The United Nations (UN) is fundamental to the foundation of human rights. The United Nations is where the legal obligations of governments are set, and where human rights are discussed and advocated.
Canada participates in the Universal Periodic Review which is one process and important function of the UN related to human rights, focused on assessing the human rights records of all UN Member States. In our post this month, we outline the UPR process, contextualizing the role of the United Nations in human rights in Canada, in light of Canada’s upcoming review in April/May 2018.
The UN is an international, inter-governmental organization, separate from any one government, but consisting of 193 “Member States”. These are governments which have agreed to be a member, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Membership comes with benefits, as well as obligations. One area of obligation is the recognition of human rights, and to that end, member states agree to participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The aim of the UPR is to improve the human rights situations of Member States.
In May this year, Canada will have its third review by the UN Human Rights Council through the UPR process. In preparation of this, Canada submitted a national report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The responsibility of reporting is coordinated by the Ministry of Heritage. The report is then presented to the HRC by the Permanent Mission of Canada in Geneva. The HRC is the body which reviews every Member State, every five years. This means that about 42 Member States are reviewed each year. The work is undertaken by the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, within the HRC. At the end of each session the Working Group produces a report and recommendations on the reviewed States.
The process is “State-driven”, which means each State submits a report on its actions to fulfil human rights obligations and improve the situation of in-country human rights. This includes a review of how each UN human rights treaty, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), has been implemented in the country.
Canada, for example, has recognized the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has ratified seven core UN human rights treatiesConvention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Each UPR on Canada has looked at the implementation of the CRC, as well as at the situation of human rights in the country more broadly. To date, all Member States have been reviewed at least twice, with each review building on the findings of the previous one.
The UPR process is broader than receiving reports submitted by Member States. Other Member States, are welcome to ask questions and raise any concerns about human rights issues in the country under review. This engagement is referred to as an “interactive dialogue”. National human rights institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations and civil society can also engage in the UPR process.
In Canada’s previous review, which took place in April 2013, 82 delegations made statements on the human rights situation in Canada. As a result of the submitted reports and interactive dialogue, the Working Group issued 162 conclusions and recommendations to Canada. In the third review taking place this year, the UPR report will consider previous conclusions and recommendations, in light of new submissions by the government, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and any civil society organizations that submitted reports.
The UPR process provides an opportunity for the interdependent and interrelated nature of human rights to be highlighted. It looks at all human rights in Member States, over a period of time. By reviewing previous reports, you can see the progress, or lack of progress, on the implementation of different human rights treaties and standards. Together with the reviews of UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies, which look at specific human rights under one international treaty, it is possible to get an overview of the state of implementation on all of Canada’s human rights obligations.