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By Amna Nazir and Alice Storey (M3C funded PhD researchers)

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) was established in 2006 through resolution 60/251 of the UN General Assembly and, along with it, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism was created. Through the UPR, the UN HRC reviews each member state’s promotion of human rights through cycles. The UPR second cycle will conclude in 2016, at which point all 193 member states will have had their human rights records reviewed twice.

The final stage of the UPR process for each state is the consideration and adoption of the outcome of the review. For those states reviewed in May 2015, this took place during the HRC’s 30th session in September 2015.


United States of America

During the consideration of the United States’ report, it was clear that the US would not contemplate a moratorium on or abolition of the death penalty. During the state’s initial 20 minute report, Scott Busby (Deputy Assistant Secretary) described the ‘differences in opinion on capital punishment’, between the US and the member states recommending abolition, as being ‘a matter of policy and not what international human rights requires’.

A limited number of member and observer states were then given 1 minute 30 seconds to share their views upon the US UPR report. The views were mixed. Some states, such as Honduras, Iraq and India, praised the US for ‘the progress it has made’ and its ‘many successes’. Israel was especially complimentary, congratulating the US for ‘vigorously contributing to human rights across the globe.’ In comparison, Russia spoke as quickly as possible to deliver as many blows to the US’ human rights record and co-operation with the UPR mechanism itself in their allocated 90 seconds time limit. Despite the content of these two polarised views of the United States, this is a clear example of the politicisation the UN wanted to eradicate when they dissolved the Commission on Human Rights and created the Human Rights Council.

Of the 17 states to take the floor, only Ireland and Russia commented on the United States’ inflexible stance on the death penalty[1]. In particular, Ireland expressed their deep concern over the outcome of the Glossip v. Gross case, wherein the US Supreme Court held in a 5-4 majority that the effects of the drug midazolam used in the lethal injection does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Finally, ten NGOs were given the floor for 2 minutes each to state their views upon the US UPR report. There is no doubt that the UN HRC places great weight on civil society’s input into the UPR process and it appears that their reports are the best way to gauge the actual human rights situation on the ground.

A number of NGOs such as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the US for non-compliance with the UPR process itself. They stated that the US is agreeing to recommendations from states during the UPR, but then not implementing them without repercussions. ACLU was of the view that this was ‘sending a message that the UPR is irrelevant.’

The majority of NGOs discussed the death penalty, advising that the US should put an instant moratorium in place with a view to abolition.

United States Human Rights Network (USHRN) expressed their disappointment that the state of Georgia was due to execute the only woman on Georgia’s death row, Kelly Gissendaner, the following week. Gissendaner had spent 17 years on death row after being convicted of conspiring to commit murder, despite her not being present when her husband was murdered. Gregory Owen, who carried out the murder, pleaded guilty and testified against Gissendaner and will be eligible for parole in 2022. Gissendaner was executed on September 29th making her the first woman to be executed in Georgia since 1945. This was just one of six executions scheduled to take place in the US over a two week period.

Maldives

Maldives received 258 recommendations from 102 states of which it accepted 198 and rejected 60. The State declared from the outset that Islam forms the basis of its constitution and all its laws. Any efforts to introduce practices contrary to the values of Islam, will not be entertained by the people of Maldives. Of the sixty recommendations the Government rejected, the majority contradicted the Islamic faith and the Constitution. It also emphasised the fact that the Maldives is a geographically and economically small sized country and is therefore constrained in legislative reform needed due to resources and funding.

Nevertheless, the Government has developed a comprehensive strategy for implementing the 198 recommendations it accepted. It has taken a results-based approach in implementing the recommendations by identifying measurable and verifiable benchmarks. The State of Maldives’ expressed that human rights are not only about international instruments or legal mandates but are equally about cultivating respect, nurturing belief, and making human rights a way of life. To promote these values, the Government announced that it will continue its efforts to provide human rights education.

Of the 17 member states[2] that issued a statement in relation to the UPR outcome of Maldives, it is interesting to note that only Belgium expressed concerns regarding the administration of the death penalty. Belgium regretted the rejection of the death penalty by Maldives and encouraged it to continue the moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing it. The majority of the member states that were given the floor to speak simply made note of Maldives’ attempt to engage in constructive dialogue and welcomed steps taken to improve the human rights situation of the country.

However this colourful and promising picture that was painted of Maldives by the state itself and fellow member states was quickly ruined when the relevant stakeholders were given the opportunity to present their findings. UN Watch urged for the release of Mohamed Nasheed who was Maldives’ first democratically elected president. He is currently facing a 13 year jail term, under the Anti-Terrorism Act of Maldives, for the alleged abduction of Judge Abdulla Mohamed. He was sentenced by judges who were state witnesses during the investigation of the case.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development highlighted Maldives’ lack of judicial responsibility and expressed serious concerns about the death penalty which had been reinstated after a six decade long moratorium.

Amnesty International noted that Maldives’ judiciary is in need of reform as there needs to be judicial compliance with fair trial guarantees. It also made reference to Mr Nasheed’s conviction and called for his imminent release. The International Service for Human Rights similarly highlighted the politicisation and lack of independence against the judiciary.

Finally Meera Nasheed, daughter of Mr Nasheed, issued a statement on behalf of Freedom Now- an NGO that works to free prisoners of conscience around the world. Not only was the speech very moving but she also announced that several world leaders and officials have called for her father’s release, with Amnesty International describing his trial as a ‘travesty of justice’.

It was very interesting to note the difference between recommending states’ reports and stakeholders’ reports. Whilst states were reluctant to criticise the state under review, the stakeholders were able to deliver concrete recommendations and highlight the human rights violations that were occurring in the country.

 

Our visit to the Human Rights Council was very productive and especially beneficial in furthering our PhD research. It allowed us to experience first-hand the workings of the Universal Periodic Review. The UPR is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council, marking a significant improvement in the monitoring of human rights however it is still in need of further improvement.

 



[1] Greece did comment on the death penalty, but by commending the US on repealing capital punishment in three states since the last UPR in 2010.

[2] Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, China, Cote d’ivoire, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Hondurras, India, Iraq, Kuwait

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