should not be used as a tool to interfere in the internal affairs of States.  Despite the growing politicization of human rights in the Council, nobody could deny the success of the Universal Periodic Review.  Speakers encouraged States to report every year to the Human Rights Council on progress made in the implementation of recommendations. 

Speaking were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Venezuela on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Togo on behalf of the African Group, Bulgaria on behalf of the European Union, Russian Federation on behalf of a group of countries, United Arab Emirates on behalf of the League of Arab States, Paraguay on behalf of a group of countries, Venezuela,  China, Cuba, Tunisia, Georgia, Zambia on behalf of a group of countries, Montenegro, Libya, Morocco, Tanzania, Armenia, Malawi, and the United Nations Population Fund.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Commission of Jurists; Centrul de Resurse Juridice; UPR Info; European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Federation ILGA-EUROPE; Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”; Amnesty International; Organization for Defending Victims of Violence; Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development; International-Lawyers.Org; International Humanist and Ethical Union; American Association of Jurists (in a joint statement with several NGOs1); United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation; Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture; World Barua Organization; International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD)  ; International Fellowship of Reconciliation; Association culturelle des Tamouls en France; Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme; Iraqi Development Organization; Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc; Alsalam Foundation; Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik; Association of World Citizens; United Nations Watch; Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme; Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi; Alliance Creative Community Project; Association des étudiants tamouls de France; International Institute for Rights and Development Geneva; Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul; L'Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie; International Solidarity for Africa; ABC Tamil Oli; Tamil Uzhagam; Association Thendral; Liberation; Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association MBOSCUDA; Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee; Article 19 - The International Centre against Censorship and World Muslim Congress.

Djibouti spoke in a right of reply.


The Council will next meet on Monday, 2 July, at 9 a.m. to hold a general debate on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, followed by a general debate on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on racism, to be followed by a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. 


General Debate on the Universal Periodic Review

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the Universal Periodic Review promoted the universality, interdependence and inter-relatedness of human rights.  The mechanism helped develop a collaborative space for States and a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society and national human rights institutions.  The Universal Periodic Review also allowed for the exchange of best practices and thus greatly assisted in meeting the objectives of the Council.

Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, underscored that the Universal Periodic Review was the main mechanism of intergovernmental cooperation to examine human rights issues at the national level in all countries, without distinction.  The Universal Periodic Review had to be conducted objectively, on the basis of reliable information, and taking due account of the information and observations of the country analysed.  It should not be used as a tool to interfere in the internal affairs of States.

Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, reaffirmed the great importance that it attached to the Universal Periodic Review.  The goal was to assess the progress achieved by States and to encourage them in achieving the further improvement of human rights.  Any amendment to the functioning of the mechanism, based on consensual balance, should not be envisaged without previous consultations of States.  The implementation of recommendations was the responsibility of the State under review.

Bulgaria, speaking on the behalf of the European Union, stressed that the European Union remained strongly committed to the Universal Periodic Review, a truly cooperative mechanism with the potential to make long-term advancements in all 193 United Nations Member States.  The European Union would continue to defend civil society and oppose intimidation.  Cases of reprisals against civil society in Burundi, Djibouti, and Cuba were deeply concerning.

Russian Federation, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, noted the new practice by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to request that States comment on Universal Periodic Review recommendations that the High Commissioner believed needed particular attention.  The group of countries strongly believed that such a practice was unacceptable.  They acknowledged efforts by the High Commissioner and his Office to provide technical assistance.  However, such assistance must only be provided with the consent of the concerned State.

United Arab Emirates, speaking on behalf of the League of Arab States, reiterated their commitment to the Universal Periodic Review process and its role as an important tool to assess the human rights situation around the world.  The mechanism must not be politicised so it could remain capable of preventing rights violations.  The League of Arab States called on countries to seriously pursue the implementation of recommendations.

Paraguay, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said strengthening the capacity of States in the field of human rights was vital.  The group of countries welcomed the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance and the fact that the United Nations Secretary-General was working to ensure greater support for human rights mechanisms.  Reporting and follow-up mechanisms had huge potential to advance the promotion and protection of human rights. 

