The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council in 2006, also established the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) as a peer review mechanism for the assessment and advancement of human rights in all 193 UN Member States. As set out by the General Assembly, the Council is mandated 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 review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs; such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies.
UPR reviews are formally conducted by the UPR Working Group of the Council which comprises all 47 Council Member States. The UPR Working Group reviews UPR reports in UPR Sessions three times per year in Geneva, with up to 14 countries undergoing review per session. Each UPR is facilitated by a troika (group of three) of Council Member States, but the UPR process is open to participation by all UN Member States whether or not elected members of the Council, as well as to non-governmental stakeholders.
In the first UPR cycle, 48 States were reviewed each year over a four-year period, while in the second UPR cycle, approximately 42 States were reviewed each year over a four-and-a-half-year period. The increased cycle duration was based on feedback gathered from States and non-government actors, with the objective that fewer States would be reviewed each UPR Session, but more time would be allocated to each review. The first cycle concluded in October 2011, and a second cycle began in March 2012 and concluded in November 2016. The third cycle began in February 2017 and will conclude in 2021.
The UPR process is composed of the following steps:
- Preparation and submission of the written reports by the State, civil society, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which provide a foundation for the peer review.
- During the UPR Session, the reports are presented orally, followed by an interactive dialogue where UN Member States make comments and recommendations to the State under review.
- The troika prepares a summary report of the comments and recommendations; the State may indicate its acceptance or rejection of the recommendations.
- The final outcome report is adopted by the Council and both States and civil society organizations with ECOSOC consultative status are permitted to deliver oral comments on the UPR outcome report.
- The State reports on its implementation of the recommendations during the next UPR cycle.
The UPR process includes several formal engagement opportunities for non-government actors, such as during consultations on the national report submitted by the State under review, via written submissions to the Council, and through oral statements at the adoption of the UPR reports by the Council.
Learn more about access and advocacy opportunities with the UN Human Rights Council by reading the IJRC Primer for Advocacy Opportunities with the Human Rights Council and 10 Essential Steps for First-Time Advocacy at the Human Rights Council. The complete requirements pertaining to civil society actors’ submissions to the UPR can be found in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ publication, Universal Periodic Review: A Practical Guide for Civil Society and its technical guidelines for UPR participation.