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Human Rights Council approves Universal Periodic Review procedures

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During its Fifth Session in June, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to build an institution that finalises the procedures for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, which opens up a new opportunity for local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to participate in reviewing the human rights performance of their governments.

The UPR is one of the new procedures included during the formation in 2006 of the Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights. Generally, the UPR procedure will be conducted by a working group composed of the 47 member States of the Council to assess the fulfilment of the human rights obligations and commitments of each member state using a common system.

Sixteen countries will undergo scrutiny under the mechanism in each session of the HRC, with the first round to be held in the April 2008 session. Three Asian countries – India, Indonesia and the Philippines – will undergo review during this round.

The UPR procedure shall also take into consideration “credible and reliable information” from relevant stakeholders, including from NGOs, academic institutions, human rights defenders, regional organisations and national human rights institutions.

This guideline expands the opportunities for national NGOs to participate in the Council’s deliberations about their countries, which otherwise is limited to NGOs in special consultative status with the UN. At the national level, the UPR procedure also creates opportunities for human rights defenders to engage their governments to discuss international standards and mechanisms of human rights.

Ironically, this window of participation would have been severely restricted since the original deadline for submission of stakeholders’ reports was set on 16 October, less than one month after the UPR calendar was approved. However, NGOs were able appeal to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to extend this deadline to 20 November.

FORUM-ASIA organised consultations with local human rights groups in India, Indonesia and the Philippines to prepare the NGO stakeholders’ reports. The next round of the UPR will take place in May 2008, with Japan, South Korea, Pakistan and Sri Lanka up for appraisal.