The United Kingdom came in for robust questioning on its human rights record from other UN member states last week at the Human Rights Council, during the historic first session of the Universal Periodic Review Coming at a time when the UK government is trying to pass yet another piece of counterterrorism legislation, which includes extending pre-charge detention to 42 days, it’s no wonder a significant number of countries asked about UK counterterrorism policies. .

Coming at a time when the UK government is trying to pass yet another piece of counterterrorism legislation, which includes extending pre-charge detention to 42 days, it’s no wonder a significant number of countries asked about UK counterterrorism policies. Neighbors such as The Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland expressed concern about 42 day detention, but so did countries like Syria and Algeria. Algeria’s representative pointed out that the Human Rights Committee - the UN body that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - had recently “upbraided” Algeria for allowing up to twelve days of pre-charge detention.

Justice Minister Wills defended the UK’s counterterrorism approach as proportionate, necessary and subject to parliamentary and legal review. On this, as on most of the other issues touched upon, Wills gave little reason to believe the UK would change its position, despite the criticisms it received. Many interveners congratulated the UK on the broad consultations it conducted with domestic nongovernmental organizations leading up to the UPR. Indeed, the UK circulated a draft national report among NGOs and asked for input. But consultation is not synonymous with compliance, and the official report did not reflect many of the NGOs’ opinions that the government had so eagerly sought.

Overall, given the constraints of the forum - 3 minute interventions by states, with periodic responses from Mr. Wills - it was a substantive “interactive dialogue” that touched on major human rights issues in the UK. Other reviews in this historic first UPR session have not been nearly as challenging. But what happens now? An outcome report containing 29 recommendations - some broad-brush, others quite specific - that came out of last week’s debate will likely be adopted in June by the full Human Rights Council. Ultimately though, the UK will only be held to account for implementation of those recommendations it accepts, not the ones it rejects.