Live from Geneva! The Pandemic Won’t Stop The Advocates’ Human Rights Advocacy: What You Need to Know about the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) 36th Session

A wide view during the 19th Session Human Rights Council. 15 March 2012. Photo by Jean-Marc FerrŽ

The next two weeks are exciting times to be engaged in human rights advocacy, and you can be a part of it, helping to amplify the voices of The Advocates For Human Rights, our clients, and our partners around the world. 

Three times a year, the United Nations turns its attention to human rights in a dozen or so countries that are called on stage for a peer-review process dubbed the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This video gives an overview of the process and how civil society organizations can get involved. The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed how and when that process happens, but at long last the UPR session originally scheduled for May will be happening November 2-13.  

The countries called to the stage for this 36th UPR session include Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Honduras, Jamaica, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, the Maldives, and the United States—all countries of interest for The Advocates and its clients and partners. For more than a year, we’ve been busy researching and submitting reports, lobbying delegates, and holding virtual events to ensure that our issues get attention when those countries are on stage. 

What to expect

Each country’s UPR culminates in a 3.5 hour “interactive dialogue” on the floor of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in which the country under review gives a summary of its work on human rights over the last five years and responds to questions. As part of the dialogue, countries around the world can make brief statements to the country being reviewed. Those statements usually include recommendations—steps the country under review should take to improve its human rights practices.  

The country under review has several months to decide whether to accept those recommendations. The country then has five years to implement any accepted recommendations and report back on its progress at the next UPR. 

Recommendations are the heart of the UPR. They echo the pleas of victims of human rights abuses and front-line human rights defenders, showing governments that the world is paying attention. They also give civil society organizations leverage to work with their governments to improve human rights on the ground. And as a cyclical tool, the UPR helps ensure that if a government promises to implement a recommendation, that government’s peers expect to see progress in keeping that promise within five years. 

Which countries and issues we’re following

Here’s a list of the countries we’re following, along with the dates and times of the interactive dialogues (adjusted to Minnesota time) and the issues we’re covering: 

Week 1: November 2-6 

  • Belarus, Monday, 2:00-5:30 am: Domestic violence, backlash against human rights, death penalty 
  • Liberia, Monday, 7:30-11:00 am: Accountability, female genital mutilation, LGBTI rights, human rights defenders, death penalty, detention conditions 
  • Malawi, Tuesday, 2:00-5:30 am: Death penalty and detention conditions 
  • Maldives, Wednesday, 7:30-11:00 am: Death penalty, human rights defenders 
  • Honduras, Thursday, 7:30-11:00 am: gender-based violence, LGBTI rights 
  • Bulgaria, Friday, 2:00-5:30 am: Domestic violence, backlash against human rights 

Week 2: November 9-13

  • United States, Monday, 7:30-11:00 am: Immigration and asylum, human trafficking and workers’ rights, police violence and accountability, death penalty and detention conditions 
  • Croatia, Tuesday, 2:00-5:30 am: Domestic violence, backlash against human rights 
  • Libya, Wednesday, 2:00-5:30 am: Death penalty and detention conditions 
  • Jamaica, Wednesday, 7:30-11:00 am: Death penalty and detention conditions 

How you can get involved 

The Advocates for Human Rights will be watching all the action online as it unfolds live from Geneva. We’ll be livetweeting the interactive dialogues for the countries we’re engaged in. Here’s how you can help: 

  • Watch the interactive dialogues live on UN Web TV, or, if you’re not an early bird, when they appear in the archives a day or two later. React on social media using the hashtag #UPR36 and tag The Advocates. 
  • Follow our Twitter feed at @The_Advocates. If you see us tweet a recommendation you think is particularly relevant or effective, especially if it addresses one of our issues of concern, reply to the tweet and thank the government that made the recommendation. If we’ve @ mentioned the government in our tweet, they’ll see your reply. 
  • Join us for our FacebookYouTube, and Instagram livestream debriefs after each UPR. We’ll be having conversations with staff, volunteers, and partners about the results of the interactive dialogue, showing clips of some of our favorite statements, celebrating successes, and planning next steps. If you’re watching on Facebook, ask us questions! Follow us on social media to keep an eye out for specific dates and times for these debriefs as we schedule them. 
  • Follow our partners at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on Facebook to watch their Facebook live debriefs focusing on death penalty issues raised in the UPRs of Belarus, Jamaica, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, the Maldives, and the United States. 

See our Take Action page for more details. 

Advance questions: Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations on accountability will be in the spotlight 

Countries can also submit questions in advance of the interactive dialogue. These questions can give hints about issues of concern that countries might speak about during the interactive dialogue. For example, the United States submitted several advance questions for Liberia, including questions about implementation of the recommendations in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. The United Kingdom asked,  

“What action has the Government taken in response to recommendations from the National Economic Dialogue and civil society organisations, calling for accountability for war crimes and related economic crimes, as defined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, committed during Liberia’s civil conflict?” 

Germany also requested that the Liberian government “elaborate on the current state and further development of the implementation of the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which were issued in 2009 but remain to be established successfully to date.” 

The Advocates worked directly with Liberia’s TRC, making history as the first-ever truth commission to make a systematic effort to include survivors outside of a subject country. We’ve been collaborating with Liberian and international human rights organizations to push for accountability, to ensure that the TRC’s recommendations are implemented. These advance questions reflect information that Liberian activists shared with Human Rights Council delegates about the need for a war crimes court during a briefing hosted by The Advocates on October 12. (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_af-NkRIuRA). The advance questions give us hope that the countries we’ve been lobbying will use the interactive dialogue to pressure Liberia to finally take concrete steps to create a war crimes court to try civil wars-era atrocities committed in the country. 

Learn more

Each country under review has its own UPR country page with lots of relevant documents. You’ll see each country’s “national report,” a compilation of information from a variety of United Nations bodies, a summary of information submitted by stakeholders like The Advocates and its partners, and questions submitted in advance of the review.  

Here are links to the country pages and any reports we and our partners have submitted for those countries: 

To learn more about The Advocates’ work with the United Nations, read our blog post Celebrating United Nations Day and the UN Advocacy chapter of our toolkit, Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy

Amy Bergquist is a Senior Staff Attorney with the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

Please comment to join our community of human rights advocates. The Advocates for Human Rights produces this blog in a spirit of thoughtful communication. Comments are open, but are moderated.

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