The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Its Role in Enhancing the Work of the UN Treaty Body System

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Its Role in Enhancing the Work of the UN Treaty Body System

Miloon Kothari is President of UPR Info and the former UN Special Rapporteur on Housing.

One of the defining features of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process have been the robust follow-up mechanisms that have emerged throughout the reporting cycles of the UPR. The reports prepared for the UPR, by governments, civil society, national human rights institutions and UN agencies, reveal a range of strategies and mechanisms that are making a significant contribution to enhance the importance of UN human rights treaties and the work of the UN treaty bodies (UNTBs). The follow-up to recommendations from the UPR process have led to an increase in the knowledge of UN human rights treaties at the national level and led to an increase in the number of treaty ratifications. Moreover, the UPR process, since its inception in 2008 has contributed to the implementation of concluding observations emanating from the UN treaty bodies.

During the current treaty body review process underway at the UN General Assembly, the time is opportune to draw lessons from the UPR process to increase the impact of the work of UNTBs at the national level. The lessons from the UPR can benefit either of the two options, being considered for the UNTB review process, as outlined in the work of the Academic Platform on the 2020 Review. The options suggested in the report of this platform are either a single consolidated review or the clustered reviews eight-year cycle. The Human Rights Committee, in fact, has already adopted the eight-year cycle.  

Some of the most fascinating insights into the good practices spawned by the UPR emerge from the mid-term reports that States and National Institutions and Civil Society Groups have submitted for consideration by the UN Human Rights Council. This article seeks highlight the main findings, from the UPR mid-term reports, as they appear in a research brief entitled ‘The Universal Periodic Review Mid-Term Reporting Process: Lessons for the UN Treaty Bodies’.

The experience of the methodologies used in preparing UPR mid-term reports demonstrates numerous practices that can be of value for the follow-up work of the UNTBs Concluding Observations (CoBs) as well as act as mid-term appraisals during the gaps in reviews as envisaged in the options being considered towards the ‘clustering’ of UNTB country reviews. One of the ‘good practices’ emerging from the UPR mid-term preparation process is the creation of stakeholder and multi-stakeholder mechanisms. A number of countries have established inter-ministerial committees to oversee the preparation of UPR reports. An innovative practice, that has shown results, is the broad consultative process these committees have adopted. The approach of these committees has consisted of inter-governmental consultations that ensured regional participation in the drafting process, as well as the inclusive manner of ensuring multi-stakeholder input. A number of governments have also used the opportunity to hold regional consultations to build national capacity of different actors across the country towards the promotion and protection of human rights, including the benefit of engaging with the UNTBs.

Another approach that is commendable is the practice of governments to hold validation meetings with civil society members. Such meetings lead to substantive inputs to each other’s mid-term reports. Such a process increases the credibility and legitimacy of each report. At these meetings recommendations and critical perspectives of the draft reports have been shared. Such an inclusive process has contributed to reports that are comprehensive in their coverage of human rights issues in the country as well as assessing the status of implementation of the UPR recommendations.

Another advance evident in the national level work resulting from the UPR is the involvement of Parliaments – who have rarely discussed the work of UNTBs. It has been estimated that around 60% of UPR recommendations need parliamentary approval for implementation. Some national parliaments are beginning to become involved in the UPR process. Lessons can be drawn for the follow-up work of UNTB CoBs from the involvement of parliaments in the UPR process. Some parliaments have established network of parliamentarians; have participated in multi-stakeholder dialogues and are contributing to changes in laws and budgetary allocations to meet the requirements of the UPR recommendations.

Another positive contribution of the UPR process has been the role played by UPR recommendations in encouraging countries to develop National Action Plans on Human Rights. Several Action Plan sets out the ways in which the government fulfils its responsibility to protect and promote human rights, the specific objectives and priorities it defines in this regard, and the role of other bodies and individuals in ensuring respect for human rights in the respected country. These action plans, including the methodologies developed and the content, demonstrate the practical value in ensuring follow-up, not only for the UPR, but also the UNTB CoB’s.

The development of implementation strategies for the UPR has resulted in a number of matrices/tools to track progress with the UPR recommendations. These tools have been developed by governments, NHRI’s and NGO’s. A number of national action plans on human rights developed by governments, NHRI’s and NGO’s include these tools to demonstrate the extent to which the UPR recommendations have been implemented. Some of the tools include references to complementary UNTB CoB’s thereby reinforcing the work of UNUNTB. A consolidated matrix using these examples shows the potential of a comprehensive monitoring tool in tracking implementation of all human rights recommendations.

As demonstrated by this paper, the UPR process has produced a number of mechanisms and monitoring tools that can be of immense use to UNTB in the follow-up work of their CoBs. These mechanisms and tools can serve as guides in developing mid-course assessments as we move to reform of the UNTB, including changes in the time period between the examination of State reports.

Some of these mechanisms and tools for the UPR, developed by governments, NHRI’s and NGO’s, also reinforce the UNTB CoBs and track their implementation. The sophisticated nature of these tools are a ‘good practice’ that demonstrate the general point in this paper – that the UPR follow-up mechanisms and tools are far more robust than work produced, to date, for the UNTB. It is essential, therefore, that during the discussions towards the reform of the UNTB serious consideration is given to the many lessons that can be learnt from the follow-up processes spawned by the UPR.

An overarching recommendation that follows from the lessons, reflected in this paper, based on a partial analysis of UPR mid-term reports, is that we need to move to a consolidated national monitoring and implementation process for all recommendations emanating from the UN human rights system. Some of this work is already taking place through the matrices developed to track implementation of UPR recommendations. These matrices reinforce the CoBs of UNTBs and recommendations from the Special Procedures.

If the foundation that has now been established by the UPR, through the creation of multi stakeholder consultative mechanisms, National Action Plans for Human Rights and monitoring tools, can be fully utilised (including enhancing where necessary for the purpose of a full treatment being given to UNTB CoBs) then it will not only lead to a more coherent and coordinated UN human rights system but, most importantly, an efficient national process that will reduce significantly the reporting burden on States, NHRI’s and NGO’s to the international human rights system.

Given the devastating impact of the Covid-19 crisis on human rights, it has become clear that the entire UN human rights system needs to increase its vigilance of compliance with the obligations that states have to their international human rights commitments. In this inevitable task, the many mechanisms developed at the national levels, as a result of the UPR, can become a valuable ally.

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