Background Briefing

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Universal Periodic Review

One of the most important innovations of the new HRC will be the universal periodic review (UPR) of governments’ human rights records. All countries are subject to review under this process which will be a major step away from the selectivity that so often afflicted the Commission on Human Rights in the identification of countries to be scrutinized.

The G.A. resolution creating the HRC provides the basic guidelines for the UPR: universality, objectivity, cooperation, interactivity.1

Human Rights Watch believes that if the UPR is to be meaningful, the HRC should devote at least one half-day session per country, and if it is to be timely, states should come up for UPR at least once every five years. This means that the HRC would have to review an average of almost forty countries per year, the equivalent of twenty working days. The UPR should be carried out in sessions additional to the minimum ten weeks called for in the G.A. resolution.

As set out in G.A. resolution, members of the HRC must be reviewed during their term of membership. Because the terms of the initial members will be staggered, those with the shortest terms should be reviewed first in order to complete their reviews during their abbreviated term of membership.

Analysis of information

In order to fulfill the criteria of proceeding based on objective and reliable information as called for by the G.A. resolution, the UPR should begin with the assembly of information by professional staff and human rights experts:

  • The date of the UPR for each state is set well in advance to facilitate the participation of interested parties; the HRC bureau appoints an independent expert, selected from a roster prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner, as session rapporteur for each state who carries out a full visit to that state and who prepares a background note on the human rights situation in the state;
  • The Office of the High Commissioner prepares a summary of U.N. reports on the country concerned, drawn from the reports of the special procedures, treaty-monitoring bodies, and, where appropriate, peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions and OHCHR field presences;
  • OHCHR further prepares summaries of available reports on the country from domestic, regional, and international nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations.

Finally, based on all of the materials assembled, the session rapporteur prepares written questions for the state sufficiently in advance of the scheduled review session so the state can respond in full and members of the HRC can review the state’s response.

The next phase of the review should be a cooperative mechanism providing the interactive dialogue contemplated in the HRC resolution.

  • The state concerned makes a presentation of its record of fulfilling its human rights obligations and the challenges it faces in doing so. It answers the questions prepared by the session rapporteur;
  • Presentations are made by national human rights institutions (if any), regional mechanisms (if any), and nongovernmental organizations;
  • The state responds to the comments made and questions posed by others.

Each UPR should have an outcome document, including conclusions and recommendations. After the session is over, the session rapporteur should prepare a statement on the human rights situation with particular emphasis on recommendations and on proposals for remedying human rights problems identified in the review, including building state capacity, and obtaining outside assistance for doing so. That statement is reviewed, debated, and adopted at a subsequent session of the HRC.

As a result of the UPR, the session rapporteur, or the HRC, may recommend that a country rapporteur be appointed for the state concerned, who would then operate in a similar fashion to the current country-specific mechanisms. Because each country will only be subject to UPR once every five years, the decision to establish or to terminate a country-specific mechanism should also be within the province of the HRC acting outside of the UPR system (see below).

[1] “Council will … Undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs; such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies; the Council shall develop the modalities and necessary time allocation of the universal periodic review mechanism within one year after the holding of its first session” (General Assembly resolution 60/251, adopted on March 15, 2006).

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