Human rights- the first Universal Agenda

07 august 2015

Fiona Coyle, Dóchas Programme Officer, gives her thoughts on Ireland's Human Rights Universal Periodic Review

This week in New York a decision was taken that has the ability to positively transform billions of lives for generations to come. The  United Nations member states, led by Ireland and Kenya, agreed a new development framework- The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- that will be adopted this September by world leaders. The new agenda, to be effective from January 2016, would end poverty by 2030 and universally promote economic prosperity, social development and environmental protection.

Much focus has been given to the universal nature of this new agenda and its applicability to all countries both those developing and those categorised as already developed. While recognising this momentous moment it also made me reflect on the already existing universal processes and in particular the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This process to examine states’ human rights records, is also truly universal: all United Nation member states were reviewed by the end of 2011 and the second cycle of reviews is well underway.  

It was perhaps no coincidence that my thoughts fell on the UPR process as in April 2016, it is Ireland’s turn to be reviewed. Similar to the propsed SDG's this process gives Ireland an opportunity to inwardily reflect on our Human Rights commitments.  

These “Universal Periodic Reviews” (UPR) take place every four years and are meant as a stocktake of every aspect of a country's human rights record. The review covers all types of rights and is undertaken by other UN member states, in a system known as peer review.  This video gives a good overview of the process: 

The Universal Periodic Review explained from ICCL Human Rights Film Awards on Vimeo.

The last time Ireland was reviewed under this Peer Review mechanism was in 2011, and at the time,  Dóchas and several of our member organisations made a detailed submission to the UPR process setting out ideas for how Ireland could strengthen the Human Rights dimensions of its overseas aid and foreign policies.

Dóchas is also a member of the UPR Civil Society Cross Sectoral Steering Group. It is in this forum that Irish civil society organisations have come together to coordinate an effective civil society response. The aim of the Steering Group is to consult with groups and organisations around the country and feed the outcomes of these consultations into a Stakeholder Summary Report. By collectively contributing to the Stakeholder Summary Report, we ensure that civil society voice is heard loud and clear.

This group has also set up the Rights Now campaign, to highlight the importance of the UPR process, and to encourage as many people and organisations as possible to get involved in the process.

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How does the UPR process work?

  • The government of the country undergoing the review submits a “national report”, no longer than 20 pages;
  • The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) submits a compilation report of information contained in reports of the UN human rights machinery, including the Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and other relevant UN bodies.
  • The OHCHR also prepares a summary of information submitted by other ‘stakeholders’ such as  NGOs, national human rights institutions (like Ireland’s Human Rights & Equality Commission), trade unions or other civil society groups. 
  • The Government of the country then presents to a Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council, with details of how it has implemented the various recommendations made since the last Review. UN agencies and NGOs have a formal opportunity to respond to the Government’s presentation.
  • The Working Group issues its findings, called the Outcome Report, which is sent to the UN Human Rights Council for adoption.
  • The Government of the country then has the obligation to implement the recommendations.


For a thorough explanation of the UPR process please see the Plain English Guide to the Universal Periodic Review