In this post, Liam Thornton, from Human Rights in Ireland, offers some reflections on the nature and process of the Universal Periodic Review. These reflections do not necessarily represent the views of any of the individuals/organisations who have contributed to this UPR Symposium.
As can be seen from the previous posts, the UPR offers the potential to further highlight areas where Ireland’s protection of human rights may not be fully up to scratch. The UPR process is to complement rather than replace current reporting procedures to UN human rights treaty based bodies. Previous reviews of Ireland’s human rights record at the UN level have uncovered serious issues with Ireland’s human rights protections in civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, women’s rights and issues relating to racial or ethnic discrimination. The various treaty based bodies who have made observations on Ireland’s compliance with its international legal obligations are primarily composed of human rights experts who reviewed Irish respect for and protection of human rights. The UPR process is more politicised than current UN human rights review mechanisms. However, it is a state peer review process by member and observer states of the Human Rights Council, informed by the information it receives from Ireland, the Irish Human Rights Commission and civil society organisations.This does not mean that the Irish government, the Irish Human Rights Commission or civil society should not engage with the process. However, I believe that this process does not hold the same weight or impartiality as the human rights treaty based processes.
It would be foolish not to recognise that the make-up of the UN Human Rights Council consists of a number of countries whose human rights records are less than ideal. In fact, many of the countries have amongst countless other grievous violations of fundamental human rights, engaged in torture, political oppression, gross violations of basic socio-economic rights and suppression of minority rights. While Ireland has also engaged in violations of internationally protected human rights, it has to be accepted that Ireland’s record of disrespect and failure to protect does not reach the level of some of those on the Human Rights Council. Having such a political review (real or perceived) may lead to public dismissal of genuine concerns the Human Rights Council has with Ireland’s human rights protections. The UPR process has in my view, the potential to undermine the work of the human rights treaty bodies, who may be cast in the same light as the UN Human Rights Council. The observations of the various human rights treaty bodies often get minimal coverage, however given that this is a review by a main organ of the UN tasked with assessing state compliance, it may receive more discussion within national fora.
In engaging with the UPR process, its limitations must be clearly explained, the possible political influence that respective states may have must be recognised and where the process provides recommendations which Ireland should take heed of, these should be reported with reference to similar (if any) recommendations which have been made by the UN human rights treaty bodies.