Venezuela reiterated its support for the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.  Since its establishment, the mechanism had proven successful in advancing human rights.  The process must respect national sovereignty.  Technical assistance and capacity building for States that had accepted them formed a solid basis for the promotion of fundamental rights.  Venezuela rejected the imposition of politicised procedures like country-specific resolutions.

China stated that the Universal Periodic Review was a mechanism for all countries to hold constructive dialogue on an equal footing.  The Universal Periodic Review should operate under the principles of objectivity, transparency, non-selectivity, and non-politicization, and China called on all countries to respect those principles.  It was up to each country to implement the recommendations as they saw fit.  China also underlined the importance of technical assistance and capacity building. 

Cuba encouraged all countries to achieve the results of the Universal Periodic Review.  Despite the growing politicization of human rights in the Council, nobody could deny the success of the Universal Periodic Review.  Cuba did not agree with video summaries of Universal Periodic Review adoptions published on the website of the mechanism, and called for their replacement by complete webcasts.  The universality of the Universal Periodic Review was vital and ensured equal treatment of all United Nations Member States. 

Tunisia said that the Universal Periodic Review was vital within the United Nations since its procedures addressed various human rights issues around the world and provided an opportunity to strengthen them. The importance of constructive dialogue and positive interaction was stressed.  Tunisia condemned any attempt to politicize the Universal Periodic Review.  That mechanism should be a driving force behind capacity building and technical assistance to countries.

Georgia attached great importance to the Universal Periodic Review as a platform for strengthening human rights at the national level.  It was essential to place emphasis on the implementation of recommendations formulated during that process.  In April 2018, the Georgian Government had approved a national action plan for the protection of human rights 2018-2020, with an objective to implement the recommendations accepted by Georgia. 

Zambia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that least developed countries had significantly benefited from the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Universal Periodic Review process was instrumental for States to learn from one another.  States were called on to continue to assist least developed countries and foster international cooperation.

Montenegro expressed strong support for the Universal Periodic Review.  Montenegro went through the third cycle review last January, receiving a total number of 169 recommendations and accepting 159 recommendations.  In implementing recommendations, Montenegro would continue to have an open and transparent consultative process.  Recommendations had to be more concrete and action-oriented.

Libya stressed that the Universal Periodic Review process was of principal importance in the promotion of human rights worldwide.  It was one of the most effective mechanisms as it allowed States to voice their opinions and views and each State was obliged to engage in the dialogue and discussions.  In order for the recommendations to be implemented, more needed to be done to create an enabling environment through the provision of technical assistance and greater international cooperation.

Morocco said that the Universal Periodic Review was a permanent mechanism and considered a milestone in the United Nations history.  Any changes to the Universal Periodic Review had to be based on a consultation process.  Profound regret was voiced that recently the Universal Periodic Review was characterized by a lack of cooperation and politicization and selectivity of the process.
Tanzania commended Botswana’s commitment to the implementation of accepted Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  Botswana was on the path to inclusive development and was promoting agricultural production through a variety of programmes.  Tanzania wished Botswana success in the implementation of recommendations.

Armenia underscored the importance of implementation and follow-up to recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review process.  Mid-term reporting helped ensure accountability.  Armenia had recently submitted its mid-term report and the process was characterised by multi-stakeholder participation.  Civil society contributions must not be overestimated.

Malawi considered the Universal Periodic Review process to be a vital mechanism enabling States to monitor progress in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Since its previous review process, Malawi had enacted legislation on the prevention and management of HIV/AIDS that entered into force this year.  Structures were in place to enhance the rights of people with albinism.

United National Population Fund said the Universal Periodic Review was a critical tool in forwarding the agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development.  In Botswana, the Fund welcomed the space opened by the Government for dialogue with key populations to increase access to health services.  In Serbia, the Fund commended the establishment of State entities to work on gender equality issues.

