Q: What is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)?

A: The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) describes the UPR as follows:

“The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. The UPR is a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council which is based on equal treatment for all countries. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The UPR also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. Currently, no other mechanism of this kind exists.”

Q: How and when was the UPR established?

A: The UPR was created by the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006 in resolution 60/251, which also established the Human Rights Council (HRC). The resolution mandated the HRC 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 HRC provided for the modalities of the UPR in subsequent resolutions. The first UPR cycle began in 2008 and was completed in 2011.

Q: How many countries are reviewed each year?

A: During the first UPR cycle, 48 countries were reviewed each year. Beginning with the second UPR cycle, 42 countries have been scheduled for review each year. The UPR Working Group holds sessions three times a year to conduct the reviews.

Q: How is the second review different from the first review?

A: The HRC determined that “the second and subsequent cycles of the review should focus on, inter alia, the implementation of the accepted recommendations and the development of human rights situations in the State under review.”

Q: What happened at the first review of the United States?

A: The United States was first reviewed during the 9th UPR Session on November of 2010. The United States received 228 recommendations from other countries covering a range of issues. The United States accepted in whole or in part 173 of these recommendations. Information relating to these recommendations can be found here.

Q: When will the United States be reviewed again?

A: The United States will be considered again during the 22nd UPR Session in late April or early May of 2015. Other countries under review during this session include: Belarus, Liberia, Malawi, Mongolia, Panama, Maldives, Andorra, Bulgaria, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Croatia, Jamaica, and Libya.

Q: Who will be leading the review?

A: The reviews are conducted by the UPR Working Group, which consists of the 47 members of the Council; however, any UN Member State can take part in the discussion. Each State review is assisted by groups of three States, known as “troikas,” who serve as rapporteurs. The selection of the troikas for each State review is done through a drawing of lots following elections for the Council membership in the General Assembly.

Q: What are the reviews based upon?

A: The basis of review includes: the Charter of the United Nations; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights instruments to which a State is party; voluntary pledges and commitments made by States, including those undertaken when presenting their candidatures for election to the Human Rights Council; and, given the complementary and mutually interrelated nature of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, the review also takes into account applicable international humanitarian law.

During the UPR session, three documents are considered. First, there is a “national report” that is provided by the State under review. Second, there is a UN report, compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), that includes information provided by relevant experts such as human rights treaty bodies and UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs. Third, there is a “stakeholders report,” compiled by OHCHR consisting of information provided from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions.

Q: What format does the review follow?

A: Reviews take place through an interactive discussion between the State under review and other UN Member States at a meeting conducted by the UPR Working Group. During this discussion any UN Member State can pose questions, offer comments, and make recommendations to the States under review. The troikas may group issues or questions to be shared with the State under review to ensure that the interactive dialogue takes place in a smooth and orderly manner. The reviewed national government is entitled to use one hour of the allotted to present its report, respond to any written questions it may have received prior to the review, respond to oral questions, comments and recommendations from the floor, and present its conclusions. The interactive session is webcast on the UN website.

Q: How much time is allocated for this interactive discussion?

The duration of the review was three hours for each country during the first UPR cycle. From the second cycle onward, the time has been extended to three hours and 30 minutes.

Q: What happens after the review?

A: Following the review, a report, referred to as the “outcome report” is prepared by the troika with assistance from the OHCHR. This outcome report summarizes the discussion during the review, the recommendations made to the country under review, and the responses by the reviewed country. The national government has the option of accepting or declining any of the recommendations resulting from the review, and must inform the troika of its decisions for inclusion in the outcome report. The outcome report is first adopted by the Working Group and then adopted at the following plenary session of the HRC.

Q: How much time is allocated for discussion of the outcome report at the plenary session?

A: During the HRC plenary sessions, which are webcast on the UN website, each country’s report is debated for one hour. The national government has up to 20 minutes to make a statement, clarify issues addressed during the review, discuss any recommendations and commitments, and comment on the outcome report. Another 20 minutes are set aside for other UN Members and Observers to comment on the outcome report. Finally, in the remaining time, civil society organizations and national human rights institutions are given an opportunity to make short two-minute interventions to express their views on the outcome report.

Q: What follow up is there on the recommendations that are accepted by the national government?

A: According to the OHCHR, “The State [national government] has the primary responsibility to implement the recommendations contained in the final outcome. The UPR ensures that all countries are accountable for progress or failure in implementing these recommendations. During the second review the State [national government] is expected to provide information on what they have been doing to implement the recommendations made during the first review as well as any developments in the field of human rights. The international community will assist in implementing the recommendations and conclusions regarding capacity-building and technical assistance, in consultation with the country concerned. If necessary, the Council will address cases where States [national governments] are not cooperating.”

Q: How has the USG solicited information from the American public and civil society?

A: During the first UPR cycle, the U.S. government conducted consultations with civil society in a number of cities. In preparation for the second UPR cycle, the U.S. government is conducting additional consultations with civil society. The Department of State also has an email inbox (upr_info@state.gov) to which NGOs, academics, civil society, and the general public can send questions and voice their concerns.