What is it? How is it relevant to my work?

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was created by the General Assembly in 2006 and is carried out by an inter-governmental working group of the Human Rights Council. The objective of the UPR is to review the fulfillment of the human rights commitments and obligations of all 193 UN member states as set out in: a) the UN Charter; b) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; c) human rights instruments to which the State is party (human rights treaties ratified by the State concerned); d) voluntary pledges and commitments made by the State (e.g. national human rights policies and/or programmes implemented); and, e) applicable international humanitarian law. It is a state-driven peer review mechanism, whereby all the UN member States are reviewed on the same terms.

The review is based on the following documents:

  1. Information provided by the State, which normally takes the form of a ‘national report’;
  2. Information compiled from reports of special procedures mandate holders, human rights treaty bodies and UN entities (‘Compilation of UN information’, prepared by OHCHR);
  3. Information from other stakeholders, including NHRIs and NGOs (‘Summary of stakeholders’ information’ prepared by OHCHR).

The actual review takes place in a 3.5-hour interactive dialogue in the UPR Working Group (composed of 47 member States of the Human Rights Council). During the session, the Government concerned has an opportunity to present its national report and is then followed by an opportunity for member and observer States to ask questions and propose recommendations. Each review is assisted by groups of three States, known as “troikas”, who serve as rapporteurs. The recommendations from the interactive dialogue are included in an outcome document. The State under review (SUR) has the opportunity to make preliminary comments on the recommendations, choosing to either support or note them. The final report is then adopted at a plenary session of the Human Rights Council.

The UPR is set up in 4.5-year cycles, so that States’ human rights records will be continuously reviewed. Human Rights Council holds three UPR Working Group sessions annually. The second cycle, which runs from May 2012 to November 2016, saw 42 States reviewed each year, with 14 States reviewed in each session. The focus of the second and subsequent cycles is on the implementation of accepted recommendations and human rights developments in the State under review.

In March 2016, the Human Rights Council decided that the UPR third cycle shall commence in April/May 2017 once the outcome documents of the last States considered during the second cycle have been adopted by its plenary session in March 2017. It is expected to finish in October-November 2021.

How is the UPR relevant to UN Country Teams?

The objective of the UPR is to review the status of all Member States’ human rights obligations. It also allows the sharing of best practices among States and other stakeholders and ultimately aims at the improvement of the human rights situation nationally. While experts make recommendations in the Treaty Body and Special Procedures mechanisms, the UPR is a state-driven process, whereby the State itself voluntarily endorses the recommendations provided by its peers. The list of endorsed recommendations can thus provide an ideal entry point for discussions between the government and the UN about areas where they would like to get technical assistance and advice. Each phase of the UPR process can be valuable for the work of UNCTs.

The UPR process can be divided into three distinct phases: (i) prior to the review; (ii) during the review; and (iii) after the review (See “Actions for UN System, in line with their respective mandates, to engage with the UPR process”, Annex to Secretary-General’s Decision No. 2014/5, “UN support to the Implementation of Universal Periodic Review and other Human Rights Mechanisms’ Recommendations”, August 2014).

Prior to the review: what are the benefits of being involved?

Prior to the review, the documents on which the reviews are based are prepared, i.e. the national report, the compilation of UN information and the summary of stakeholders’ information. All three reports are equally important as they offer different perspectives on the human rights situation in the country. These reports for the subsequent cycles should assess the level of implementation of the recommendations received and look into the human rights situation in the country since the preceding review. They are made publicly available in advance of the respective county’s review in the UPR Working Group.

UNCTs can find out when the respective country is scheduled to be reviewed through the UPR website (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx) and support States and other actors in building their capacity to more actively engage with the UPR through awareness-raising and advocacy. UNCTs can also facilitate the reporting process by providing information about the guidelines for UPR written submissions.

What can UNCTs do to support the UPR process prior to the review?

  • The preparation of the national report should follow a national consultation process. Stakeholders to consult should include local authorities, trade unions, community and religious leaders, the NHRI, human rights defenders as well as civil society organizations, among others. UNCTs play an important role in this process by:
  1. Providing technical assistance in the form of advising on the reporting procedure and format as well as the content of the report;
  2. Providing the necessary knowledge base and awareness about the UPR to stakeholders to enable / motivate their involvement in the national consultation process;
  • Providing a platform and facilitating the dialogue for governments, NHRIs, NGOs and other civil society organizations to discuss critical human rights challenges.
UNCTs can support reporting to and implementation of recommendations emanating from UPR, the Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures through encouraging the establishment of national standing reporting and coordination mechanisms (NSRCM)

A national standing reporting and coordination mechanism is a domestic structure that collects information regarding the human rights situation in the country from different sources, shared information with stakeholders (Parliament, judiciary, NHRIs, specialized bodies, civil society), and responds to queries from international and regional human rights mechanisms, coordinates follow-up by State actors to recommendations emanating from international and regional human rights mechanisms, and keeps track of the implementation by the State of these recommendations.

