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Universal Periodic Review

Photo: © Khasar Sandag/World Bank

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:

  • Information provided by the State, which normally takes the form of a ‘national report’;
  • Information compiled from reports of special procedures mandate holders, human rights treaty bodies and UN entities (‘Compilation of UN information’, prepared by OHCHR);
  • 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.

For the latest UPR cycle reviews click here

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 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

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;
  3. 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 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.

UNCT Checklist for Engaging with the UPR

Access the print-friendly version of the UNCT Checklist by clicking 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

Case Study

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