The refugee crisis and climate change amongst key human rights concerns raised during 24th Session of the UPR

The 24th Session of the UPR Working Group took place on the 18-29 January 2016 in Palais des Nations, Geneva. During the session, the following 14 States underwent their second-cycle UPR: Namibia, Niger, Mozambique, Estonia, Paraguay, Belgium, Denmark, Palau, Somalia, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Latvia, Sierra Leone, and Singapore (in order of review) During the 14 inter-active dialogues, a total of 2662 recommendations were made and 901 statements were delivered by the UN Member States and observers. In addition, each State under Review (SUR) received, on average, seven advance written questions, by the Recommending States. These questions provided an opportunity to ask about the level of implementation of the recommendations made at the previous review, or to ask for clarification about a specific human rights issue.

Namibia, Denmark, Palau, Seychelles, Sierra Leone and Singapore left all the received recommendations pending for further consideration, with a view towards consulting national stakeholders. All the SuRs examined at the 24th Session will have to provide an answer to the recommendations received no later than the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in June 2016.

During the 24th Session, some of the SuRs raised their concerns about the consequences of climate change and the effect it could have on the protection of human rights. During his opening statement, H.E. Mr Albert Kawana, Minister of Justice of Namibia, explained that Namibia is suffering from a severe drought for the second year, which has forced the Government to redirect resources from education, health and infrastructure to ensure access to drinking water and sanitation for the population.

Other SuRs raised practical difficulties in terms of capacity regarding implementation of recommendations. Singapore, in addition to the three island States of Palau, Seychelles and Solomon Islands, highlighted the limited resources and subsequent limitations due to their small territory and population. H.E. Ms. J. Baklai Temengil, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Committee of Palau, emphasised that “as a small island developing State, we have limited resources to address these multi-dimensional issues. We urge the members of the HRC to take these circumstances into account when making the recommendations”.

The recommendations raised throughout the UPR were numerous and varied. The rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, as well as the fight against racism, xenophobia and islamophobia were some of the most frequently addressed topics in the recommendations made to Denmark and Belgium. Estonia and Latvia received many recommendations to continue reducing the number of stateless persons and to further integrate the national minorities. The re-establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty was one of the central recommendations made to Singapore, while the eradication of the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was raised on several occasions during the review of Sierra Leone. H.E. Mr. Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone,  introduced the advancements of his Government in that area: “Since 2011, significant steps have been taken – work with traditional leaders in awareness raising and providing alternative means of income to the excisors. In addition, the Government has engaged in an active dialogue with relevant stakeholders to ensure relevant outcome to the measures implemented”. During the review of Somalia, the rights of the child was a hot topic: the country received many recommendations to put an end to the recruitment of child soldiers and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
The delegation of Paraguay introduced the Recommendations Monitoring System "SIMORE" - a software tool that facilitates the systematisation and follow-up of international human rights recommendations made to Paraguay by different human rights bodies, including the United Nations and Organization of American States. Niger received numerous recommendations to lift the reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Delegation of Niger itself expressed its hope towards the future ratification of the 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights on the abolition of death penalty: “unfortunately, sometimes the governments are very restricted in their options. The government has made at least one attempt in front of the National Assembly and we are committed to that as a democratic government”.
Mozambique’s efforts to reform the Criminal Code were well received among the Recommending States; in particular, Denmark, the UK and Germany congratulated Mozambique for legalising abortion, decriminalising same sex relations and criminalising domestic violence respectively. States further recommended the Government to continue the efforts to combat discrimination against women.
The 24th Session concluded on Friday, 29 January 2016 with the adoption of the draft reports of Sierra Leone and Singapore. The new President of the Human Rights Council, H.E. Choi Kyong-lim, made a closing statement regarding the UPR mechanism and the coming third cycle (2017): “I would like to draw  attention to the interest generated in the international community by the UPR as well as the importance of this mechanism at the national level. I want to thank all the participants for their constructive spirit during the deliberations and for the respect for the fundamental rules that govern the mechanism: it enhances the credibility of the UPR process and ensures the success of the second cycle. We should be mindful of what and how we should prepare for the third cycle: I invite all delegations to take the opportunity of reflecting on the coming month how to improve the mechanism".

The UPR Working Group will reconvene for its 25th Session in May 2016.