  • The compilation of UN information report is derived from different sources of information, such as reports by Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. UNCTs also have an important role to provide information by:
  1. Drafting a joint UN submission to be incorporated in the UN compilation report by the UPR secretariat at OHCHR. In its submission, UNCTs should indicate clearly the status of implementation of UPR recommendations received by SUR in the prior cycle, using specific recommendations paragraph numbers from the Working Group report. In this regard, UNCTs are encouraged to report on the status of all UPR recommendations, not only those supported by SUR but also noted ones; or
  2. Sending relevant information, such as National Human Development Reports, or other publicly available UN reports prepared locally, to the UPR secretariat.
  • The report summarizing information from other stakeholders is composed of individual submissions from NGOs and NHRIs or joint submissions based on a consortium of organizations. This information will be summarized by OHCHR. This process can be supported by UNCTs by:
  1. Providing a convening role and facilitating information sharing and cooperation between organizations;
  2. Advising on the reporting format and disseminating information about the key phases of the UPR;
  • Ensuring that representatives of marginalized groups that are often excluded have a chance to participate in the reporting process.

 During the review: what are the benefits of being involved?

The actual review takes the form of an interactive dialogue between the SuR and the member and observer States of the UPR Working Group. All written submissions considered during the review are made publicly available on the UPR website prior to the review. All the UPR Working Group sessions are also broadcast live on UN Web TV (www.webtv.un.org) and can be viewed by anyone. During the adoption at the Human Rights Council plenary session, NHRIs with “A” status pursuant to the Paris Principles have the opportunity to speak directly following the State under review, and increasingly are doing so by video tele-conference.

It is important for UNCTs to be aware of when the review of the respective country is scheduled and to have reviewed all the written submissions, as well as to follow the UPR session proceedings. Awareness about the UPR and pledges made by the governments during the UPR sessions can be useful UNCTs to identify gaps in human rights fulfilment and transparency in efforts to support accountability. UNCTs can play an important role by providing information and facilitating a local dialogue.

What can UNCTs do to support the UPR process during the review?

  1.  Assisting the State under review in participating in the review in Geneva by sharing information on the UPR Fund for participation created by the Human Rights Council in 2007;
  2.  Arranging for the live webcast of the UPR session to be broadcast and convening stakeholders and partners to watch, followed by a round table discussion;
  3.  Ensuring that the press is aware of UPR reports and recommendations and providing additional information, if needed
  4. Facilitating local access to UPR meetings: UN entities may facilitate local access to UPR meetings (via webcast, for example) by convening targeted or inclusive public screenings. This could also encourage national or local CSOs to engage more with the UPR process.
  5. Organizing different activities, such as stakeholder consultations and seminars, in cooperation with development partners, government representative from across ministries (depending on the thematic focus of the recommendations), and UNCTs

After the review: what are the benefits of being involved?

The review in the UPR Working Group results in a UPR outcome report which contains the summary of the interactive dialogue, the responses by the State concerned to the questions and recommendations, and the full list of recommendations made by States. The reports with the recommendations are available on the UPR website. During the second and subsequent UPR cycles, the human rights record of the member States will be reviewed to take stock of the extent of implementation of the recommendations received in the preceding review.

As UNCTs, it is important to realize that the work is not finished when the review session is over. The important implementation phase takes place between the review sessions. By supporting the recommendations, the government from the SuR commits to implementing them. The list of recommendations provides an excellent entry point and outlines a roadmap for UNCTs to discuss follow-up activities with government and development partners.

It is also to be noted that the Human Rights Council established in 2007 a financial mechanism called the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance with a view to provide a source of financial and technical assistance to help countries implement recommendations emanating from the Universal Periodic Review. UNCTs can assist the SuR in applying for assistance under this fund.

What can UNCTs do to support the UPR process after the review?

