Universal Periodic Rreview: Peer review of countries’ human rights records
The UPR was created by the General Assembly in 2006 (A/RES/60/251). It is a State-driven process which provides the opportunity for each Member State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their country and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As stated in its founding document, the UPR operates under the auspices of the HRC and was designed to ensure “universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States” when their human rights records are assessed. The UPR receives information from non-government stakeholders and from the UN system as a whole. By 2011, the human rights record of all 193 Member States had been reviewed. There is no other universal mechanism of its kind. The ultimate goal is to improve, in every country, the situation of human rights and to address violation of human rights wherever they happen.
How to engage with the UPR process
‘UN Support to the Implementation of UPR and other Human Rights Mechanisms’ Recommendations Policy Decision (Policy Committee Decision 2014/5)* lists the following actions for the UN system to undertake to engage with the UPR and other human rights mechanisms.
1) Prior to the review
Support States and other actors in building their capacity to more actively engage with the UPR through awareness-raising and advocacy;
Provide technical assistance to States in fulfilling their reporting obligations;
Provide a platform for governments, NHRIs, CSOs and other actors to discuss critical human rights challenges;
Encourage the establishment of standing national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up as a means of coordinating the process of reporting to the UPR and other mechanisms and bodies, as well as following up recommendations;
Contribute information on inter alia the implementation of the recommendations accepted by States in the previous cycle of the review and the developments of the human rights situation since then, to be incorporated in the UPR ‘compilation of UN information’ report.
2) During the review
Support States and other actors to more actively engage in and interact with the UPR, for instance by supporting and facilitating local access to the review meetings (which are webcast by the UN) by convening a targeted or public screening;
Participate actively in the review of the State concerned, including by attending and making an intervention at the HRC plenary session during the consideration and adoption of the relevant UPR outcome(s).
3) After the review
Provide support to States in developing institutional mechanisms (such as national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up) with the task to coordinate States’ efforts in implementing recommendations of the UPR and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms;
Assist States in thematically clustering recommendations flowing from the UPR and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms in a comprehensive national implementation plan;
Integrate recommendations of the UPR and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms into country analysis with a view to guiding the formulation of joint UN Country Team or individual UN entities’ planning and programming instruments, including CCAs and UNDAFs;
Further mainstream support in the implementation of the recommendations emanating from the UPR and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms into the peace, reconstruction, humanitarian and development agenda;
Support and facilitate the translation and broad dissemination of the UPR outcome report(s) and use UPR recommendations as advocacy tools;
Systematically compile and analyse recommendations made by the UPR and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, as well as regional systems, track the government’s response, identify serious human rights issues and establish prevention and response mechanisms;
Document lessons learned and good practices in terms of positive impact of the UPR and the work of other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms on the national and local human rights situation.
- OHCHR Information Note for UN Resident Coordinators, UN Country Teams, other UN entities regarding the universal periodic review.
Human rights treaty bodies: Reviewing progress in implementing human rights treaties
The treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation by States parties of their obligations under nine core international human rights treaties. All treaty bodies (with the exception of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture) receive periodic reports from States that are party to the treaties, detailing how they are applying the treaty provisions at the national level. Most treaty bodies may also consider complaints or communications from individuals alleging that their rights have been violated by a State party, provided that State has opted into this procedure. Some may also conduct inquiries and consider inter-State complaints.
All treaty bodies have developed the practice of inviting States parties to send a delegation to attend the session at which the committee (or subcommittee) will consider its report, in order to allow it to respond to members’ questions and provide additional information on their efforts to implement the provisions of the relevant treaty. The examination of a report culminates in the adoption of “concluding observations” intended to give the reporting State practical advice and encouragement on further steps towards implementing the rights contained in the treaty.
The reporting system is an important tool by which a State can assess what it has achieved and what more it needs to do to promote and protect human rights in the country. The reporting process should encourage and facilitate, at the national level, public participation, public scrutiny of State policies, laws and programmes, and constructive engagement with civil society in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, with the aim of advancing the enjoyment by all of the rights protected by the relevant treaty.
HOW TO ENGAGE WITH THE HUMAN RIGHTS TREATY BODIES
What is the added value of human rights treaties and their monitoring bodies for UN Country Teams?
