Today the 12th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) comes to an end and with it the first cycle. 193 States have brought their country reports and have stood on the podium for their human rights record to be reviewed and discussed. The UPR process has also provided a new enabling environment for CS to be heard and recognized as an important stakeholder. It is quite an achievement and needs some assessment.
But before doing so, allow me some comments on this last session. CIVICUS was involved as never before. We helped, supported and registered CS delegations from Venezuela, Moldova and Uganda. For the Ugandan delegation we supported also financially the representative from the Ugandan NGO Forum. We organized a side event to highlight in particular issues related to Freedom of Assembly, Expression and Association and were able to bring the fractured parts of the Ugandans together to form one strong CS voice. (See presentations and photos attached thanks to Gabrielle, my Intern) We also organized informal meetings with Governments from Norway, the EU, Poland and Switzerland and Representatives from the OHCHR.
The Uganda Review itself showed a Government which relied firmly on all progressive freedoms contained in its constitution but forgot or was very vague about the amendments and new laws introduced during the last 5 years that have cut off civil society space drastically.
Due to the well prepared lobby guide Ugandan CS had prepared and I helped to circulate, many governments took up issues and recommendations from the document as well as from the stakeholder contribution paper during the Interactive Dialogue. Interim responses to these questions again were somewhat helpless and vague.
When they left the stage, the Government Representatives were even struck to see so many of their own people. It is now up to them, to Ugandan CS, to analyze the Preliminary Report, be well aware what the Government accepted and rejected, spread this widely at home and come back well prepared for the final adoption of the Report at the Human Rights Council plenary session next March when they will be allowed to speak for final comments before adoption. Even then, it is not the end for civil society’s involvement.. They have been tasked to lobby and monitor implementation of recommendations adopted and bring new information into the second cycle of the UPR. Uganda’s Monitor in a first reaction showed the following title: UN calls for probe into walk-to-work torture
Last night Uganda was even at the limelight. The prestigious Martin Ennals’ Award was bestowed on Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, the first ever LGBT Human Rights Defender to receive this honour. The ceremony was held in the famous Victoria Concert Hall and cosponsored by the City of Geneva.
Another ceremony yesterday afternoon celebrated or assessed the successful outcome of the first cycle of the UPR. Some impressions:
Deputy High Commissioner on behalf of Pillay: “The UPR has proved to be an innovative, transparent, collaborative instrument for change and has made it possible – for the first time ever – for all UN member states to be reviewed on an equal basis. It has been truly universal, with Government officials representing every single one of the 193 member states, and very active participation by local, regional and international NGOs as well. Some 80 percent of Government delegations were led by ministers who travelled to Geneva for the review, which clearly demonstrates the importance States attached to the UPR process. I am encouraged that the UPR has already begun serving as a catalyst for change”
Ambassador from Marocco: The UPR is the only UN mechanism for human rights that all states have cooperated with. It is a common arena for mutual analysis. UPR is a real success story in the UN It is not yet perfect, but it is perfectable….A strong CS voice from Africa was also heard (by our friend Hassan Shire) who underlined some good practices of new or renewed dialogue among CS coalitions at national and at international levels. However, he also warned about so called “CS consultations” being used by some governments as sheer rubberstamping exercises without taking concerns expressed into their final country reports.
Uganda accepted almost all recommendations, either immediately or for more consultation with the Government structures at home until official adoption at the HRC19 in March. It rejected only one cluster of recommendations, 16 paragraphs, all dealing with sexual orientation or gender identity.
It is now up to the Ugandan CS to analyze, raise more awareness and prepare for March and the 2nd cycle of the UPR.Read the Uganda Side Event Report here.
By Renate Bloem