  1. Providing support to States in developing institutional mechanisms (such as inter-ministerial committees) with the task to coordinate States efforts in implementing recommendations of the UPR and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms. A coordination mechanism will serve to highlight progress and obstacles where implementation needs to be supported and accelerated and / or where it would be helpful to establish prevention and response mechanisms in the case of a risk of serious violations
  2. Engaging in a discussion with government and development partners to develop strategies for how to implement the UPR recommendations in a strategic manner. This can be done by means of thematically clustering the recommendations in a comprehensive national implementation plan to get an overview of the key areas for providing capacity development assistance and technical advice. Priority recommendations can be identified and targeted interventions planned or strategies for addressing a number of recommendations devised
  3. Providing support to existing national human rights mechanisms and assisting government agencies to develop National Plans of Action (NPAs) which address and incorporate the UPR recommendations
  4. Using the reports prepared in the UPR process as analytical input while preparing the UNDAFs or other country level programming, to identify priority areas as well as areas of concern where specific programming interventions should be developed
  5. Disseminating the outcome of the review, supporting documentation in the local language, and using UPR recommendations as advocacy tools and entry points for policy dialogue on specific topics that are perceived as specifically sensitive
  6. Arranging awareness raising events such as seminars and brown bag lunches for UN staff and development partners to inform them about the UPR process and recommendations and further developing/strengthening dialogue and cooperation with relevant civil society actors and NHRIs, which will allow for their participation in the development of implementation and monitoring of national development plans and programmes

Other actions could include:

  • Convening civil society, the media, donors and government: UNCTs are in a unique position to facilitate greater engagement of civil society and vulnerable or marginalized groups in the UPR process, from the preparatory to the follow-up stages. Because different stakeholders have differing views on how the UPR recommendations should be implemented, providing a platform for discussion offers an opportunity for all sides to engage in useful dialogue
  • Suggest the use of the UPR recommendations as a guideline to carry out a more extensive review of existing human rights mechanisms (treaty bodies and special procedures) that apply to a country, in order to assess how these can be mutually reinforcing, and be fully utilized in advancing the implementation of the UPR recommendations
  • Supporting the establishment of independent NHRIs in particular countries, which could carry forward the work of pushing for the implementation of accepted UPR recommendations
  • Assisting CSOs in monitoring States’ progress in implementing recommendations, including by supporting CSOs to submit and or publish the NGO reports alongside the mid-term reports released by States on their website, and encourage more States to submit progress reports.
Mozambique Case Study: The UPR as an opportunity to enhance
UN and national programming
Successful engagement in the UPR process by the Government of Mozambique set the conditions for a strong momentum to raise the bar on human rights awareness and protection in the country. The Government, civil society and the UN utilized the UPR recommendations as a common framework to prepare harmonized actions, targets and goals for the promotion and protection of human rights. The adoption of the UPR recommendations took place in parallel with the drafting of the new UNDAF (2012 – 2015) which provided an important opportunity to align the priorities and plans of the UN, the Government and civil society.The Action Plan included the introduction of specific UPR recommendations in the UNDAF and specific outputs linked to UPR recommendations in the Justice and Human Rights Project of UNDP which commenced in 2012. Awareness of the Action Plan was raised through several events in all provinces of Mozambique. The result of this approach is that for 2012 – 2016 time period – Mozambique will have one clear human rights agenda utilized by most stakeholders, with determined and common baselines, tasks and indicators of success.In using the UPR to enhance the UN and national planning and programming processes, the UNCT identified several lessons learned including:

  •  It is important to build on the collaboration established between the stakeholders during the reporting phase to immediately plan for the follow-up to the recommendations by agreeing on a nationally-owned Action Plan
  • To ensure national ownership it is key that plans are presented transparently to stakeholders for discussion throughout the country
  • A realistic Monitoring and Evaluation framework should be included and costing of the Action Plan is also vital to identify already existing resources and gaps from the outset
  • Follow up to the UPR can become the commonly agreed road map to raise human rights standards and for the backbone of a joint and coherent human rights agenda for the UNCT. Establishing clear links between the UPR recommendations, the UNDAF and other Country Programme and planning documents is important in order to integrate the issues and follow-up
  • Continue to organize events with stakeholders on progress in implementing the UPR recommendations

UNCT checklist for engaging with the UPR

A print version of the checklist is available here.

