Resident Coordinator's remarks at the Opening of the Caribbean Regional Workshop The Universal Periodic Process: How to Translate Human Rights Commitments into National Realities, 7 to 9 July 2015, Bridgetown, BarbadosJul 7, 2015
Senator the Honourable Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
Ms. Cecile Humphrey, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
Ms. Birgit Gestenberg, Senior Human Rights Advisor, UN Jamaica
Distinguished Representatives from countries across the region participating in this event,
Distinguished Members of Parliaments and Representatives of Ombudsman Offices,
Colleagues from the United Nations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It an honour to address you here today on behalf of the United Nations, in particular on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
I would first like to thank the Government of Barbados for their warm and generous hospitality by hosting this important event, organized by the OHCHR with the support of my Office. I welcome the opportunity to address you at the start of what I am sure will be an important dialogue translating human rights commitments into national realities.
As you know, the Universal Periodic Review or “UPR” was established in 2006 by the UN General Assembly. It is a cooperative process that reminds all States of their responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ultimate aim of this process is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.
The uniqueness of this process stems from its universality: each and every Member State of the United Nations is reviewed with equal scrutiny and on the basis of uniform criteria.
The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare the actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their country and to implement their human rights obligations.
The first Working Group meeting of the UPR took place in April 2008. Now in its second cycle, the added value of the mechanism has been established. The 100% participation of States during the first cycle and the continuing participation in the second cycle is a major achievement.
This year will be a busy year for the Caribbean region in the UPR process. Last week, the Human Rights Council concluded its 29th regular session in Geneva. In addition to addressing a number of urgent human rights matters, and the holding of thematic discussions, the Council also adopted the UPR outcome of countries examined by the UPR Working Group in January 2015. Among these countries were Guyana and Grenada and I believe some of the representatives who participated in the reviews are here today. And later this year, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis will undergo their second review.
In addition to the calendared UPR reviews, Caribbean countries have also started to engage in the voluntary practice of submitting mid-term reports. One such example is Trinidad and Tobago which, during the most recent session of the Human Rights Council, reported on progress it made in the implementation of recommendations from the first cycle, setting an excellent example for the region.
Indeed, the whole Caribbean region has fully engaged with the UPR demonstrating their commitment to human rights and a readiness to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms. A good number of Caribbean countries have also actively participated in the review of other countries, making comments and recommendations during their reviews. This is despite the challenges faced by Caribbean countries in effectively engaging with the human rights mechanisms, especially for those countries without representation in Geneva. I would like to commend countries of the region for their constructive and fruitful participation and commitment to engage with the Human Rights Council and the UPR in particular.
Another measure of the success of the UPR was the high-level participation, very often at ministerial level, of delegations during the first and second cycle, and the constructive dialogue and recommendations made to the States under Review.
The process has been a learning tool for all, providing an opportunity for self-reflection and dialogue in a constructive spirit. The preparation of the State report provides the framework for institutional collaboration across government structures and with civil society; and the process itself strengthens the notion of the universality of human rights having an effect at the national level. The UPR process has also laid the foundation for sustainable information collection, which is essential for ensuring implementation of human rights obligations at national level, and for cooperation at the international level.
In addition to the capacity-building aspect of the process, the first cycle of the review also showed the potential of the mechanism as a catalyst for change.
For example, Caribbean countries have been responsive to recommendations regarding standing invitations to special procedures, as well as invitations to specific mandates. Following their second review The Bahamas issued a standing invitation to special procedures in 2013, a recommendation the country accepted during its second review. Dominica also issued a standing invitation to the special procedures in 2009, coinciding with their first review. Following Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ review in 2013, the country was visited by the Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights.
Ratification of human rights treaties and the withdrawal of reservations and submission of outstanding treaty body reports also coincided with reviews or as a follow-up to recommendations. Barbados, for example, ratified a number of international human rights conventions and withdrew reservations following their first review and Jamaica submitted a number of overdue reports to the treaty bodies following its review in 2010.
It is widely recognized that the UPR mechanism has also contributed to awareness-raising and to creating opportunities for the holding of a constructive dialogue on human rights at national level. States have been encouraged to prepare their national report through a broad consultation process at national level with NGOs, civil society and national human rights institutions. Barbados, Grenada and Guyana, for example, reported having consultations with non-governmental stakeholders in preparation for their second review.
As the second cycle of the UPR advances, the international community must build on the achievements of the first. It must continue to be cooperative, principled and truly objective process. It must continue to ensure that governments and civil society work together to improve human rights enjoyment on the ground by encouraging the creation of appropriate mechanisms for the coordination of human rights related actions and for the reporting and follow-up on UPR recommendations.
From the countries invited to participate in this workshop, seven countries - The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica – have already been reviewed for the second time. The other six countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago - will undergo their second review later in 2015 and 2016.
So this workshop is very timely. The countries that are preparing for their next review will be able to benefit from the experiences of those that have already been reviewed twice. Participants will also benefit from exchanging experiences with invited Guest Speakers, such as Costa Rica, which underwent its second review in 2014 and has established a standing, inter-institutional mechanism for reporting and follow-up. Another Guest Speaker, Paraguay, has been invited to share their experience on the establishment of an interesting coordination structure and an online system to monitor the implementation of recommendations. Both countries will also be able to share their experience in cooperating with all UN human rights mechanisms and with UN programmes in their countries.
Assisting governments in their efforts to fulfil their human rights obligations is part of the OHCHR’s mandate and has always been a priority. In this regard, OHCHR works with human rights institutions around the world to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights, including promoting the engagement of States and non-governmental stakeholders with the UN human rights mechanisms.
OHCHR has also played a crucial role in integrating all human rights into international cooperation efforts. In 2015, OHCHR continued supporting the integration a human rights perspective in the work of UN interagency mechanisms dealing with the Millennium Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
In close cooperation with other UN entities, the OHCHR is increasing its engagement in this region. Since 2012 the Caribbean UPR Project, a collaboration between my office and the OHCHR, has engaged in activities intended to assist States and non-governmental stakeholders to become more responsive to the UPR and other UN human rights mechanisms. The project has also assisted the Subregional Team for Barbados and the OECS to support Caribbean countries in implementing UPR recommendations. The project has supported UNDP’s work in the area of governance, UN Women’s work in the area of gender-based violence and UNFPA’s work in the area of sexual and reproductive rights and health rights, all of which are responsive to UPR recommendations that the Caribbean region has received in the last two cycles. Outside of the Eastern Caribbean region, two additional human rights advisors were deployed to the UN country teams in Jamaica and Dominican Republic.
It is my hope that by convening this meeting, the UN System will be able to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to advance human rights in the Caribbean. I am confident that your active participation in this workshop will not only contribute to advancing your countries’ legal and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, but will also serve as an opportunity for enhancing international cooperation in the field of human rights.
I wish you a fruitful exchange over the coming days.