UN Country Teams are in a unique position to utilize the treaty body system in their own activities on the ground
in their common effort to strengthen national human rights protection systems. The following points highlight
the added value of treaties and their monitoring mechanisms in the overall support by Country Teams to
strengthen national protection systems:
• The human rights treaty framework should be the basis of the national protection framework. The former alone establishes international legal obligations for States and attracts the accountability that only legal obligations predicate, even as national laws and practices change. Thus, human rights treaties form a continuing reference system and minimum standard for UNCT action;
• Treaty bodies provide clarification on the meaning of universal human rights standards;
• The process of treaty implementation by States parties, including the preparation of reports and follow-up measures to recommendations of treaty bodies, provides a critical mechanism to bring about legislative, policy and programmatic change, and accountability at the national level by providing:
• A tool in benchmarking the current level of knowledge and implementation of relevant human rights obligations;
• A tool for assessing the gap between the human rights obligations and the situation experienced by the population in general, and children, women and minorities in particular, as well as the capacity of institutions and mechanisms to address that situation;
• A tool for emphasizing legal responsibility of Governments for human rights protection and promotion in dialogue with Governments;
• An opportunity to establish a national mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the various human rights treaties;
• An opportunity for public scrutiny of government policies and the participation of various sectors of society in the formulation, evaluation and review of policies;
• An entry point and platform for a national dialogue on human rights amongst the various stakeholders in the process, including different government agencies, the media, national human rights institutions, NGOs, the Parliament, women and young people and civil society as a whole, thus engaging with and facilitating the host society’s efforts, indispensable for strengthening sustainability.
• The concluding observations and recommendations of treaty bodies identify specific human rights concerns, to help set priorities at the national level which may provide a framework for joint action by Governments, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners, and a guiding reference and tools for programming consistent with the provisions of the relevant treaties, which should inform the CCA/UNDAF processes;
• International human rights standards and the output of the treaty bodies, including their General Comments, provide a reference system for national courts and a framework for human rights accountability at international and national levels;
• Treaty bodies provide additional tools for National Human Rights Institutions, whose responsibilities often include encouraging ratification or accession to international human rights instruments and ensuring their implementation, as well as contributing to the reporting process.
Possibilities for cooperation between UN Country Teams and Treaty Bodies
The human rights treaty bodies provide a number of useful entry points and opportunities for participation by UN Country Teams. For instance, UNCTs can systematically facilitate the participation in the reporting process by States and NGOs, where appropriate; provide concise data to Committees; and use its outputs as a programming tool. Such engagement transforms the reporting exercise into a dynamic tool for assessment and dialogue with States, UN agencies and NGOs which can provide an essential framework to hold States parties accountable for their treaty obligations. Specific activities may include:
• Participating in the reporting process by providing concise and substantive input to treaty bodies on particular areas of concern with regard to the implementation of the respective convention under consideration, as well as concrete suggestions to the list of issues to be prepared by the treaty body
prior to the consideration of reports;
• Following up with States parties on implementation of concluding observations and recommendations of treaty bodies, as well as drawing these recommendations to the attention of other actors, including national human rights institutions and NGOs, for instance, by organizing briefings or town hall
meetings, and assisting in follow-up as appropriate. These recommendations can be used by UNCTs as a tool to encourage necessary legislative, policy, budget or programmatic review or change, as well as effective implementation of existing legislation or policies. They should also inspire UN action at the
country level and contribute to CCAs/UNDAFs;
• Encouraging compliance with reporting obligations in a timely manner and in accordance with the reporting guidelines of the respective committees, including through reporting workshops and other capacity building activities for both Government and civil society;
• Acting as catalyst for national level action by a wide range of partners, including international and regional agencies and NGOs, in encouraging and facilitating participation of these partners in the reporting process and follow-ups;
• Encouraging accession or ratification of treaties or their optional protocols in their contacts with the Government;
• Encouraging the creation of an institutional framework for the preparation of reports and mechanisms to allow for participation of all sectors of society in the reporting process and the implementation of recommendations;
• Raising awareness about the treaties and the outputs of their monitoring bodies amongst national stakeholders, including by translating the recommendations into local languages, thus strengthening national level capacity.