General Checklist
Know when the country is scheduled for the UPR
Review the UPR information and reporting guidelines and familiarize yourself with the process
Read all the UPR reports for the country prepared in the preceding cycles
Know which government ministries and coordination mechanisms are in place to coordinate and carry out UPR reporting and implementation
Know who to contact in the local or regional OHCHR office to get support and advice on the UPR process
UPR pre-session Checklist
Assist the country in participating in the Working Group session in Geneva by liaising with OHCHR’s UPR Secretariat
Know if the UNCT is preparing a joint submission to be incorporated in the UN Compilation report or if there is a coordinated effort to submit relevant reports to the UPR Secretariat
Know who in the government is responsible for writing the national report and explore the need/interest for technical assistance
Know if the National Human Rights Institution and any civil society organizations are preparing individual or joint submissions and explore the need/interest for technical assistance
UPR in-session checklist
Inform the local press and media about the UPR session in Geneva
Participate in the review of the country by attending the Working Group session and/or making oral statements at adoption in the HRC plenary session
Organize a screening of the webcast UPR session and / or other outreach activities for development partners and civil society
UPR post-session checklist
Provide support to States in establishing inter-ministerial committees (standing national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up) in order to coordinate State efforts in implementing recommendations of all international human rights mechanisms
Review the UPR outcome report and identify opportunities for the recommendations to be included in UN planning and programming processes, such as the UNDAF and other country level plans
Engage in a discussion with relevant government partners about UN policy advisory services and technical assistance that can be provided to support the UPR follow-up process
Engage in a discussion with relevant government partners about arranging a UPR midterm review

Universal Periodic Review http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRmain.aspx

UPR sessions http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/upr/pages/UPRSessions.aspx

OHCHR Information Note for Resident Coordinators, UNCTs and other UN entities regarding the UPR (Third Cycle) https://undg.org/document/ohchr-information-note-for-resident-coordinators-uncts-and-other-un-entities-regarding-the-upr-third-cycle/

Tentative deadline for UN entities to submit written contributions https://undg.org/document/tentative-deadline-for-un-entities-to-submit-written-contributions/

UPR: information and guidelines for relevant stakeholders’ written submissionshttp://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/UPR/TechnicalGuideEN.pdf

UPR documentation by country http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/Documentation.aspx

UPR contact information http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/ContactInformation.aspx

UPR Fund for participation http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRFundParticipation.aspx

UPR Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRVoluntaryFundFinancialAndTechnicalAssistance.aspx

UPR info’s website (not an official UN sourcehttp://www.upr-info.org/

UNFPA, 2014: “Lessons from the First Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review: From commitment to action on sexual and reproductive health and rights” http://www.unfpa.org/publications/commitment-action-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights

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Silo Fighters Blog

An excellent tool for mainstreaming human rights

BY Jessica Braver, Valeria Guerra, Maria Jeannette Moya | July 28, 2015

The process of reviewing a country’s human rights records can become an opportunity to bond human rights with development. In Argentina, the Universal Periodic Review process has promoted human rights as the daily work of everyone in the UN system. This spirit exemplifies the ‘Human Rights up Front’ initiative. Human rights are at the core of the United Nations mandate. In the UN Charter (1945) and in UN resolutions, we have reaffirmed our faith in fundamental human rights. As UN staff members, we need to bear this in mind in our daily work, regardless of our area of expertise. Improving UN action to safeguard human rights Human Rights up Front seeks to ensure that the UN system takes early and effective action to prevent or respond to large-scale violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. The initiative, launched in 2013 by the UN Secretary-General, calls for a major cultural shift within the UN, placing the protection of human rights and of people at the heart of UN strategies and operational activities. A leading role in human rights mainstreaming Human Rights up Front highlights the role of the UN Resident Coordinator (RC) system in mainstreaming human rights, encouraging us to work together in a more cohesive and coherent way. In Argentina, the Resident Coordinator’s office has been working on positioning the topic in the UN agenda, as well as on building an inter-agency culture for the Universal Periodic Review, so as to install human rights mainstreaming as a priority. What is the Universal Periodic Review? The Universal Periodic Review examines the human rights situation of all 193 UN Member States (A/RES/60/251) under the umbrella of the Human Rights Council. The State under review submits a report declaring what actions it has taken to improve human rights situations in the country. Information is also provided by relevant stakeholders, and by UN international experts and agencies working in the country, who highlight concerns and propose action. Each State is assessed by fellow State representatives, under the principles of cooperation and equal treatment. State delegates then make recommendations for action. The expertise and on-the-ground knowledge of UN agencies, funds and programmes working in each country are invaluable assets for the UPR. And we, as UN officials, must make the most of this opportunity to help improve the human rights situations of our host countries. How we did it in Argentina We welcomed support from the OHCHR The RC’s office has been supported by the Regional Office for South America of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Argentina participated in the OHCHR UPR Project covering five South American countries, which provided an overall framework for UPR-related matters, information sessions and technical assistance on how to draft our UPR report. OHCHR insisted that the effective engagement of the whole UN system was crucial to a successful UPR process. In the end, Argentina received 119 recommendations in its second UPR (2012), some of which embodied inputs from the UN system, which meant that local agencies, funds and programmes could see their added value reflected in the outcome report. We established the Inter-Agency Group on Human Rights Based on conversations held by the RCO, OHCHR-South America and the Government, the Inter-Agency Group on Human Rights (IAGHR) was set up in 2012. It supports the monitoring of recommendations made to Argentina, having its own duties, coordination mechanisms and work plan. It also puts a special emphasis on including a human rights-based approach in the preparation of the new 2016-2020 Cooperation Framework for Argentina. Five agencies helped hire a human rights advisor At the suggestion of OHCHR, a human rights advisor for the RC’s office was hired to specifically address human rights mainstreaming and to monitor the implementation of UPR recommendations. The position was funded by OHCHR, UNICEF, UNDP, UNODC and UNHCR. The human rights advisor was also part of the five-country OHCHR UPR Project. We created a matrix linking human rights and development The OHCHR UPR Project prepared a matrix systematizing all recommendations made to its countries of coverage. The UN system in Argentina produced its own matrix linking the UPR recommendations with development projects by the different UN entities. By connecting UN initiatives with the UPR recommendations, which were accepted by the country, the UN system found a new and strong source of legitimacy. Further, the State committed to implement the UPR recommendations in four and a half years. We took action with the government and other stakeholders The UN System in Argentina provided support to the government in following-up and implementing UPR recommendations. Also, workshops were held to disseminate the UPR mechanism and its recommendations among UN System, Senate, Judiciary, civil society and ombudsperson’s office. These workshops encouraged the submissions of UPR midterm reports. How can you use the UPR process to enhance human rights? There can be no peace without development, no development without peace, and there is neither without human rights. On one hand, the Universal Periodic Review process presents a unique opportunity to engage Member States in the protection of human rights, and encourages cooperation between States and the exchange of international experiences to strengthen policies and institutions. On the other hand, UPR is a key instrument for the UN System to provide a framework for coherence and joint action among UN System and also opens a window for cooperation with the governments and other stakeholders in the process of follow-up and implementation of UPR recommendations. If you have a story to share about the UPR, please post a comment and links for more information.

Country Stories

Viet Nam Engaging with International Human Rights Mechanisms to Achieve Universal Access to Education

