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States can greatly benefit from UPR while promoting and protecting human rights

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Cambodian delegates during a UPR session in 2019. CAMBODIAN MISSION IN GENEVA

States can greatly benefit from UPR while promoting and protecting human rights

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), since its inception in 2008, has proved as one of the most satisfying and successful Human Rights Council (HRC) bodies and UN human rights mechanisms.

Aimed at enhancing the human rights situation in all the 193 UN member states with tangible impact on people across the globe, the UPR uniqueness is vested in the embedded value of universality, equality and cooperation.

At each HRC regular session’s Item 6, different regional groups and respective countries have lauded the UPR for its “intergovernmental process; for being UN member-driven and action-oriented; objectivity; transparency; non-selectivity; constructive, non-confrontational and non-politicised manner; cooperation with the full involvement of the concerned states; sharing of best practices; provision of technical assistance and capacity-building in consultation with, and with the consent of the concerned states; and enhanced cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights.”

The study conducted by the UPR Info, published in mid-2022, identifies wide-ranging concrete and transformative human rights progress that states have realised through implementing the accepted third cycle UPR recommendations.

Notably, to name a few, Finland launched its National Democracy Programme 2025, with one of its key focus areas being human rights education in teacher training. Cambodia finalised a draft of a law to establish the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in line with the Paris Principles to promote human rights; enacted 10 amendments to the Law on Trade Unions (on January 3, 2020); adopted its National Plan of Action 2019-23 aimed at combating all forms of human trafficking; the UK government adopted strategies on “Tackling Violence against Women and Girls” in 2019 and 2021.The Canadian Parliament passed the National Housing Strategy Act, which human rights-based approach is core to its housing policy. In July 2021, France introduced a law to address hate speech. In 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo started to implement the free primary education policy nationwide.

The Fourth Cycle of UPR kicked off in November 2022 and will last until 2026 to complete all the UN member states’ reviews. To greatly benefit from this exemplary exercise, states in general are encouraged to consider the following best practices in implementing the UPR recommendations.

Some of the best practices from around the world documented by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) study include the establishment of institutional mechanisms for follow-up and reporting and multi-stakeholder committees constituting civil society organisations (CSOs), and/or NHRIs and governments; active CSOs engagement in the UPR process; active UN country team in UPR processes and submission of reports, combined with efforts to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and preparation of UPR mid-term reports. Obviously, the aforementioned points have been being implemented in Cambodia.

Briefly put, in writing a UPR report, three working groups are involved: (1) the UPR Working Group of the Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC); (2) the Inter-ministerial Working Group (WG) on substance and inputs; (3) Inter-ministerial Leaders’ WG.

For data collection, the UPR WG of the CHRC allocates the recommendations’ sub-field for the relevant ministries-institutions’ input. In writing and finalising the UPR report, various stages follow, including consultation on the draft report among the inter-ministerial technical WG, consultation on the draft report with the CSOs working on human rights, and comments from Inter-ministerial Leaders’ WG.

The vibrant and dynamic presence of CSO operating freely in Cambodia has constructively contributed their observations and reports to each stage of the UPR report and the recommendation implementation.

Notably in March 2019, with the CHRC, OHCHR in Cambodia and UPR Info co-organised the CSO UPR Strategy Workshop in Phnom Penh, where some 60 representatives from national CSOs gathered, along with the participation of various embassies’ representatives, to analyse Cambodia’s Third Cycle UPR recommendations, and for the thematic working groups to develop action strategies demonstrating how civil society can contribute to implementation.

Speakers commended the Cambodian government for leaving all recommendations pending until the adoption, which allowed for a national debate on the status of the recommendations.

Furthermore, strengthened parliamentary engagement on the UPR is also encouraged. In exercising their legislative, budgetary, and oversight functions, the parliaments play crucially important roles in creating cornerstones of national human rights protection systems, serving as the nexus between the international and national human rights mechanisms, setting up and effective functioning of a dedicated human rights committee. (Details of the parliament roles can be found on the OHCHR website, UPR section).

Moreover, each state may consider developing National Action Plans on Human Rights that integrate implementation measures mounted on UPR recommendations, thematic focus, and those from the Treaty Body and/or Special Procedures.

To objectively assess its solid human rights progress and take further efforts, states should develop and put into use the human rights tracking methodologies and monitoring tools, such as the implementation matrix of recommendations derived from the UPR, Treaty Body, and Special Procedures.

The matrix can cluster the thematic areas, identify specific actions by relevant government bodies and the support of potential partners, and develop indicators/data to track implementation progress within a specific timeframe.

States can utilise the OHCHR’s National Recommendations Tracking Database (NRTD), which is an online application designed to help states plan and track the achievement of their human rights obligations and the SDGs. Some countries are currently using or piloting the NRTD while others are setting up the system’s necessary infrastructure into use. The OHCHR disclosed that by late 2022, at least over 50 states have requested its technical assistance in setting up the newer NRTD version.

A proverb says “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” And it’s true. Human rights are inherent to all human beings. They are not granted but must be protected and promoted by states for their people’s wellbeing.

Va Veasna is a human rights observer based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The views expressed are his own.

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