HRiI welcomes back Danielle Kennan who contributes this post in her personal capacity. Aoife’s previous post on the Universal Periodic Review can be accessed here. Human Rights in Ireland will be hosting a Blog Symposium, entitled Ireland’s Human Rights Priorities and the Universal Periodic Review in late December 2010. The purpose of this symposium will be to engage individuals, voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations as to what they feel are the priority areas that should form the focus of this upcoming review with regards to Ireland’s protection of human rights. Interested parties should contact Liam Thornton on lp.thornton[at]ulster.ac.uk if they wish to make a contribution to this debate.
Universal Period Review (UPR) provides an opportunity for Ireland to reflect and act on non-compliance with its human rights commitments. The UN Human Rights Council was provided with a mandate by the UN General Assembly, in April 2006, to periodically and publicly review a State every four years for compliance with its human rights obligations and commitments. The modalities of this mechanism were to be developed by the Council, based in Geneva, within one year of it holding its first session. Following a year of intensive inter-governmental negotiations on the structure and shape of the procedure the Human Rights Council established UPR in June 2007.
This innovative mechanism subjects each UN member state to a thorough review of its human rights performance every four years. Ireland will be one of the last countries to be reviewed in the first cycle of UPR. The Human Rights Council has scheduled the review for 6 October 2011. At a minimum, preparations should commence up to one year in advance.
The time therefore is now for stakeholders in Ireland to mobilise in preparation for Ireland’s forthcoming review. Initial steps have been taken by the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. The process presents an opportunity to take a step back and collectively examine Ireland’s human rights record as well as identifying immediate priorities for the four years ahead. It is intended that UPR will be a cooperative mechanism, sharing best practice and positive developments as well as highlighting non-compliance with human rights obligations and the challenges encountered in this respect.
Some aspects of the procedure are worthy of note. First, UPR reviews a country for human rights compliance on the basis of, the human rights instruments to which the State is party, the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voluntary commitments made by the State, and applicable international humanitarian law.
Second, the review process is conducted in a working group chaired by the President of the Human Rights Council and composed of its 47 member States. Over the course of three hours an interactive dialogue takes place between a high level delegation representing the country under review and the member and observer States of the Council. NGOs can observe the proceedings but not participate; nevertheless they can lobby members of the working group to raise issues on their behalf. Third, the process concludes with the adoption of an outcome report including a number of recommendations, expressly identifying those recommendations that enjoy the support of the country concerned.
During the negotiation process to establish the modalities of the procedure, much debate focused on the information that would form the basis of the review. Significantly, unlike the UN treaty body monitoring process the review is not dependant on the submission of written information by the State concerned. Under the UN treaty body system, a State party to a treaty can avoid or significantly delay a review of compliance with its treaty obligations by failing to submit periodic reports. Mindful of these difficulties, the EU and other States were determined to ensure that legally the UPR process could go ahead even in the absence of a national report and arguments to the contrary were successfully resisted in this regard.
Further efforts were made by the EU and other States to ensure that the review did not, for all intents and purposes, become exclusively a “peer review”. Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva was instrumental in securing wording which provides that information submitted by other relevant stakeholders should be taken into account in the review process. Relevant stakeholders have been identified to include NGO’s, national human rights institutions, academic institutions and civil society representatives.
Additionally the review is based on information compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), drawing on the reports of the treaty bodies, the special procedures and other relevant UN documentation.
The OHCHR requires the information that is to be taken into account during the review process to be submitted by the relevant stakeholders six months in advance. In the case of Ireland the deadline provided is the 21 March 2011. In contrast, the Government’s national report need only be submitted a short while before the review. However, it is considered good practice for the Government to publish a draft report six months in advance to inform the content being prepared by stakeholders. The Irish Government should adhere to this good practice standard.
Governments are also encouraged to prepare their report through a broad consultation process at the national level. In practice the quality of the national consultations has varied broadly, from extensive nationwide consultations to one off limited meetings. In the lead up to its review in 2008, the UK Government held consultation with the established national human rights institutions and a range of NGO’s and representatives of civil society at an early stage of the drafting process and again before the report was finalised. In the absence of Government initiated consultations national human rights institutions, in Ireland’s case the Irish Human Rights Commission, have an important role to play in initiating the national dialogue.
The founding resolution requires that information submitted by relevant stakeholders to inform the review cannot exceed 10 pages. In the event of it exceeding this limit, the OHCHR has been tasked with preparing a summary of all the information received. This situation lends itself to stakeholders forming a national coalition and through a process of dialogue identifying and documenting the most pressing issues to be addressed.
If stakeholders fail to engage in a unified approach they risk key issues being lost in the course of condensing information to the required format. Effective collaboration will in all likelihood lead to the most pertinent issues being addressed in the UPR process.