March 8, 2014

The most important reason for us to support mother tongue-based bilingual education is to promote social equality in education by creating equal opportunities for ethnic minority children to have access to quality education. - Mr. ViVan Dieu, Director, Research Centre for Ethnic Minority Education, Viet Nam Institute of Educational Sciences. Abstract As a direct result of Viet Nam undergoing the Universal Periodic Review in May 2009, the government invited six Special Procedures mandate holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council to visit Viet Nam. Four Special Procedures visited Viet Nam during 2010-2011, one of whom was the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues in July 2010. During her visit, the Independent Expert on minority issues engaged closely with the United Nations country team, which contributed to ensuring that her recommendations reflected the realities, priorities and challenges in the country. The recommendations from the Independent Expert proved a valuable tool for guiding and strengthening efforts to move forward on ensuring equitable and inclusive growth in Viet Nam. In particular, her engagement with UNICEF on the issue of bilingual education for children of ethnic minorities resulted in an explicit reference to UNICEF’s work in this area and a recommendation that this approach be supported and expanded in the country. These recommendations added significant weight and credibility to UNICEF’s work on bilingual education, providing UNICEF with an advocacy tool to raise attention and commitment to this approach. Bilingual education has since been recognized by the Ministry of Education as one of the solutions to reducing disparities in access to education. Background The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam is a one-party state ruled by the Communist Party of Viet Nam. It has an estimated population of 87.8 million people, of which 14.3 percent belong to one of 53 minority ethnic groups.1 Many of these ethnic groups have their own distinct language, religion and cultural identity and live in remote parts of the country. The rest of the population belongs to the majority ethnic group, known as the Kinh. Over the past two decades, Viet Nam has achieved rapid economic growth and has significantly reduced overall poverty rates from 58.1 percent in 1993 to 14.5 percent in 2008.2 As a result of this growth, Viet Nam attained the status of a middle income country in 2010.3 One of the biggest development challenges that Viet Nam faces in the process of transitioning to a middle income country is the widening gap between rich and poor and between different regions. The ‘feminization of poverty’4 is also a growing challenge. Local customs, patriarchal attitudes and traditions have led to gender inequality in the labour market and in political and public life. Furthermore, ethnic minorities continue to be particularly vulnerable to high levels of poverty and inequality. While in 1990, only 18 percent of those living in poverty belonged to ethnic minorities, by 2008 ethnic minorities accounted for almost 56 percent of the poor.5 In 2012, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted its concern over the lower level of development indicators among ethnic minorities, especially regarding access to health and education.6 Viet Nam faces significant human rights challenges in the area of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly. Space for expressing views on government policies and practices is also limited.7 Education for ethnic minorities The official language used in schools in Viet Nam is Vietnamese. While the law recognizes that ethnic minorities have the right to use their mother tongue in schools in order to preserve and develop their ethnic and cultural identity, the lack of teaching capacity in minority languages has meant that in practice children are taught in Vietnamese only. As many minority communities have only a limited understanding and proficiency in Vietnamese, this has created a language barrier for many of these children. Lack of access to education in their mother tongue, together with the use of Vietnamese, is considered one of the reasons why the net primary school completion rate among ethnic minority children (61 percent) is significantly lower than the rate for Kinh (86 percent). For minority women the problem of illiteracy is particularly acute; literacy rates for ethnic minority women are just 22 percent, as compared to 92 percent for ethnic Kinh women.8 Strategy Engaging with international human rights processes and mechanisms Since 2008, UNDP has been implementing a capacity-building project on human rights treaty reporting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project has provided an opportunity for the United Nations country team in Viet Nam to engage with and support the government in its interaction with international human rights mechanisms. Supporting engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, human rights treaty body reporting, sharing knowledge on processes and procedures, and supporting the government in organizing visits of Special Procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council proved a useful way to concretize human rights concepts and provide expertise to the government. In May 2009, Viet Nam was assessed under the Universal Periodic Review. This afforded the government an important chance to present an overview of the main opportunities and challenges they faced in meeting their international obligations, as well as to demonstrate progress made toward achieving key commitments under human rights treaties. It also provided an opportunity for the United Nations to support the government to engage effectively with this process. At the government’s request, UNDP, in close coordination with the United Nations country team and with OHCHR Geneva support, facilitated training for government officials on the Universal Periodic Review. As part of this training, UNDP invited other countries from the region (Indonesia and Philippines) that had already undergone the process to share their experiences with Viet Nam. These activities helped build the government’s capacity and openness to engaging with international human rights mechanisms and, in doing so, strengthening the quality of Viet Nam’s engagement in the Universal Periodic Review. Viet Nam ensured representation at the highest level, which reflected the importance given to the Universal Periodic Review by the government. The Universal Periodic Review experience, in turn, generated greater momentum to engage with other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. One of the follow-up measures to the Universal Periodic Review process was the government’s invitation to six Special Procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council to visit Viet Nam. BOX United Nations Special Procedures: The Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Special Procedures are either an individual (called Special Rapporteur or Independent Expert) or a working group, usually composed of five members. Mandate