International Commission of Jurists noted that the lack of follow-up on States’ implementation after the adoption of Universal Periodic Review outcomes allowed States to disregard their commitments, undermining the mechanism.  The organization voiced concern that Nepal had not implemented accepted recommendations related to transnational justice and accountability for past human rights violations.

Centrul de Resurse Juridice reminded that Romania had received a recommendation to protect persons with disabilities by renewing cooperation with non-governmental organizations and by conducting thorough investigations into allegations of abuse.  If States did not foster the work of watchdog civil society organizations to monitor and make States accountable, the Universal Periodic Review would turn into lip service.

UPR Info encouraged States to report every year to the Human Rights Council on progress made in the implementation of recommendations, and invited them to provide a clear position on recommendations by using the terminology “noted” or “accepted.”  It encouraged all stakeholders to use the Universal Periodic Review constructively to promote the respect of human rights.

European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Federation ILGA-EUROPE drew attention to the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Georgia, noting that it had not implemented recommendations regarding hate speech against such persons, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Trans people were subjected to violence in every sphere of life, whereas intersex children were not protected from gender “normalizing” surgeries.

Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru” said that the Universal Periodic Review had not yielded concrete results when it came to grave human rights violations.  France did not recognize indigenous peoples and their right to natural resources.   France had not ratified the conventions of the International Labour Organization and had not acceded to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers. 

Amnesty International said that within the process of rationalising the agenda of the Council, there were proposals to move the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review outcome from the Council session to the Universal Periodic Review Working Group.  Such a move would have negative and long-lasting implications for the relevance and effectiveness of the process.  The Universal Periodic Review had to remain integrated in the Council.

Organization for Defending Victims of Violence shared grave concerns over the report of the United Arab Emirates.  Human rights defenders were considered to be criminals, only for exercising their freedom of expression.  Civil society space was shrinking.  There were allegations that the United Arab Emirates was also running a network of secret detention places across Yemen where torture was widespread.

Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development welcomed the detailed report presented by the United Arab Emirates and the creation of a gender balance council, as well as other measures to promote women in decision making bodies.  The Superior Council of Motherhood and Childhood was also welcomed.  The United Arab Emirates should continue strengthening its human rights instruments.

International-Lawyers.Org said that Israel’s absence during the adoption of its Universal Periodic Review outcome today was another sign of its disrespect for international human rights mechanisms.  The rights of Palestinians continued to be violated.  Israel must uphold the equal rights of all persons, regardless of their religion.  The organization appreciated the number of recommendations accepted by the United Arab Emirates

International Humanist and Ethical Union said Botswana was the only southern African country not to have abolished the death penalty.  Acknowledging that Botswana agreed to hold dialogues on the practice, the organization regretted that the State had not accepted recommendations on imposing a moratorium on capital punishment.  Botswana was urged to heed Universal Periodic Review recommendations.

American Association of Jurists in a joint statement with several NGOs1, commended efforts by the High Commissioner to strengthen dialogue with States on technical capacity-building.  The organization pointed to systematic and serious violations of human rights by Morocco in Western Sahara.  Morocco was called on to strictly abide by international obligations and to fully respect the fundamental rights of the Sahrawi people.

United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation stressed that the link between human rights and development could not be relegated to simple rhetoric.  There was a lack of practical efforts on the global stage.  Human rights defenders were witnessing violations that were being muffled by the international community.  There must be clear language that ensured that human rights were included in all international agreements.

Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture reminded that Bahrain continued to use the death penalty, extraction of confession under duress, and to ban people from travel.  There was clear discrimination against a large part of the population.  Women in Bahrain could still not give their nationality to their children. 

World Barua Organization said that India had failed to follow up on its Universal Periodic Review recommendations, noting that it was planning to expropriate land from indigenous peoples for various development projects.  India would also render landless indigenous peoples through its new citizenship law.

International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination highlighted the importance of the Universal Periodic Review in improving the situation of human rights.  It welcomed the United Arab Emirates’ measures to create a national human rights institution.  It condemned the non-implementation of the recommendations concerning the protection of the human rights of the Palestinian people and the denial of their fundamental rights.

