The International United Nations Watch (IUNW) expresses concern about the politicization of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN. One of our concerns is the presence of government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs), whose work often promotes state interests over human rights, which complicates or at worse invalidates assessments made by the UPR.
The UPR was established alongside the Human Rights Council in 2006 by the General Assembly Resolution 60/251 with the purpose UPR to assess the human rights records of Member States. This established the mandate to “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States.” The UPR identifies human rights issues and evaluates whether Member States live up to their responsibilities and take the steps necessary to improve human rights issues.
The UPR mechanism consists of reviewing documents provided by the state under review itself, such as a “national report,” as well as reports from independent human rights experts and groups, known as Special Procedures, human rights treaty bodies, and other UN entities, in addition to information provided by other national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The UPR have facilitated increased participation from NGOs, such as the NGOs’ observer status at the working group sessions and the general comments allowed on the plenary sessions. However, states under review are able to restrict NGOs in this role by determining which NGO questions and comments to respond to, and there have additionally been requests to remove NGO comments from official records.
Yet another way to undermine the integrity of the UPR and the role of the NGOs is through government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs). When these GONGO’s submit reports commending a country as part of the review process, they often gloss over human rights abuses in various ways. The recommendations put forward by the GONGOs lack substantial criticism of the human rights violations committed by the member state in questions and are decidedly apolitical in nature. As an example, in recent times the Bahrain government have made increased use of the death penalty, often to suppress political dissent or using torture and forced confessions. Rather than address and condemn the death penalty directly, and condemn the dubious judicial processes leading to executions, GONGOs instead put forth recommendations to prevent pregnant women from being executed, a gesture that lies far behind addressing these issues at their root. Other efforts including GONGOs supporting Member State’s laws and decisions contravening with human rights, or simply to omit issues such as the death penalty. Meanwhile, NGOs and Human Rights Defenders critical of the Member States may be hindered in contributing to the review if they are based within the Member State in question.
Evidently, GONGOs constitute a mockery of civil society, which deprives the UPR process of its integrity and risks reducing or invalidating the outcomes of the review. A GONGO weakens the UPR process considerably and exposes the loopholes that a Member State can take advantage of. When other Member States have an economic or political interest in the state under review, this further complicates the process when these States act in the assisting role of “troikas” during the review. Each State review is assisted by “troikas,” groups of three States serving as rapporteurs. Naturally, a Member State under review will attempt to find ways to avoid accountability, and the UPR process does simply not hold up in the face of state-organized NGOs, and neither does the UPR have the capacity to fully combat the political interests of States assisting the review.
International United Nations Watch call for a revision in the UPR process to increase the participation and influence of civil society and address the issue of GONGOs. As a human rights review, the UPR must represent the interests of the people whose rights are being violated by Member States. Instead, it risks taking on the role as an ineffective bureaucratic system whose review is based on government-organized sources and political liaisons; it risks having its assessments ignored, rather than implemented. The case for human rights should be addressed with uncompromising clarity, and the UPR must address the root causes of the violations. The UN must ensure that the influence of GONGOs in the UPR review sessions gives way for representatives of civil society; and so the UN must close the loopholes exploited by Member States and create a UPR with a capacity to defend human rights.