The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, established by Resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, is a system devised to regularly review the Human Rights performance of all member states. 1 The UPR aims to be a cooperative undertaking based on dialogue, led by states, under the supervision of the Human Rights Council.
The normative Human Rights framework which the UPR draws from is made up of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, combined with the international Human Rights instruments, voluntary obligations and other commitments to which the state under review is a party.
The UPR’s principal information sources are: 2
- The information gathered by the state in question, presented orally or in writing.
- A compilation of information prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights from United Nations organs.
- A compilation of information provided by NGOs and national Human Rights institutions.
Process and outcome
All states, on a rotating basis, are subject to the UPR every four years.
The state undergoing the UPR is first subject to review within a working group for three hours. This session includes an ’interactive dialogue’, where NGOs are not allowed to intervene (see box below). This ’peer review’ leads to a report, comprising a summary of the debates as well as the conclusions, recommendations and voluntary commitments undertaken by the state examined. This document is adopted during the working group’s session and later during a plenary session of the Human Rights Council. 3 The state is called upon to implement the recommendations contained in the outcome document and to report on it at its next UPR four years later. the state has the right to accept or reject the report’s recommendations. The outcome document will mention those recommendations that are accepted by the state.
Using the process in the context of corporate activities
So far, taking into account the fact that states submit a national report on the Human Rights situation in their country, the possibility of using the UPR process in order to raise the extraterritorial responsibilities of states, regarding the activities of their companies abroad, seems limited. However, this should not prevent members of civil society from demanding that states under review be questioned on the measures they take to ensure the respect of Human Rights by companies operating on their territory. Likewise, questions regarding the measures taken by the home country of transnational corporations to regulate their activities abroad could be addressed during the review of the national legislation of that country.
FIDH and lao movement for Human Rights (LMHR) joint submission for the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of laos (January-february 2015). 5
This joint UPR submission focused on land rights violations and the targeting of land and environmental rights defenders in the Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic (PDR). FIDH and LMHR denounced the Human Rights violations resulting from large-scale land leases and concessions to domestic and mostly foreign investors (in particular Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese investors), including widespread evictions and land confiscation without adequate consultation, compensation and resettlement, which led to inadequate access to education and health facilities as well as loss of livelihood and food insecurity. The report pointed to how investors are taking advantage of poor enforcement of the legal framework for the approval and management of land concessions and lack of administrative oversight to violate the land concession approval process as well as their contractual obligations, which leads to serious socio-economic and environmental impacts. The examination of four case studies involving large-scale investment project stemming from land concessions illustrated the gap between legislative provisions and their poor implementation on the ground.
Submission of the Institute for Human Rights and Business for the USA’s UPR Review session 9 (April 2010). 6
“(…)this submission by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) addresses select aspects of the United States government’s record of protecting against Human Rights abuses committed by or involving business. The submission offers recommendations for consideration by the US government and members of the Human Rights Council”, including “passing legislation that specifically provides an avenue for individuals to seek redress under US law for Human Rights abuses involving US registered companies at home and abroad.(…)”; “ensuring that US produced technology products are not used to violate rights to privacy and freedom of expression of internet users at home and abroad. (…)”; and “increasing the oversight and regulation of private military companies when they operate abroad (…), through tighter license requirements and more effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms (…)”.
The UPR aims at dealing with all states equally, in an “objective, transparent, non-selective, constructive, non-confrontational and non-politicized” 7 manner. However, in practice, reviews remain all too often an international diplomatic exercise which produces results below the expectations of civil society.
- Universality of the exercise.
- Opportunity to insist on implementation of recommendations from treaty bodies and Special Procedures.
- The state commits to implement recommendations.
- Important media attention.
- Partiality in the interventions of other states.
- evaluations are often in contradiction with those of the independent experts of the UN Committees and Special Procedures.
- NGOs play a limited role.
- Governmental NGOs (GONGOs) sometimes dominate the interventions reserved for NGOs (example of the review of Cuba and China).
- No follow-up procedure.
- States may accept or reject recommendations.