The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – a unique peer review process of human rights records in all 193 UN member states – will complete its second cycle later this year. Since its creation a decade ago, it has in many cases served as a tool to address human rights situations, increase accountability for human rights violations, and enhance civil society engagement in UN-led processes.
Nevertheless, the real value of the UPR rests in the effective implementation of the recommendations accepted by the state under review. Out of nearly fifty thousands recommendations made so far, approximately a half was fully or partially implemented in the concerned countries. Areas that triggered most action were: women’s rights, the rights of the child, and justice. Issues that received least follow-up included: the freedom of movement, the right to land, and the death penalty.
Sustainable implementation of UPR recommendations needs further improvement. It can be advanced by creating dedicated national mechanisms for follow-up, developing national action plans and mid-term implementation assessments, and clearer reporting to the Human Rights Council (HRC). At the same time, many states – in particular the least developed ones – lack the resources to implement their commitments even if they demonstrate a political will to do so. Consequently, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should maintain and further enhance the technical assistance and capacity building in such cases.
While the UPR is a state-driven exercise, civil society has proven to be a valuable partner in the process, particularly by documenting human rights violations, participating in national consultations and advocacy efforts at the HRC. However, their participation in the actual implementation of UPR recommendations has been so far rather limited. Therefore, governments should make more effort to regularly seek NGOs expertise and guidance on how to best implement recommendations, including through dedicated national fora.
As the international community gears towards the third cycle of the UPR, it must focus not on changes in procedures and modalities but rather on action that delivers tangible and measurable impact on the ground. Ultimately, it is all UN member states that drive the process and are responsible for its successes and shortcoming.