All UN member states are facing a rigorous examination of their human rights records. The inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) working group began on Monday.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a new mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council and, over the next four years, it will regularly review the human rights obligations and commitments of all 192 Member States. Governments themselves will carry out this regular and systematic scrutiny.
The new process will address one of the main criticisms of the Council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, which was accused of considering only a small number of countries, and of often avoiding pressing situations for political reasons.
The UPR Working Group will, until 18 April, examine the human rights records of 16 countries: Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, India, Indonesia, Morocco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia and the UK.
This first session will be followed by two further sessions in 2008, so that 48 countries, selected by drawing lots, will have been scrutinized during the year.
An important feature of the new process is that governments of the countries under examination are expected to carry out a broad consultation among civil society. Amnesty International has lobbied energetically to ensure that all relevant voices are heard.
The organisation has submitted information on 14 of the 16 countries above and its members and supporters are working with civil society within each country to raise awareness of the new process.
Amnesty International said, in a statement issued on Monday, that this first session of the UPR Working Group will be key in setting the standard for future reviews, in terms of process as well as substance.
"Both reviewed and reviewing countries have an important role to play. Amnesty International looks to all member states to step up and help launch the UPR as an effective human rights mechanism," said Martin Macpherson, Director of the organization's International Law and Organisations Programme.