UN human rights review is largely toothless – but it’s giving a boost to Asian civil society groups
A United Nations initiative reviewing human rights records of countries around the world is indirectly strengthening civil society organisations in Southeast Asia by allowing them to participate in the process. But the groups are still blocked from ensuring human rights are meaningfully protected in their countries.
The UN General Assembly established its Human Rights Council and introduced the universal periodic review of the human rights situation in member countries in 2006. The ten Southeast Asian countries that make up ASEAN – Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam – have now undergone two cycles of review, while a few remaining nations are awaiting the second round.
Under the process, states report to the commission every four-and-a-half years and receive its recommendations. Reviews focus on the evolution of human rights in that state, and its implementation of previous recommendations. The state under review may either “accept” or “note” the suggestions.
Recommendations that states tend to accept are those around improving gender equality, accessibility for those with disabilities, and children’s rights, which has gained particular prominence during the review.
Recommendations that aren’t as acceptable tend to involve hard political issues related to civil and political liberties. Unsurprisingly, it’s usually the latter that are detailed in submissions by civil society organisations.
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