What is the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review?

The Universal Periodic Review is the instrument created by the UN Human Rights Council to examine the human rights record of all UN Member States. It is conducted by the countries themselves, under the framework of the Human Rights Council, to give the country the opportunity to present the advancements that have been made on their judiciary system to adopt international frameworks to which they are signatories, and to improve their record preventing and punishing violations of international human rights law.

This is the only mechanism of this kind that exists and was designed during the mandate of former High-Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. 

Timing is Everything

The US presented on the 9th of November under a heavy shadow of multiple crisis, from the COVID19 health crisis to the protests to end police violence towards communities of African descent. Add to that the white supremacists’ movements taking over protests and the public space to perpetrate violence against citizens of another political persuasion, the record on the treatment of migrants and the separation of children from their parents at the border, to excessive use of force to quell peaceful protests on the wake of George Floyd’s death. Is its third UPR. 

The UPR consists of the country itself presenting its report and other UN Member States making recommendations. Among the recommendations by other countries reviewing the US Report was the question of addressing the use of disproportionate force by the police, to end the criminalization of poverty that targets people of color, the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination Against Women, requests for ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and other international instruments to advance and improve the human rights track record in the country. 

Not All is Bad News. There is Progress in Some Areas.

Praised for some advances regarding its record addressing human trafficking, the US UPR exercise turned to be a rather gentle form of prodding by other countries. After all no country participating in the process wants to seem like the bully in the courtyard, in particular when giving appraisal on domestic issues and internal national legislative processes. Yet all countries look at US leadership in so many of the issues discussed in the HRC fora. It is healthy and necessary to be as frank and fact-based in the recommendations.

With a new administration on its way to the White House, some of the recommendations for improvement to deter and eliminate police brutality, and abuse of power by government institutions will hopefully see the light of the day. 

What we have not seen mentioned specifically is the question of social media platforms and their role enabling many of these human rights violations. The role of emerging technologies is certainly something that will become more prominent in the years to come in the sphere of the Human Rights Council. 

For that a “UN Data Convention” of sorts will be needed, as most experts in the judiciary system and legislators around the globe, not only in the US, seem to not fully understand yet the implications of racial profiling, data transfer, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other uses of data in law enforcement, surveillance, and its impact violating basic civil rights and invasion of citizens’ privacy.

The UPR is a Conversation Among States

Once the presentations of the UPR recommendations are over, the US has the chance to reply and for that the Attorney Generals (AG), a Department of Homeland Security officer, and other US justice system officials took the virtual podium to respond. 

The State of Utah AG took a step back and gave some historical background on the evolution of the rule of law in the state, and its record on abiding to international human rights’ law, stressing that human trafficking has been addressed head-on with some positive outcomes, and the question of police brutality is being addressed with police and community relations programs as well as the training of police officers.

One thing is certain, the role of the Human Rights Council is greatly enhanced through the mechanisms of accountability embedded in the Universal Periodic Review, (UPR), to truly move forward the adoption and assure the respect of international human rights law in developed as well as developing countries.

To know more:

Universal Periodic Review

The UN Human Rights Council, by Eric Tistounet

The Human Rights Council

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights