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Asian countries gear up for the UPR

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Three Asian countries, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, conducted the first workshops for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council. These workshops were to prepare NGOs for their submission of stakeholders’ reports, which will be one of the sources for the review to be based on.
During the 2nd Regional Consultation on the UN Human Rights Council organised by the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) Working Group on the UN Human Rights Council held in Bangkok from 29 to 30 July 2007, representatives from Asian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) expressed the concern that there was a need for a consolidated effort by NGOs to prepare for the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (UPR) of the Human Rights Council. Thus, in the months following the meeting, NGOs from India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, were thrown into a flurry of preparations for national UPR workshops. These three countries will be reviewed during the first cycle of the UPR, which takes place in April 2008.

In Indonesia, Rafendi Djamin of the Human Rights Working Group of Indonesia conducted a briefing for the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Komnas HAM) on the UPR. The commissioners and staff of the national institution attended the briefing, which was organised upon the request of Komnas HAM. In addition, on 22 October 2007, Indonesian NGOs held their own workshop on the UPR, with the support of FORUM-ASIA. Budi Tjahjono, the coordinator of Pax Romana, gave a talk on the UPR from an NGO perspective, while Jonathan Prentice, the Human Rights Adviser from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spoke about the new mechanism from the point of view of OHCHR. The meeting in Indonesia was specifically designed for key NGOs who already plan to be actively involved in the UPR process.

Meanwhile the Philippine NGOs conducted a workshop on engagement with the UPR from 23 to 24 October 2007. Its main goal was to enable the Philippine human rights NGOs to engage in the UPR with respect to Philippine issues. At the workshop, NGOs from all over the Philippines were given the opportunity to acquire a firm understanding of developments in the UN human rights system and of how these developments are relevant to their work on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. The NGOs taking part also identified the main human rights issues they felt should be dealt when the Philippines is reviewed. Cecilia Jimenez of the Geneva Forum for Philippine Issues facilitated the workshop, with the support of FORUM-ASIA.

In India, FORUM-ASIA together with the Asian Commission on Human Rights (ACHR) organised a two-day national consultation with local NGOs from 13 to 14 November 2007 to prepare a stakeholders’ report. They hope to submit this report as part of the UPR. The participating NGOs also took the opportunity to discuss how to lobby at the Human Rights Council for the UPR.

The OHCHR, which is responsible for collecting reports from NGOs for the UPR, set the deadline for the submission of stakeholders’ report on 20 November 2007. The NGOs that participated in the workshops supported by FORUM-ASIA in India, Indonesia and the Philippines have already submitted their reports, in time for this deadline. Currently, the FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is communicating with member organisations and partners in Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka, in advance of the second cycle of the UPR, which will take place in May 2008.