The UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) scrutinises the human rights records of all UN Member States. The States are each assessed on the basis of reports from the state under review, civil society actors, and UN institutions. At the end of the review, a list of recommendations is proposed, to be accepted or rejected by the state in question. The more recent UPR sessions have included an assessment of any progress made since their last UPR. See the UPR website
for more information on how the UPR is run.
Why should PEN Centres engage with the UPR?
NGOs and other civil society organisations are encouraged to present reports, also called ‘submissions’, on the situation of human rights in your country or the country of your choice. Reports can focus on issues on freedom of expression and opinion, the right to education, indigenous people’s rights, conflict prevention and all other aspects of human rights covered by the UN instruments. For NGOs, particularly those based in the countries under scrutiny, the UPR provides an opportunity to present reports and recommendations that will then become part of the review. Any NGO can present a report, and although summarised for the dialogue, the papers are available in full on the UN website. What makes this mechanism especially important is that it is a completely open and public process. All the documents are made available on the UN website, even those of smaller NGOs. All the sessions are recorded not only in writing but in webcasts that can be watched live or on archive. It provides an opportunity for all NGOs, big or small, based outside the country, and more importantly inside, to have their concerns raised and fully documented. Where a State accepts UPR recommendations they make a strong political commitment before all UN Member States to implement them in the following four and a half years. Participating in the UPR also provides opportunities to collaborate and establish new civil society partnerships, as well as raising awareness about human rights issues in a particular country. A chart providing details of which countries are coming up for review, can be found here
How and when to engage with the UPR The OCHCR have published guidelines on how to engage with the UPR, which are available in Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish. See below for a brief summary of how and when to engage. Preparation of State’s UPR report: 1 year prior to review
Get involved in national consultations with the State to raise human rights concerns and ensure these issues are included in the State’s own report.
Preparation of the NGO submissions to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR): 7-8 months prior to review
NGOs can submit concise reports of evidence they think should be considered in the upcoming UPR. UPR Info and Child Rights Connect have published a helpful guide on how to prepare a submission, which is available in English
Before the UPR: 1-3 months prior to review
Advocate for your recommendations to be made by States participating in the UPR. By looking at previous years’ recommendations, you can see which States have made recommendations in your area of interest in the past. States are able to pose questions to the State under review either through advance written questions or an oral statement during the review. By contacting UN missions in Geneva and/or embassies in the State under review, you can try to get questions asked on particular areas of concern.
During the UPR
Only NGOs in consultative status with UNESCO can attend the sessions of the Working Group. However all sessions are webcast live and made available online afterwards. NGOs can hold side events to provide information to attendees on the situation in the country. The OHCHR recommends that NGOs inform and/or involve the State under review. Representatives of NGOs can also participate in side events organised by others, to make contact with other NGOs. The UPR outcome report, which contains all the recommendations, is drafted within 48 hours of the review.
After UPR and before official adoption
Although the State can accept or reject recommendations as soon as the outcome report is adopted, they have a few months after this to provide a final answer. NGOs can lobby the State to accept more recommendations, or change their position on rejected recommendations, before the Human Rights Council plenary session when the UPR outcome report will be officially adopted.
At the Human Rights Council plenary session
NGOs may deliver an oral statement on the review of the State, or join an oral statement prepared with other NGOs. Again, organisations are able to hold and participate in side events on the situation in the country.
PEN International monitors the implementation of recommendations that have been accepted. Your Centre may also wish to propose to help the government in implementing the recommendations. Establish contact with UN agencies and national human rights institutions in your country in order to provide information on the implementation of recommendations when preparing the next written submission.
For more information on participating in the UPR, visit the UPR Info site.
PEN holds consultative status with the UN, and has been making submissions to the UPR since they began in 2007, highlighting particular freedom of speech concerns and making recommendations to the Member States. Click through below for our full list of our submissions to the UPR. PEN International also conducts advocacy at the UN during the sessions. Click
for PEN’s response to last year’s review of Cameroon.