The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a new and unique mechanism of the United Nations, which was created in March 2006. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. The UPR is an automatic process of peer reviews the human rights practices of all 192 UN member states in the world, once every four years. The UPR is a significant innovation as it is is based on equal treatment for all countries.
The UPR is a State-driven process under the Human Rights Council that provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. There are three reports that are prepared and made available on the website of Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) for each State before the their UPR session namely:
1. The report prepared and submitted by the State
2. The Stakeholders report – a compilation of several reports received by the OHCHR from various national NGO’s and the NHRC
3. A UN report - compiled by the OHCHR based on information contained in the reports of treaty bodies, special procedures, and other relevant official UN documents.
My Experience of engaging in the process
My experience of the UPR began when I attended a meeting organized by the Working Group on Human Rights (WGHR) who were in the process of compiling a stakeholder report and therefore were consulting with different stakeholders. It was my first experience of working with a group that represented stakeholders from varying human rights organisations such as women, children, LGBT, Dalits and many others.
My biggest realization from attending this consultation was that everybody was talking about their issues and in spite of disability being such a cross cutting issue it is alien for everybody. This is to say the women’s organisations are not talking of disabled women, children’s organisations are not talking about disabled children and so on. Therefore we need to be there to represent our issues ourselves. Members of the National Disability Network (NDN) were present in all WGHR consultations yet their final report included nothing on disabled. I believe it was so because it was the first time for all of us and with regular interaction I am sure things would change.
Following this were the regional and national consultations orgaised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for the preparation of their report. Here again no body understood disability issues and in spite of participation of disabled persons and DPO’s in all consultations their report had negligible mention of disability issues.
The National Disability Network was keen to make a strong presentation on disability and therefore decided to draft our own stakeholders report. With inputs from over 20 national DPO’s the NDN prepared a report focusing on disability issues. It was with great delight that we noticed an inclusion of one recommendation from the NDN report. Though only one recommendation was taken into the main stakeholders report but it represented the recognition of a disability organizations network for the first time.
With the support of the International Disability Alliance, I got an opportunity to meet with persons working on human rights and disability issues as a representative of NDN. I met with five missions in Geneva namely – Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Maldives and Canada. It was in these meeting that I gained clarity of the process and how it works. I also realized that the three reports though important yet had limited function and the actual advocacy began a month before the actual UPR session was to happen. How it works is that the missions in Geneva and elsewhere sends recommendations to their home office, who finalizes them based on diplomatic relations with States being reviewed and the thrust areas of the country preparing recommendation. These recommendations need not always be dependent on the three reports.
India is going to have its second UPR in the 13th session in May 2012. The country will be reviewed on how it has progressed on recommendations made during the first cycle additionally there will be an opportunity for other States to make new recommendations. Each country’s UPR session is for three hours, which is podcasted live. Every State will have not more than a minute to make their points and therefore the recommendations they make have to be very crisp.
During my meetings, I did get a confirmation from the Austrian and the Maldives missions that they would make recommendations related to disability to India at the upcoming UPR. This would be an achievement from the last UPR where India had zero recommendations pertaining to disability. There is further opportunity for getting more recommendations by meeting various missions in Delhi and presenting our issues to them.
Main leanings from my participating in the UPR process
1. UPR is a big and the only one of its kind international advocacy opportunity for the disability sector to highlight our issues and make them heard by our government especially in a scenario where the UNCRPD Treaty body would review India several years after our State report is submitted owing to their work backlog. Further the UPR recommendations on disability will be fed into the CRPD treaty body report.
2. Regular and constant networking with other human rights organisations is crucial for us to ensure integration of our issues and getting more support and partners to have our concerns heard.
3. Our preparation for the UPR has to begin well in advance by sending in the stakeholders report before the submission deadline and then advocating with various missions at least two weeks before the actual session.
4. We need to provide specific, crisp and concrete recommendations to the missions that are as cross cutting as possible. Related background material on the recommendations would make acceptance of our recommendation easier and better.
5. Different missions must be provided with different recommendations, as it would be an opportunity lost if all States make the same recommendation to country being reviewed.
6. Most importantly it is a process that gives us an opportunity to unite and review our specific matters together. It requires us to recognise each other’s issues and work on them collectively as an individuals voice has no place in the process.