by Dr. Boyet Mabunga
(Note: This article was first published in HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM, Volume 5, Number 1issue. Updated and modified to incorporate latest developments and preparation on the Philippine 2nd Cycle Universal Periodic Review slated on the 13th HRC/UPR Working Group session in May to June 2012.)
“Every day we are reminded of the need for a strengthened United Nations, as we face a growing array of new challenges, including humanitarian crises, human rights violations, armed conflicts and important health and environmental concerns. Seldom has the United Nations been called upon to do so much for so many. I am determined to breathe new life and inject renewed confidence in a strengthened United Nations firmly anchored in the twenty-first century, and which is effective, efficient, coherent and accountable.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
IN 1997, and again in 2002, reforms in the United Nations gained ground in Geneva and New York, respectively. These reforms came in the heels of then-Secretary General Kofi Annan’s challenge to the UN’s “continued significance” in the face of 21st century realities. He called for improvements in how the UN conducts its work, implements its mandate and manages the funds entrusted to it by its Member States in order to bring human rights to all peoples of the world.
These reforms took a significant turn during the General Assembly’s 60th session. The world’s leaders adopted UNGA Resolution 60/251 on the 15th of March 2006, which created the Human Rights Council (HRC). The HR Council is now a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, taking over the role of the Commission on Human Rights, which was created under article 68 of the UN Charter on Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The HRC was mandated to conduct a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism to evaluate each member state’s human rights commitments. The said review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialog, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs. The UPR is intended to complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies.
At its fifth session on June 18, 2007, the Council responded to this request and adopted, through resolution 5/1, detailed modalities regarding the UPR. Threshed out in particular were the basis of the review, principles and objectives to be followed, the periodicity and order of review of countries, process and modalities, as well as the outcome and the follow-up to the review. The HRC also decided that the review would be conducted in a working group composed of the 47 member States of the Council.
At its sixth session on September 21, 2007, the HRC adopted a calendar in relation to the consideration of 192 Member States of the United Nations for the first four-year cycle of the UPR mechanism. The Philippines was selected among the 16 countries to be reviewed in the 1st UPR session on April 7–18, 2008.
The 1st cycle of the UPR process ended last October 2011 at the 12th session of the Human Rights Council. The whole process was considered a “historic review of the human rights situation of the 192 United Nations member States”. Immediately thereafter, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released an updated “Universal Periodic Review: information and guidelines for relevant stakeholders’ written submissions” for the 2nd Cycle’s submission of report and onwards. It underscores two main changes on the technical guidelines:
The scope of submission to the 2nd cycle must include information on the follow-up and developments to the recommendations for the State-under-review (SUR).
The length of submission is fixed not to extend 2815 words for individual submissions and 5630 words for joint submissions.
As preparation for review, HRC required the concerned governments and other stakeholders to submit human rights reports, which should follow the following guidelines:
Description of the methodology and the broad consultation process followed for the preparation of information;
Developments since the previous review in background of the State under review and framework, particularly normative and institutional framework, for the promotion and protection of human rights: Constitution, legislation, policy measures, national jurisprudence, human rights infrastructure including national human rights institutions and scope of international obligations.
Promotion and protection of human rights on the ground: implementation of international human rights obligations identified in the “basis of review”, national legislation and voluntary commitments, national human rights institutions’ activities, public awareness of human rights, cooperation with human rights mechanisms;
Presentation by the State concerned of the follow-up to the previous review;
Achievements, best practices, challenges and constraints; in relation to the implementation of accepted recommendations and the development of human rights situations in the State;
Key national priorities, initiatives and commitments that the State intends to undertake to overcome challenges and constraints and improve human rights situations on the ground;
Expectations in terms of capacity-building and requests, if any, for technical assistance;
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