Enhancing the Effectiveness of the UN Universal Periodic Review: Civil Society Perspective

In a new report released today, “Enhancing the effectiveness of the UN Universal Periodic Review: A civil society perspective,” CIVICUS examines the experiences of civil society groups from across the world in engaging with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The report, based on interviews with civil society leaders operating in diverse regions of the globe, provides a number of substantive recommendations to strengthen the UPR process to support the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society to promote and protect human rights.

UPR.Report.Cover“As almost half the world’s governments implement controls in breach of international law  to suppress civil society voices at home, the UPR is emerging as an essential avenue to address pressing national human rights concerns,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy & Research. “This paper, in collating the views of civil society experts, underscores the integral value of public participation with this important process to protect and promote universal human rights.”

The report finds that the UPR, a UN process which involves the review of the human rights records of all UN Member States every 4.5 years, is increasingly used as a mechanism to highlight human rights concerns especially for countries where civil society is under threat. The report further reveals that the UPR is playing an increasingly important role in initiating and resuscitating multi-stakeholder dialogue and cooperation on contentious human rights issues.

Despite the growing prominence of the UPR, a number of challenges continue to thwart effective realization of the process. Among negative trends identified are reprisals against civil society actors aimed to undermine their engagement in the UPR, paucity of information, and lack of harmonization between regional and international intergovernmental human rights monitoring mechanisms.

“While still a relatively new process, the UPR has emerged as a key forum for civil society to engage on critical human rights concerns,” said Tiwana. “Its effectiveness can be enhanced by encouraging the international community and national governments to take proactive measures to facilitate robust public participation in the process.”

To address these and other challenges, the report puts forward a number of substantive recommendations including the need to:

  • create mechanisms to monitor  the implementation of recommendations and commitments made by the countries under review;
  • create specific sanction mechanisms for governments who persecute civil society representatives for participating in UPR related activities at the UN Human Rights Council;
  • translate and disseminate UPR related materials to the general public and civil society to facilitate greater engagement with the process; and
  • reduce burdensome restrictions on accessing the UN Human Rights Council which disproportionately affect human rights defenders operating in the global South such as discriminatory visa processes and high costs of participation.