In 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), to evaluate how well UN member states are fulfilling their international human rights obligations. The UPR is made up of a working group of 47 members. Each state is individually reviewed every four years. At the end of the process, an “outcome statement” lists recommendations made, and indicates which ones have been accepted by the state. The process allows states to reveal which recommendations they will implement to right abuses. Non-government organisations (NGOs) can use outcome statements to hold governments accountable for protecting human rights. It is the government's responsibility to follow through on its UPR commitments; however, the UPR may intervene if states fail to make improvements.
HOW THE UPR PROCESS WORKS
In the six to eight months before a state is scheduled for review, three parties submit research:
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) prepares its own document, which is based on information from UN Rapporteurs, treaty bodies and other UN reports.
NGOs and other interested parties from within and outside the country submit reports, which are summarised in a 10-page document compiled by the OHCHR.
State representatives must submit a 20-page report outlining the country’s efforts and challenges in fulfilling its international human rights commitments.
The review process also involves a three-hour interactive dialogue in which any UN member state can question the review country. Member state representatives put forth specific, actionable recommendations on how the government can remedy past wrongs and prevent future injustices. Only UN member states are permitted to speak during this period. Member states and states under review can also ask the UPR to coordinate capacity building and technical assistance to aid the governments in fulfilling the recommendations. Two or three days after this dialogue, state representatives identify which recommendations the government will follow. Three to six months later, member states and accredited NGOs are invited to speak; the “outcome statement” is officially adopted by the Human Rights Council.
In subsequent reviews, the UPR will investigate each state’s progress in implementing recommendations and the Council may address uncooperative cases. Through advocacy, technical support and other means, the relevant stakeholders - including civil society actors - have an active role to play in implementing recommendations. The UPR Council may also help coordinate financial and technical support.
3 STRATEGIES FOR FREE EXPRESSION ORGANISATIONS
1. Submit a Report
Free-expression organisations are invited to send submissions that inform member states of both progress—and gaps—in human rights obligations. These reports should also suggest how states can better protect and promote media independence, freedom of expression and access to information. NGOs can also form coalitions to submit reports.
Any individual, NGO or civil society member can submit facts and recommendations regarding the human rights situation in any country.
The civil society organisation does not have to be UN accredited, nor based or operating in the country under review. However, the OHCHR will only use credible and reliable information from identified and trusted sources in its report. See Submitting a Report to the UPR.
Leading up to the review, NGOs can lobby individual member states to ask questions and put forward recommendations. Individuals or organisations can lobby any or all of the following state representatives:
Delegates of member states in Geneva.
The individuals or bureau within the country's foreign affairs ministry that is responsible for overseeing UN relations.
Officials of the embassies within the country under review.
TIPS: LOBBYING MEMBER STATES
For two reasons, representatives should appeal directly to member states to ensure their concerns are heard:
- Many NGOs make written submissions, which are condensed in a single report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
- Only member states can suggest recommendations for the outcome document, so it is crucial that organisations lobby them directly to voice specific recommendations.
- For more information on lobbying opportunities, see Lobbying effectively
3. Advocate and Campaign
Before the review, NGOs can use public awareness-raising and media campaigns to generate interest in the UPR and highlight the issues they want the review to address.
During the review, human-rights organisations may engage in the following activities:
- Attend the three-day UPR interactive dialogue (as silent observers)
- Speak at the plenary session in which the outcome document is adopted
- Organise ‘parallel events’ at the Geneva Office of the UN while the review is in session
- Invite civil society members, the media, and government representatives to watch the review via live webcast
Organisations can advocate locally, nationally or internationally to pressure states to fulfil the commitments they make in the review process. Organisations may wish to work individually or in a coalition to monitor the government's implementation of the review.
HOW NGOs CAN PARTICIPATE
If an NGO wishes to attend the official review session, it has to be accredited. Becoming accredited can be a long and difficult process, but fortunately this consultative status is not required for an organisation to submit a report, lobby or campaign. Instead, IFEX organisations that have the official status may agree to accredit representatives of other organisations if these individuals can make a strong contribution to a particular session.
Accredited organisations include:
- ARTICLE 19
- Reporters Sans Frontières
- International Publisher's Association
- International PEN
NGOs do not require accreditation to carry out the most effective strategies for raising free expression issues at the UPR — lobbying, campaigning and submitting reports. NGOs are limited in their roles at UPR sessions: only member states are allowed to ask questions or make recommendations in the three-hour dialogue. At the plenary council, accredited NGO representatives are invited to speak for a maximum of two minutes prior to the adoption of the outcome document.
Organisations can apply for consultative status
For background on attaining status, and useful application tips, see here
Six to eight months before the review
Submit reports. See Submitting a Report to the UPR. Late submissions will not be considered.
Three to four months before the review
Contact member state delegates at embassies for information to be sent to the member’s state capital and then to the delegation in Geneva.
At least one month before the review
Contact member state delegations in Geneva long before the review, as member states may take several months to formulate their statements for the official review session.