Holders serve in their personal capacities and do not receive salaries or other financial compensation for their work. They rely on government invitations and cooperation to carry out their work. Mandate holders are appointed by the Human Rights Council and their work is supported by Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). END BOX Viet Nam received four visits of United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders between 2010 and 2011: the Independent Expert on minority issues (July 2010); the Independent Expert on extreme poverty and human rights (August 2010); the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt (March 2011); and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health (November – December 2011). These visits provided significant occasions for Viet Nam to benefit from the expertise of Special Procedures in its efforts to follow up on the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, and to address key human rights issues in the country. The United Nations country team took a number of steps to maximize the value and impact of these visits and to optimize the benefits of the government’s engagement with the Special Procedures. As a first step, and in collaboration with OHCHR Geneva, the United Nations country team organized workshops for the government to provide guidance on the overall procedures of such visits and the mandates of the Special Procedures. During the visits, the United Nations country team and technical experts from the agencies played an important role by providing the Special Procedures with technical expertise on issues falling within their mandates. This was particularly important in Viet Nam where civil society is developing its capacity to engage in these processes. In turn, being able to draw on this expertise ensured that the Special Procedures report and recommendations reflected the realities, opportunities and challenges in the country. United Nations country team engagement with the Independent Expert on minority issues In July 2010, the Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougal, visited Viet Nam. The United Nations country team viewed the visit of the Independent Expert as an opportunity to strengthen and further reinforce government efforts to address widening inequalities and persistent poverty among minority ethnic groups. Supporting the government to achieve inclusive and equitable growth is a core part of the United Nations country team’s development agenda. At the beginning of the visit, the United Nations country team organized a formal briefing with the Independent Expert to discuss key issues, challenges and opportunities. This was followed by in-depth briefings with technical experts from several United Nations agencies. The United Nation’s inter-agency approach proved extremely valuable in this process. Having all United Nations agencies around the same table provided the Independent Expert with a breadth of expertise and knowledge on a wide range of issues affecting her mandate – ethnic minority poverty, cultural diversity, sexual reproductive health for minorities and bi-lingual education. United Nations agencies’ expertise in the relevant areas enabled the Independent Expert to support the agencies’ work. It allowed the Independent Expert to draw on agency expertise to make concrete and useful recommendations that could assist the government to move forward. According to the Independent Expert, her visit was, “a great opportunity to re-introduce Viet Nam to the international human rights mechanisms. It allowed Viet Nam to share its accomplishments and the obstacles it has had to surmount with the Human Rights Council and human rights mechanisms. The government took my mission very seriously. They learned a lot from the mission on what they can expect in engaging with human rights mechanisms.” Engaging the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues in support of bilingual education for ethnic minorities Internationally there has been consistent recognition of the value of bilingual education in improving learning and reducing drop-out rates.9 To examine ways by which this concept can best work in Viet Nam, the Ministry of Education and Training worked together with UNICEF to pilot a project on bilingual education in three provinces (see Box 1). In addition, to generate support among government counterparts for this approach and to ensure the government would benefit from the expertise of international human rights mechanisms, UNICEF, in collaboration with the United Nations country team, strategically engaged with the Independent Expert on minority issues during her visit in July 2010. UNICEF provided the Independent Expert with in-depth briefing notes on the legal framework for ethnic minority languages in education and their rights to use their mother tongue in school. UNICEF also held face to face meetings with the Independent Expert and organized her participation in a mother-tongue teacher training workshop. This participation enabled her to interact directly with teachers being trained. BOX Box 1: UNICEF’s Action Research on mother tongue-based bilingual education in Viet Nam UNICEF has been supporting the Ministry of Education and Training to implement and monitor a pilot project on bilingual education since 2008. The pilot project is being carried out in three provinces – Lao Cai, Gia Lai and Tra Vinh – in the minority languages of H’mong, Jrai and Khmer, respectively. Students in each province will complete the pilot programme by 2015. Through the project, teachers are trained in bilingual education techniques and provided special teaching and learning materials developed in consultation with local communities. The project is being carefully monitored for evidence of improvements in the quality of education. The ultimate objective is to feed the research results into a national education strategy that supports bilingual education.10 END BOX Results In the Independent Expert on minority issues’ report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the issue of bilingual education for ethnic minorities featured prominently among the key recommendations. The Independent Expert explicitly referred to the example of UNICEF’s work in bilingual education and recommended that this approach be supported and expanded to other districts. According to the Independent Expert’s report, “the importance of improving the education outcomes of minorities cannot be overstated. Access to quality and appropriate education is a fundamental gateway to development and poverty eradication for minorities in Viet Nam..." The independent expert saw clear evidence that bilingual education ultimately serves to increase the potential of ethnic minority children and communities to learn and use Vietnamese…The government should permit and support bilingual education for ethnic minority children.”11 Her recommendations to Viet Nam were fully in line with the United Nations country team’s overall policy recommendations on minority issues outlined in the United Nations’ One Plan. This is an achievement realized through