The Universal Periodic Review process

The effectiveness of the UPR process

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is the only global human rights mechanism that examines the human rights situation of all United Nations member states. It is a unique process in which States provide each other with constructive, human rights-related recommendations.

The UPR also contributes to concrete improvements in human rights around the world.

UPR Info, a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), tracks the universal periodic review process. According to this NGO, within two and half years of each review half of the recommendations triggered action and were partially or fully implemented.

Since the UPR began in 2008, UPR recommendations have encouraged countries to, among other things:

  • take action to protect civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights
  • criminalise marital rape
  • abolish the death penalty or reduce the number of crimes carrying the death penalty
  • repeal laws that prohibit same-sex conduct
  • address discriminatory access to housing, employment, education, and social services, among other issues

Canada was instrumental in the creation of the UPR process and continues to participate actively in the process.

There are three Universal Periodic Review (UPR) sessions per year, with approximately 14 countries reviewed per session.

This means that each UN Member States is reviewed every four or five years. The first cycle of UPR, which covered all UN member States, began in April 2008 and ended in October 2011.

The second cycle of UPR ran from May 2012 to November 2016. The third cycle of UPR begins in April/May 2017.

Three reports funnel into each report

Before each UPR session, three reports are prepared:

  1. A national report from the State under review
  2. A compilation of recommendations from the UN human rights system.
    • This includes input from UN Special Procedure Mandate Holders, which are independent experts who report to the UN Human Rights Council on thematic or country-specific human rights issues
    • This also includes input from UN Treaty Bodies, which are groups of independent experts that monitor States’ compliance with international human rights treaties to which they are a party
  3. A summary of information and recommendations provided by civil society organizations. These reports are posted by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as they become available (generally four to six weeks before the review).

Review session last three and a half hours

Each review lasts three and a half hours and is conducted in the format of a dialogue between the State under review and all UN Member States.

Proceedings are chaired by the President of the Human Rights Council.

The review starts with a presentation by the State under review followed by questions and recommendations from other UN Member States. All UN Member States can participate in the dialogue with the State under review. However the time they are allotted depends on the number of States that wish to speak.

If a large number of States sign up to provide recommendations to a State under review, each of them may have less than one minute to speak.

Other stakeholders can attend the session, such as:

  • non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • National Human Rights Institutions
  • Indigenous organizations
  • UN agencies

These observers do not have the opportunity to speak during the session.

Outcome and reports

Following a State’s review, a summary of the dialogue is prepared, including recommendations and observations made by other States to the State under review.

This summary is known as the UPR outcome report. The reviewed State will subsequently provide a written response to the recommendations, indicating which recommendations it accepts.

The outcome report is then adopted at the following regular session of the Human Rights Council, and the State under review is encouraged by the Council to implement all recommendations.

Civil society participation

Civil society or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can contribute directly to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

This is done by submitting input to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The OHCHR then gathers the material into a Summary of Stakeholders' Information.

NGOs wishing to submit information for consideration and possible inclusion in the Summary can use the OHCHR's online UPR submission registration system.

Questions regarding registration can be sent to the UPR Submission Helpdesk, at UPRsubmissions@ohchr.org.

When preparing National Reports, States are encouraged to undertake a consultation process with civil society. During this process, civil society organizations may provide information directly to the State under review. Civil society organizations can also play a valuable role in following up with the State under review on the implementation of the recommendations that the State has received.

Civil society also has the opportunity to speak when the outcome report of the State under review is adopted by the Human Rights Council a few months after the review.

For further information on civil society participation in the UPR, see the Technical Guide for the submission of information to the OHCHR.

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs)

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) also play an important role in the UPR process. They can submit information for inclusion in the Summary of Stakeholders’ Information through the OHCHR's online UPR submission registration system.

NHRIs are also provided with an opportunity to speak during the adoption of the outcome of the State’s review.

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