Human Rights Accountability: The Universal Periodic Review

As Anglicans we recognise that it is part of God’s mission for us on earth ‘to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.’ One way of achieving this is through working with organisations and systems that hold states and others who hold power to account and challenge them to use their power to better society.

The 1998 Lambeth Conference recognised the importance of international human rights mechanisms in its first resolution:

On the fiftieth anniversary of its proclamation in December of 1948, this Conference resolves that its members urge compliance with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the nations in which our various member Churches are located, and all others over whom we may exercise any influence.
Lambeth Conference 1998, Resolution I.1

The Universal Periodic Review process of the United Nations provides an excellent opportunity for churches to do this. In this process every United Nations member state has its human rights progress assessed by the other member states, supported by evidence supplied by UN organisations and international and national civil society organisations.  The issues considered range from freedom of expression and worship to the treatment of migrants. Churches, as key members of any country’s civil society, have an ideal opportunity to speak up on the issues and for the communities they work with.

In 2018, the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is vital to renew our commitment to participation in human rights mechanisms, and to ensure that our voices are heard as we speak up and seek to transform our societies.

What is the Universal Periodic Review?

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground in each of the 193 UN Member States. The record of each state is reviewed every 5 years by a working group made up of other states.

How can churches get involved?

Churches are considered to be non-governmental organisations by the United Nations and can participate in the UPR process in a number of ways:

  • Participate in the national consultations held by the state under review;

  • Submit information on the human rights situation in the country to the Human Rights Council;

  • Lobby other states;

  • Make a statement during the adoption of the Working Group’s report;

  • Monitor and participate in the implementation by the state under review of the UPR recommendations.

Participate in national consultations

States are encouraged to hold national consultations which should include engaging with stakeholders such as churches. Churches can participate in these consultations to directly raise issues with their own state.

Submit information on the national human rights situation

The review of a country is in part based on a summary of ten pages prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) containing information from civil society.

As members of civil society, all churches and faith-based organisations can submit information to the United Nations to influence this report. This report should detail the challenges to human rights within the state that is being reviewed, as well as successes and progress in the national human rights agenda. For an example of a report, submitted by one of our partners, click here.

Lobby States

Churches can lobby other states in order to bring to their attention specific issues and to encourage these countries to raise these issues during the interactive dialogue in the form of questions and/or recommendations. The questions and recommendations should be action orientated. For example Australia recommended that the UK: Implement the EU Directive on trafficking in human beings by April 2013 and sign the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.  For more examples see the UPR Info Database or recommendations here and guidance here.

Lobbying can take place through meeting with embassies of other states in your own country, and through the ACO UN office in Geneva.

Make an oral or written statement

During the adoption of the report of the Working Group, which takes place a few months after the Review, some NGOs are given an opportunity to make a statement. In total, ten NGOs are given two minutes each. The ACO UN Office can seek to make a statement on your behalf.

Churches and other civil society groups can also submit written statements under any item, including dedicated to the UPR. However, written statements have less impact than oral ones.

Between two reviews

States do not automatically implement the recommendations they have accepted and the voluntary pledges they have taken. At their next UPR, they will be reviewed on the implementation of those recommendations and pledges and on the human rights situation in the country since the previous review. Churches can help keep the pressure and attention on states to implement the recommendations, and provide feedback to the UN on the implementation.

Churches are involved in a huge range of activities and can input on any issue they are engaged in and can speak with authority on. For example:

  • Freedom of association

  • Freedom from servitude and slavery

  • Right to education and adequate health

  • Right to a nationality

  • Rights of women

  • Rights of indigenous populations

Remember: Your UPR report does not only have to be focused on freedom of religion 

Who can churches partner with at the local level?

Churches can partner with any national or international non-governmental organisation, including other churches, national councils of churches or faith-based organisations. Reports to the UPR process do not have to be from individual organisations. Working with other organisations makes it easier to gather evidence for your report and to show a broad base of support for your recommendations.

Why should churches get involved?

The 4th Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion is ‘to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.’ The UPR process provides an ideal opportunity to do this and to raise Anglican voices on issues of national and international importance.

How can the Anglican Communion Office help?

The Anglican Communion’s UN office seeks to bridge the gap between the Communion and the United Nations. In the UPR process this can involve providing support navigating UN systems to guidance on report writing, organising participation at the UN or speaking on behalf of Communion churches.

Where can I find technical information on writing and submitting a report?

Technical information on writing and submitting a UPR report can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/NgosNhris.aspx

UPR-info https://www.upr-info.org is a not for profit organisation that provides helpful detailed information in participating in the UPR process.

Please feel free to get in touch with the ACO UN office with questions as we are more than happy to help.

What happens next?

If you are hoping to participate in the UPR please contact the ACO UN office to discuss how we can help you engage with the UN.

When is your country’s UPR taking place?

You can find out more about when your country’s UPR is taking place through the UPR-info website, including deadlines for civil society submissions. The next 5 UPR sessions will review the following countries:

January 2019 (NGO submission deadline passed):
Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile, Comoros, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of), New Zealand, Slovakia, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Yemen

May 2019 (NGO submission deadline passed):
Albania, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, Qatar

November 2019 (NGO submission deadline: 28th March 2019):
Angola, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, El Salvador, Fiji, Gambia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, San Mario, Slovenia

January 2020:
Armenia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Spain, Sweden, Turkey

May 2020:
Andorra, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Honduras, Jamaica, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Panama, United States

Further information can be found on the OHCHR pages for sessions, and civil society engagement.