During today’s debate on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism at the UN Human Rights Council, a number of Western states voiced concerns about barriers to the full participation of legitimate NGOs in the UPR process, with the U.S. saying it is “troubled by practices of countries seeking to silence criticism by lining up friendly speakers. This has a chilling effect on the purpose and spirit of the UPR.”
A key example of the problem expressed by the U.S. concerned Wednesday’s adoption of the UPR report on Cuba, during which Cuban front-groups dominated the NGO speakers’ list. They had reportedly entered UN premises, likely with the assistance of Cuban diplomats, to queue up for the list’s ten coveted spots before other NGOs were allowed in.
Cuba replied angrily to such criticism (as well as criticism regarding the sign-up process for State speakers, which also suffers from constraints), saying there has been an “artificial debate relating to queues and shifts in lists of speakers. These aren’t part of the general debate and shouldn’t be used to change the current situation.”
Lashing out at NGOs in particular, Cuba said, “It’s insulting to see the behavior of trans-national NGOs that work within the Geneva orbit. They use their power to use subterfuge and get themselves a space on the speaking list. Who allowed in multinationals who see human rights as a business? National NGOs that have direct experience in the field should have priority in UPR debates. Only by doing that can we have a really informed participation by civil society.”
The President of the Human Rights Council replied to the conflict between the views of Cuba and Western States, saying, “I don’t believe there are states with hidden agendas so I really want to plead that in our use of words we avoid imputation of motives.”
Sri Lanka also took the opportunity to rail against critical NGOs and Western States. It said the purpose of the UPR is “cooperation” and that the mechanism should avoid “tendentious finger-pointing of the self-righteous.” Regarding NGOs in particular, Sri Lanka urged “some mechanism to restrain well-funded NGOs that believe progress is achieved by saying the same thing over and over whatever the context. If they could express their views in a different room, with one of your staff letting them into this room only of they had something constructive or novel to say, it would save much time. If they could share their opinions on a different continent, that would perhaps be even better.”
After UN Watch gave a speech, satirically praising the “cooperative” and “non-confrontational” approach of most countries towards the UPR, Sri Lanka took the floor to angrily ask where our funding is coming from and express its regret at the way we “denigrate the council.” The speech was also interrupted by the Cuban delegate. A separate blog will describe the speech, interruptions, and reply in more detail.
Other highlights from today’s session:
Pakistan, speaking for the Islamic Group, called the UPR, “a jewel of the Human Rights Council.”
Georgia said that an example of “double standards” involved in the UPR process is when “a State that theoretically supports territorial integrity violates the territorial integrity of my country and creates internally displaced persons.”
Denmark argued that States should only reject recommendations of their UPR reports “after serious consideration and based on the content, not the source of the recommendation.” It also complained that “we have witnessed attempts to encourage States to reject recommendations not in compliance with traditional views of the State,” said this trend is “disturbing,” and urged “all members to refrain from such statements.”