Our stories matter: Reporting and implementation under the Universal Periodic Review

By Romulo Nayacalevu, Senior Human Rights Advisor, the Pacific Community By Romulo Nayacalevu, Senior Human Rights Advisor, the Pacific Community

By October 2015, 14 of the 16 Pacific Islands states that are members of the United Nations will have re-engaged with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the second cycle review.

Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu will have reported to the Human Rights Council; Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Nauru will be in Geneva reporting to the Council; and Palau and Solomon Islands will be submitting their national report to the Council. Samoa and Papua New Guinea (PNG), the remaining Pacific countries working on their national reports, have a deadline of January 2016 to submit their reports.

This second UPR cycle is called the implementation cycle, as states must report on their implementation of the first round recommendations. This is the opportunity for states to ‘tell their human stories to the world’,[1],[2] an opportunity to share the progressive steps taken to realise the protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights in their country. The reporting cycle is four and half years, and within this period states are required to implement the recommendations they have accepted at the first cycle review.

Implementation of the recommendations is crucial to the UPR reporting process. The three reports submitted against a state’s review provide an overview of implementation challenges, successes and progress. The state under review provides a national report, civil society groups provide a stakeholder report, and the United Nations agencies provide a United Nations compilation.[3] These reports are crucial to the interactive dialogue that takes place before the Human Rights Council, as the state under review then provides its responses to questions and issues raised against the state. ‘All 193 UN member states had participated in a review of their human rights records, voluntarily subjecting their national activities to international scrutiny’.[4]

Pacific human rights stories

For Pacific states, the UPR gives them a voice, a platform to share their implementation successes and challenges. Considerable achievements have taken place in Pacific states during their second cycle of the UPR. In their second cycle review, the states are reporting about progressive legislations and policies, human rights institutions and other considerable steps taken to address human rights gaps and challenges. The Pacific states have reported implementation activities around key thematic areas including gender equality, violence against women and children, climate change, corruption, treaty ratification, reporting, domestication and implementation, National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), discrimination, and implementation of basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to health, sanitation, water, housing, etc.

The UPR process is also providing the opportunity for increased engagement by Pacific states with other human rights obligations, notably the core human rights treaties, the special procedures system and related human rights organs such as the International Labour Organisation and the International Criminal Court.

In the Pacific there has been considerable progress in the area of legislative reform, especially in addressing systemic and widespread issues of domestic violence, treaty ratification and reporting, to name a few. Key human rights institutions have been created or strengthened in Samoa (NHRI), Tuvalu (Ombudsman’s Office) and Fiji (Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission). New domestic violence legislation has been passed in Kiribati (Te Rau n Te Mwenga Act 2014), Tonga (Family Protection Act 2014), Samoa (Family Safety Act 2013), the Marshall Islands (DV Prevention and Protection Act 2011), Tuvalu (Family Protection Act 2014), FSM (Kosrae State Family Protection Act 2014), Solomon Islands (Family Protection Act 2014) and Palau (Family Protection Act 2012), with steps taken to formulate implementation plans for Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Apart from a low level of ratification of the core human rights treaties, most Pacific states struggle to report to the human rights treaty bodies. Considerable reporting challenges have been noted in Pacific countries with some recording overdue treaty reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. One Pacific state had a 19-year overdue treaty report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. However, since the UPR, there are increasing national activities around ratification and reporting to core human rights treaties, with Nauru (2012) and Vanuatu (2011) ratifying the Convention against Torture (CAT); Samoa (2012) ratifying the Convention against Enforced Disappearance (CED); Kiribati (2013), Nauru (2012), Palau (2013), PNG (2013) and Tuvalu (2014) ratifying the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD); and Nauru (2011) ratifying the Convention against the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Fiji is discussing the ratification of CAT, while the issue of CEDAW ratification remains on the national agenda in Tonga. Moreover Palau (2011) signed the remaining core treaties, while Fiji (2010) and FSM (2011) signed the CRPD.

Further, Tuvalu (2013), Samoa (2012) and Fiji (2014) reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, while Solomon Islands (2014), Tuvalu (2015) and Vanuatu (2012) reported to the Committee on CEDAW. Fiji (2012) reported to the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, while other Pacific states are in the process of submitting either their initial or periodic reports to the treaty bodies.

These Pacific stories demonstrate considerable achievements given the very minimal engagement with the UN human rights bodies prior to the UPR. The challenges are aggravated by resource issues, competing national priorities, lack of finances, etc. that hinder the progress of implementation of core UPR recommendations, yet Pacific states continue to advance some of these key recommendations.

Looking to the future

Pacific states are strengthening their human rights capacity, including the creation of national human rights bodies such as the National Human Rights Committee in Vanuatu (created by Cabinet in 2014), the Human Rights Working Group in Palau (created by Presidential Order in 2014) and the Kiribati National Human Rights Taskforce (created by Cabinet in 2014). The National Human Rights Institution of Samoa has published its first state report of human rights in Samoa in 2015(http://www.ombudsman.gov.ws/images/20150806_stateofhumanrightsreport_english.compressed.pdf). The future for human rights in Pacific states looks promising as they continue to engage the human rights system. The mandatory reporting created by the UPR, and the understanding that states are appearing before their peers, is pushing Pacific states to report to the Human Rights Council.

The future for human rights in the Pacific is one of optimism, as Pacific States take steps to realise human rights against the background of strong cultural and religious values. Treaty ratification, reporting, human rights laws and policies, institutions, and changing practices and norms are some of the tangible evidence that points to a state of evolution for Pacific countries when it comes to human rights. Sharing these stories, accomplishments and achievements is important, not least for the individual who gets to enjoy their basic human rights – but it is also important for Pacific states to share their human rights stories with the world as they celebrate the realisation of basic rights and the access of their people to entitlements that promote a life of dignity.

It is incumbent on Pacific states to continue to strengthen their human rights regimes and frameworks. The UPR is proving to be a catalyst for advancement in the areas of human rights protection, promotion and fulfilment for the Pacific today and for the future.

 


[1]http://www.spc.int/rrrt/publications-media/publications/item/66-telling-pacific-human-rights-stories-to-the-world (accessed October 2015).

[2]Nayacalevu R 2015. Telling our human rights stories to the world, SPC RRRT: file:///C:/Users/romulon.SUVA/Downloads/Navigating_the_Universal_Periodic_Review_process_FINAL%20(3).pdf

[3] United Nations General Assembly, A/HRC/DEC/6/102.

[4] Beyond Promises; The Impact of the UPR on the ground. UPR Info, 2014: http://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/general-document/pdf/2014_beyond_promises.pdf



SPC’s Regional Rights Resource Team receives core funding from the Australian Government and additional project support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Pacific Leadership Programme (PLP), European Union (EU) and the German Development Bank (KfW).