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FIACAT’s report : The UPR - An ambivalent exercise April 2008 – December 2009

January 2010

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On 29 November, Kofi Annan, then United Nations Secretary-General, addressed the Human Rights Council and asserted that it should “avoid disappointing” and lapsing back into “the divide between North and South, between developed and developing countries”.

In Resolution 60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council, adopted on 15 March 2006 [1], the General Assembly set out the guiding principles for the Council’s activities: universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity and international dialogue and co-operation with a view to enhancing the promotion of human rights.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/251 created a new mechanism: the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The review is supposed to be based on objective and reliable information that allows the Council to ensure universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States.

It began on 7 April 2008 in an atmosphere of the utmost confusion as to the procedures to follow. The President of the Human Rights Council, Doru Costea, [2] explained that it was impossible to plan all these in advance and that it would take a year or two before the new review found its feet.
The basis of the review, its principles and objectives, its process and modalities and its final outcome are all set out in Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1 adopted on 18 June 2007. While it depends on objective and reliable information, the Universal Periodic Review of a State must be carried out in an “an objective, transparent, non-selective, constructive, non confrontational and non politicized manner” that “ensure universal coverage and equal treatment of all States”.

Resolution 5/1 provides for an active role for NGOs in this mechanism. It is supposed to “ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations and national human rights institutions”.
FIACAT has allied itself to this process by training its member associations to enable them fully to participate in the mechanism. FIACAT intervenes each time a country where there is an ACAT is reviewed under the UPR procedure.

Two years and six sessions after the mechanism was first instituted, FIACAT has assessed its work, its strengths and its weaknesses.

The initial review sessions actually brought to light some inherent flaws in the procedure, thereby highlighting that, improvements to the UPR are possible. But the first few sessions also illustrated the progress that this new exercise offers States that play by its rules.

The UPR results are ambivalent. Once States are judge and jury, foreign policy is never far from their thoughts when they take the floor. Indeed, it is not the experts who assess a State but peers. The UPR exercise reflects the new Human Rights Council. It is just one of the signs pointing to a broader crisis in the international system. The question is not whether to withdraw or not from the Council; it is the multilateral body where human rights are discussed. The process itself, however imperfect it may be, must be tackled, in order to make it as efficient as possible.


[1] United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council sets out that the Council is mandated “to undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfilment 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; it is to be based on cooperation and dialogue with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity building needs”.

[2] Romanian Ambassador and President of the Human Rights Council from June 2007 to June 2008.

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