International human rights treaties
|Treaty||Treaty body||Number of State parties (as of 17 August 2015)|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (ICCPR) Optional Protocol (1966) Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (1989)||Human Rights Committee (CCPR)||
|International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) (ICESCR) Optional Protocol (2008)||Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)||
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) (ICERD)||Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)||177|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) (CEDAW) Optional Protocol (1999)||Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)||
|Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) (CAT)||Committee against Torture (CAT)||158|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2002) (OPCAT)||Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT)||79|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) (CRC) Optional Protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2000) Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2000) Optional Protocol to the CRC on a communications procedure (2011)||Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990) (ICMW)||Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW)||48|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) (CRPD) Optional Protocol (2006)||Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||
|International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006)(ICPED)||Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)||50|
Other key declarations, standard rules, guidelines, recommendations and principles of the United Nations system
- Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955) and Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988);
- Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (1979);
- Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary (1985);
- Declaration on the Right to Development (1986);
- Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992);
- Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993);
- Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1998);
- Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007);
- Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) (2010);
- Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (2010);
- Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (2011).
Special procedures: Independent experts reviewing country or thematic issues
The special procedures of the HRC are independent human rights experts with a mandate to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Special procedures mandates are held by either an individual (called a Special Rapporteur or Independent Expert) or a working group composed of five members from the five regions recognized by the UN. 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. They contribute to the development of international human rights standards, engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, receive complaints from rights holders and provide advice for technical cooperation.
Special procedures report directly to the HRC, and the majority also report to the General Assembly and are supported by OHCHR. Their mandate depends on the resolution that creates them. They achieve their mandate through communications to States on individual cases, and the undertaking of studies and consultations, country visits, technical cooperation and outreach. The system of special procedures is a central element of the UN human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social, as well as the right to development.
As of 15 June 2015, there were 41 thematic mandates and 14 country-specific mandates.
HOW TO ENGAGE WITH THE SPECIAL PROCEDURES
What is the added-value of Special Procedures for UNCTs?
Through the conduct of fact-finding missions, special procedures mandate-holders identify the root causes and various facets of phenomena of human rights violations at a given time, and can analyze good practices, and on that basis provide recommendations to help refine the possible range of preventive or remedial measures. Reports on fact-finding missions provide a detailed analysis of the political, institutional, legal, judicial and administrative frameworks from a human rights perspective, as well as with regard to the promotion and protection of a given right or set of rights.
Through communications to Governments, Special Procedures not only have the possibility to address with the concerned authorities individual cases of violations, but they identify patterns of human rights violations country-by-country. Such trends constitute essential information on areas which need reform and strengthened support and are useful elements for the design, implementation and evaluation of technical cooperation programmes.
Through the development of thematic studies, Special Procedures contribute to the further definition of human rights norms and standards, refining their content and their field of implementation. They also increasingly study the relationship between certain themes and human rights norms and standards, which provide a normative basis for rights-based programming.
Through press releases, Special Procedures raise awareness among the wider public of human rights violations, thereby promote discussion and participation at the local level.
Possibilities for cooperation between UNCTs and Special Procedures:
The activities of Special Procedure mechanisms provide opportunities for useful cooperation with UNCTs:
• Mission preparation/conduct: Substantive participation by UNCTs in mission preparation and conduct affords the opportunity to update and contextualize the information already received by the mandate holder and helps her/him to get the most out of the visit in terms of identifying persons, sites and material to be most usefully consulted. It can also provide opportunities for the UNCT to engage in a dialogue on human rights issues, with a various range of partners, in particular the Special procedures mandate-holders themselves, the authorities, human rights NGOs, etc.;
• Follow-up to missions: UNCTs can make use of the interest generated following a visit, as well as keep in contact with the mandate holder, in order to maintain momentum on addressing human rights issues;
• Advocacy and programming: UNCTs can encourage the government to cooperate with, invite and implement the recommendations of Special Procedure mandate holders. The recommendations made can also serve as a platform for UNCTs to mobilize the government and other actors to address human
rights concerns, and also for longer-term programming and institution-building.
- OHCHR Directory of Special Procedures Mandate Holders (updated regularly).
Supervisory mechanisms of other United Nations system norms and conventions on human rights
The fundamental conventions of the ILO and the relevant bodies that monitor these standards are critical for monitoring rights to and at work. The ILO fundamental conventions include the following:
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No. 87);
- Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98);
- Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29);
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105);
- Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138);
- Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182);
- Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100);
- Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111).
- ILO’s NORMLEX database. This brings together information on international labour standards, including ratification, reporting requirements and comments of the ILO supervisory bodies.
- ILO, Handbook of procedures relating to international labour Conventions and Recommendations (Rev. 2012).