International Fellowship of Reconciliation reminded of the very poor record of conscientious objection to military service in the Republic of Korea.  The exception had come in December 2017 when the Republic of Korea had received recommendations on that issue from an unprecedented 10 countries.  It seemed that there could be civilian alternative service to the military service, which was a promising step, but it was not the end of the road. 

Association Culturelle des Tamouls en France said that the two largest problems faced by Tamils were militarization and continuing denial of justice.  There had been protests for over 16 months by people who were refused resettlement in their own lands that were occupied by the military.  There were prisoners of wars whom the Sri Lankan State refused to recognise as political prisoners.  Militarization was everywhere, from tourism to resettlement.

Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme said that cooperation between States deserved to be commended.  However, the challenge remaining was the concrete implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  The operationalization of the Universal Periodic Review Assistance Fund still did not benefit from the contribution of donors in order to assist countries.  Israel was urged to cooperate with the United Nations Refugee Agency to reach agreement, while respecting the principle of non-refoulement.

Iraqi Development Organization was concerned that Universal Periodic Review recommendations were not being accepted by Bahrain.  The outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain mentioned many allegations of torture and maltreatment which was rife in the country, but also impunity since no one had been brought to justice.  There were allegations that torture was carried out by a son of the King himself.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc raised concern over the United Arab Emirates continued violation of a litany of recommendations from its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, particularly those that had been reiterated in the third cycle review.  Torture in detention centres was widespread and many political prisoners suffered such conditions after having been arbitrarily detained, such as prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor. 

Alsalam Foundation called attention to Saudi Arabia’s continued violation of recommendations from its previous two Universal Periodic Review cycles.  Since 2017, Saudi Arabia had witnessed three rounds of mass arrests, detaining scores of dissenters.  Saudi Arabia was also targeting political dissidents from minority groups.  States were urged to critically engage with Saudi Arabia in its coming review.

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said women from minority groups in Iran were facing systematic discrimination.  Iran repeatedly accepted recommendations on the protection of minority groups.  However, no significant positive changes had occurred in the country.  On the contrary, people were facing conditions that were resulting in the need to move away from ancestral homes.

Association of World Citizen said that despite numerous recommendations over the past two Universal Periodic Review cycles, four States had still not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Discrimination and violence against women in Iran was widespread and systematic.  Despite accepting recommendations on freedom of expression, Turkey had the largest number of jailed journalists in the region.

United Nations Watch said the Universal Periodic Review was an opportunity to examine and scrutinise countries so as to improve human rights situations.  However, the organization questioned if the review process was being effective.  Pointing to Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review process, the organization questioned the legitimacy of some of the entities that had participated in the process.

Conseil International de Soutien à des Procès Equitables et aux Droits de l'Homme said that France continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel which was direct breach of its international obligations.  Arms sales continued in spite of the fact that the lives of civilians were at stake and there was a violation of international humanitarian law.  Israel refused to recognise its international obligations towards international law and its absence was a demonstration of the country’s refusal to cooperate with the Council.

Association pour l'Integration et le Developpement Durable au Burundi applauded the close scrutiny of States and their human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review.  However, in the case of India, this mechanism did not contribute to improvement.  Despite repeated calls, there was still impunity of military and paramilitary personnel who had been involved in human rights abuses.

Alliance Creative Community Project said that Sri Lanka faced its third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2017, rejecting 53 recommendations out of 230 proposed.  Many issues remained, including impunity and forced disappearances.  There were no changes noted in Sri Lankan’s approach towards reconciliation with Tamils.  Sri Lanka had to adhere to the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court.

Association des étudiants tamouls de France said that many countries had raised concerns about the violations of human rights of Dalits, Adivasis and minorities during the Universal Periodic Review of India.  The Constitution was the only tool that still protected their rights.  The Government was seeking to change the Constitution and remove considerations for the Dalits and minorities.  Sri Lanka was urged to sign the Rome Statue and facilitate an independent investigation into potential war crimes.

