Room for Improvement? The Practices and Approaches Adopted at the UPR Process
Carrying the burden of the largely criticised mechanism of human rights monitoring that operated under the Human Rights Council predecessor - the Commission, the UPR process was laden with expectations to undertake the task of universal applicability, and give effect to universality of rights in its work through a unique interactive dialogue session as part of the review. Indeed, a number of the UPR process’ high expectations have been met. The process boasts a universal participation to the process from all the UN member states during its decade of existence which itself, is a remarkable achievement. In addition, the UPR process has added a practical value to the system of human rights at the United Nations as it provided an invaluable opportunity for all member states of the United Nations to participate in a dialogue of international human rights law and policies, and raised awareness of how human rights norms are being implemented in different countries. This provides a unique opportunity to share and support best practices in improving the implementation of human rights norms in the domestic context. The opportunity given to observer states to raise any issue during the state under review, regardless of whether the state had formally ratified a human rights treaty has been fully utilised by the observer states. For instance, as this investigation has revealed, observer states have raised issues in relation to women’s rights norms in relation to states, despite the state under review formally having submitted reservations to the Women’s Rights Convention.25 Thus, the UPR process has provided a platform whereby peer states can bring areas of concern in relation to human rights protection to the attention of the states. In this way, all member states of the United Nations are united in a shared and collaborative project of improving human rights through the UPR process. This very character of the process is in sharp contrast to the Commission’s human rights monitoring mechanism which had been shaped by ‘naming and shaming’. In fact, even where states under review have directly rejected recommendations, and provided an explanation, the UPR process has uniquely hosted a dialogue on an international stage and highlighted areas of genuine normative disagreement amongst states on the interpretation and implementation of international human rights law on an international platform. This means that the process has provided an invaluable normative value to the identification and development of international human rights norms.
The peer review nature of the process was naturally going to inherit an element of politicisation in the manner of which it operated. However, as Cowell, Milon, and Redondo suggested, the political and cooperative nature of the UPR process facilitated the raising of controversial issues in the interactive dialogue sessions in the UPR process. The issues in focus in this investigation clearly show that observer states were not coy in holding states under review accountable for issues that were not only traditionally perceived as controversial, but also shared an inherently complicated relationship with culture. Going further, Redondo suggested that the political and cooperative nature of the UPR process will apply pressure on the states to increase compliance and commitment to improving human rights concerns in the domestic context. This investigation reveals that the overwhelming majority of recommendations distributed in relation to the women’s rights issues selected for this study, were accepted by the states under review. This means, that at least formally, the states under review have agreed to comply with the suggested reforms made during their state reviews at the UPR process. Indeed, there is an argument to suggest that this formal commitment could be beneficial to the civil society and other human rights institutions as it can be utilised to apply pressure to implement the accepted recommendations made during state reviews in the UPR process. For instance, it is very difficult for states to publicly commit to human rights norms through accepting or issuing recommendations, and then to justify their own non-compliance to these very norms.26
However, the aim of this investigation was to look beyond the numbers between the accepted and noted recommendations, to the nature of the actual discussions held in the interactive dialogue. Over the course of this investigation,
The UPR Process and the Wider Implications 241 there have been recurring strategies that have been adopted by states under review and observer states, which, as a combination, has manifested as a clog in achieving the overarching aims and objectives of the UPR process. Below, a description of these strategies are discussed, together with an analysis of possible implications of these strategies that are considered in light of the aims and objectives of the process. The section will conclude by providing recommendations for averting these approaches that undermine the aims of the process.