The UPR Mechanism: Delivering Real Change

by Roland Chauville, Executive Director of UPR Info Blog, International human rights institutions, mechanisms and processes

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism was one of the main innovations introduced by UN member states at the time of the creation of the Human Rights Council in 2006. The first cycle of this global review mechanism saw all 193 UN members have their human rights records reviewed by their peers and receive recommendations for improvement. There was broad consensus that the exercise was a success, with all states participating on an equal and transparent footing. However, observers also underscored that the litmus test for the mechanism would come with the second cycle and the degree to which states translated promises made in Geneva to actual impact on the ground.

To help answer this question, UPR Info led a four-year programme on the implementation of first cycle UPR recommendations. That programme has shown a significant degree of success in the UPR mechanism’s ability to translate UN debate into real-world change.

The results of this programme are contained in UPR Info’s new publication ‘Beyond promises: the impact of the UPR on the ground’. Taking into consideration 165 Mid-term Implementation Assessments and information provided on more than 11,500 recommendations from the (sometimes conflicting) perspectives of the states under review, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and UN agencies, we can now say with confidence that ‘beyond promises’, the UPR has a strong impact on the ground.

Indeed, according to the study, 48 percent of UPR recommendations triggered action (partially or fully implemented) within two and a half years from the moment the recommendations were made. Africa and Eastern Europe were especially successful, although each region included both highly active and inactive countries. In absolute numbers, the recommendations that triggered the most action related to women’s rights, children’s rights, and international instruments. One of the most important findings of the study is that although some recommendations were not accepted by the state under review (thus, being ‘noted’), 19 percent of these recommendations still triggered action by mid-term. This shows that ‘noted’ recommendations should not be disregarded and that all actors should continue to monitor, implement, and re-iterate noted recommendations.

The publication also provides concrete examples of implementation including adoption of legislation, creation and strengthening of institutions, and awareness-raising. In particular, implementation of issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity, death penalty, women’s rights, children’s rights, human trafficking, minorities, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, torture, and refugees and asylum seekers is illustrated in more detail to provide human rights defenders working in these areas with precise information.

Last but not least, the publication identifies best practices for states under review, recommending states, civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, and UN agencies. The examples of best practices provided are particularly pertinent to effective engagement with the UPR, but they are often still lacking in actors’ engagement with the mechanism. Specifically, there is still a need for increased attention to the follow-up phase of the UPR. This requires the strengthening of three inter-related aspects: coordination, collaboration, and communication.

Coordination could be strengthened through the creation of a plan of engagement with the UPR, but, most importantly, a plan for the implementation of recommendations. Such information could be organised with the help of a working group and the creation of a matrix. Internal and external coordination also facilitates collaboration.

Collaboration between the state under review with the international partners (UN agencies and recommending states) and national partners (civil society organisations and national human rights institutions) opens doors to new possibilities for the advancement of human rights. The state under review’s working group could include civil society and the NHRI, and CSOs can strengthen their voice through coalitions.

Finally, communication facilitates both collaboration and coordination. It is instrumental in ensuring that all partners are on the same page and that the international community is aware of the efforts that the state under review is making. Publication of mid-term reports from the state under review, CSOs, NHRIs and UN agencies is one of the effective methods to ensure improved communication.

As is made clear in UPR Info’s study, the UPR mechanism is a promising tool for promoting and protecting human rights. Effective engagement with the UPR does and will continue to lead to improved human rights on the ground. However, with the third UPR cycle just around the corner, the mechanism is still facing many challenges. UPR Info will continue working with all actors to make sure that the UPR reaches its full potential.


Roland Chauville is Executive Director of UPR Info. For more information, visit UPR Info’s website and download “Beyond promises”.

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