International Institute for Rights and Development Geneva emphasised the importance of implementing recommendations made to Israel regarding Gaza and the West Bank.  In the United Arab Emirates, violations of migrant rights were rampant, including forced labour and deportations for strikes.  The Council was called on to develop comprehensive responses to those human rights violations.

Associaiton Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul said there had been no progress regarding Universal Periodic Review recommendations accepted by Sri Lanka.  Human rights defenders in the country were targets of prosecution in counter-terrorism cases.  Women looking for family members who were victims of enforced disappearance had faced reprisals from the Government.

L’Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l’Homme et de la Démocratie said that nine years after the bloody conflict in Sri Lanka, troops were still occupying Tamil territories.  Victims of human rights violations were prevented from testifying.  The Human Rights Council must make it clear to Sri Lanka that Tamils would not be able to lead normal lives as long as they lived under military occupation.

International Solidarity for Africa said that in Sri Lanka’s last Universal Periodic Review process, a number of recommendation were made on the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms.  However, no major change had occurred since then.  The full-fledged militarisation of Tamil areas persisted.  Sri Lanka must end impunity for human rights violations.

ABC Tamil Oli noted that Australia’s protection assessment that applied to people seeking asylum by sea had resulted in many Sri Lankan Tamil refugees failing in their protection claims.  Many had been sent back to Sri Lanka with no chance to present their cases for refugee status.  They had been apprehended offshore and sent back after brief questioning with inadequate interpretation and no legal aid.

Tamil Uzhagam regretted that the Sri Lankan Government had refused to acknowledge the ongoing structural genocide and discrimination against the Tamils.  The Sri Lankan military still occupied the north and east of the country, making threats and spreading fear among the Tamils there.  The organization called on the Government to demilitarize those regions, and on international organizations to save the Tamils from extermination. 

Association Thendral reminded that during the previous Universal Periodic Review, many countries had urged Sri Lanka to establish a fair justice and accountability mechanism that would help address the issues of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The only visible development was the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons, which had been set up without consultation with victims. 

Liberation noted that the Universal Periodic Review had proved its utility in the case of India, which was infected by the disease of the caste system that violated basic human rights.  Sadly, India had not accepted vital recommendations in that regard.  The organization urged the Council to request India to collect data on the caste system and to include it in its mid-term report.  

Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association MBOSCUDA appreciated the Universal Periodic Review which ensured seeking inputs and follow ups on efforts to secure human rights in vulnerable communities.  Yet in India, even after three cycles, serious violations still remained.  Rape had become a daily routine affair and women belonging to vulnerable groups were being raped without any fear of punishment by the so-called dominant Indian castes.

Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee was pleased that States agreed to proactively participate and cooperate in the Universal Periodic Review.  However, some States had shown complete disregard for the Universal Periodic Review process.  India took it as a formality.  Why was India not fulfilling its recommendations, although it promised to do so in front of the Universal Periodic Review?

Article 19 – International Centre Against Censorship said that one year ahead of Iran’s third cycle review, the Government routinely used the Penal Code and Press Law to crack down on any sign of opposition or criticism, enabled by weak constitutional protections for fundamental rights.  Tightening of access to the Internet continued, facilitated by the Computer Crimes Law of 2010 which had to be repealed.  The judicial harassment of journalists and activists had continued unabated.

World Muslim Congress said that most States cooperated with the Universal Periodic Review.  Although India received many recommendations during the last three review cycles, the organization wondered if it took any of those recommendations seriously?  It seemed not.  On the contrary, the Government said they needed no international mechanisms as they had their own.  India was not serious. 

Right of Reply

Djibouti, speaking in a right of reply in response to Bulgaria that spoke on behalf of the European Union, said there were no human rights defenders detained in Djibouti and did not understand the European Union’s concerns.  Allegations of reprisals against human rights defenders were based on false information.  Civil society in the country had participated in its Universal Periodic Review process.  Djibouti reiterated its commitment to protecting human rights defenders.

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1Joint statement on behalf of: American Association of Jurists; France Libertés – Fondation Danielle Mitterrand; International Educational Development; International Fellowship of Reconciliation and World Peace Council


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC18/103E