the engagement and cooperation of the United Nations country team with the Independent Expert during the course of her visit. Most importantly, the visit of the Independent Expert provided a powerful advocacy opportunity for the United Nations’ efforts to promote bilingual education. By validating the methodology that UNICEF and the Ministry of Education were piloting and encouraging its institutionalization, the recommendations provided authoritative inputs for UNICEF to draw upon in advocating for this approach.12 The recognition and support of the Independent Expert added weight and credibility to the methodology, providing a significant recommendation for its acceptance in the country. The Ministry of Education has now formally recognized that bilingual education is one of the solutions to strengthen ethnic minority children’s education.13 Moreover, early results from the UNICEF Action Research on mother tongue-based bilingual education are promising. As a whole, children enrolled in the programme are performing better than minority children not enrolled in the programme in language competency tests in both their mother tongue and Vietnamese. They also outperform ethnic minority students not in the programme in listening comprehension and mathematics. As a result of the encouraging results from the Action Research, this approach is increasingly being recognized as a good practice, both nationally and in the region. One provincial department of education and training has opted to use its own funds to more than double the number of bilingual education classes; 344 Mong ethnic minority children are now enrolled in these classes. Three additional provinces, Dien Ben, An Giang and Ninh Thuan, have also expressed interest in the methodology and have committed to applying the approach. The Provincial Department of Education and Training is supporting these efforts and has scaled up mother tongue-based bilingual education so that each school year from 2011 to 2015, a new group of 210 children aged five will enter mother tongue-based bilingual education classes. Specific policy recommendations on the use of bilingual education have also since been promulgated by the National Assembly and Committee for Ethnic Minorities. In addition, delegations from Myanmar and China visited Viet Nam to learn from this experience. Equally, the report from the Independent Expert raised the visibility and interest in the approach among donors and development partners in Viet Nam. These partners have expressed interest in supporting the follow-up to the Independent Expert’s recommendations. For example, the European Union delegation in Viet Nam welcomed the Independent Expert’s recommendations on the expansion of mother tongue-based instruction and requested UNICEF to prepare a concept note on how this approach could be expanded within the country. The experience of Viet Nam also highlights the important role that the United Nations country team, through its long-term presence in the country, technical expertise and normative mandate, can play in supporting the government to follow up on recommendations of the Special Procedures mandate holders. As noted by the Independent Expert, “the United Nations country team is essential and may be the only possible mechanism for follow up, given the limited capacities of Special Procedures” Since the visit of the Independent Expert on minority issues, Viet Nam’s growing engagement with other human rights mechanisms is leading to greater international exposure on the issue of bilingual education. The country recently reported to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 2012)14 and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (June 2012).15 Both Committees, in their Concluding Observations to Viet Nam, urged the country to increase the provision of bilingual education programmes for ethnic minority children, further supporting and validating Viet Nam’s efforts in this area. Lessons Learned The Universal Periodic Review presents an opportunity for government to strengthen its engagement with all international human rights mechanisms and for the United Nations country team to support government capacity in engaging with these mechanisms. The United Nations country team can play an important role in maximizing the value and impact of the visits of Special Procedures mandate holders. Engaging with the United Nations country team during a country visit allows the Special Procedures to draw upon the expertise of development agencies to offer concrete and useful recommendations that can help the government move forward on human rights issues. Access to quality and appropriate education is a gateway to development and poverty reduction for minorities. The introduction of bilingual education for minority children can help these children to make better early progress and creates strong and culturallyappropriate foundations for their future schooling. The recommendations of international human rights mechanisms can provide valuable and authoritative inputs to integrate human rights into United Nations advocacy, policy and programming initiatives to further development outcomes. The visits of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council can ensure that government efforts to address human rights challenges and to mainstream human rights into development programmes benefit from internationally-recognized expertise. Endnotes UNICEF Action research brief UNICEF, Vietnam and the Millennium Development Goals United Nations in Viet Nam Website United Nations compilation report to the Universal Periodic Review, OHCHR, March 2009, A/HRC/WG.6/5/VNM/2. Viet Nam Millennium Development Goals National Report 2010, p. 114. Concluding Observations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Viet Nam, June, 2012, CRC/C/VNM/CO/3-4. Concerns over access to freedom of information, the independence of the media from the State, freedom of assembly, the ability of individuals, groups and civil society to express their opinions or dissent publicly were noted at the interactive dialogue of the Universal Periodic Review of Viet Nam by the Human Rights Council in May 2009: A/HRC/12/11. Report of the Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, January 2011, A/HRC/16/45/Add.2. Mission to Viet Nam (5-15 July 2010) UNICEF Annual Report 2010, p. 23. UNICEF Action research brief  Report of the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, 24 January 2011, A/HRC/16/45/Add.2 paras. 85, 87 and 89. Mission to Viet Nam (5-15 July 2010) UNESCO has been a key partner with UNICEF in advocating for and promoting multilingual education in Viet Nam. The 2011 “Management Document on Teaching Vietnamese to Ethnic Minority Students” of the Ministry of Education and Training, explicitly cites the Action Research on mother tongue-based bilingual education as one of the four solutions to improving education for children of ethnic minorities. Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Viet Nam, March 2012: CERD/C/VNM/CO/10-14. Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Viet Nam, June 2012: CRC/C/VNM/CO/3-4.