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What you need to know about the Universal Periodic Review

What is the Universal Periodic Review?
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council that reviews the condition of human rights across all member states. It was established by a UN General Assembly resolution on 15 March 2006, and takes place in four-year cycles during which member states are reviewed. All member states were reviewed in the first cycle from 2008 - 2012.

How does the UPR achieve its aim of improving the human rights in its members states?
During the assessment of human rights records, violations of human rights that surface are addressed. To strengthen the ability of countries to deal with human rights challenges, the UPR renders technical assistance and promotes knowledge-sharing of best practices amongst member states and other stakeholders. Recommendations are made to the state under review, and the state has the option to either accept, review or reject these recommendations.

What is the standard of review?
The UPR considers the extent to which States comply with human rights obligations as set out in:

  • The UN Charter
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Human rights instruments to which the State is a party
  • Voluntary pledges and commitments made by the State
  • Any applicable international humanitarian law

What is the UPR process like?
First, information is collated from 3 sources:

  • The member state under review: this often takes the form of a ‘national report’
  • Independent human rights experts and organisations, for example, Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, human rights treaty bodies, and other UN entities
  • Other stakeholders, including human rights institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

Based on this information, the review takes place via a participative dialogue between the state under review and the other UN member states. This is referred to as a UPR Working Group meeting, and it lasts for 3.5 hours per country. During this meeting, questions, comments and recommendations are made to the state under review.

All UPR sessions are broadcasted live via webcasts on the OHCHR website.

What happens after the review?
First, the outcome report, containing a summary of the actual decision, is prepared. The outcome report contains the questions, comments and recommendations made to the reviewed state, and the state's response during the discussion.

The state under review has the opportunity to either accept or note the recommendations during the Working Group session, and these are included in the outcome report. Editorial modifications by the reviewed state are permitted within the following two weeks, but thereafter, the report has to be adopted at a Human Rights Council plenary session. Further discussion of the issues raised occurs during the plenary session.

A complete Database of UPR Recommendations can be found here.

Are there any enforcement mechanisms to ensure the recommendations are implemented?
Primary responsibility for implementation lies with the state, which has 4.5 years between reviews to take action. However, all states have to provide an account to the UPR at the next UPR cycle about the actions they have taken towards the implementation of the recommendations, as well as any updates in the field of human rights. The UPR also carries out Mid-term Implementation Assessments 2.5 years after the initial review, which surveys the state of implementation of recommendations.

The Human Rights Council determines the consequences of persistent non-cooperation by a member state with the UPR.

What has the UPR achieved thus far?
78 per cent of recommendations made to member states under review were accepted, and 48 per cent of UPR recommendations have been either fully or partially implemented 2.5 years after the initial review. Issues with the highest percentage of implementation were related to HIV-Aids, human trafficking, and people with disabilities.

An example includes the Chinese government announcing the abolition of the death penalty for 13 economic crimes in 2011, reducing the number of crimes punishable by death from 68 to 55. This is a result of China receiving several recommendations to reduce the number of crimes carrying the death penalty in 2009.

A more in-depth examination of the impact of the first cycle of the UPR can be found in this 2014 UPR study.

What about Singapore's last UPR?
Singapore’s first UPR was conducted on 6 May 2011. It was based on reports from three sources - a National Report by the Singapore Government, a report compiled by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and a report summarising relevant stakeholders’ submissions.

More information on the Singapore UPR can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

The Report of the Working Group on Singapore can be found here.

Singapore’s response to the recommendations in the first UPR cycle are contained in this Addendum document.