Celebrate Solutions: The Universal Periodic Review as an Inroad to Progress

By: Joanna Hoffman, Women Deliver

In Kyrgyzstan, civil society groups such as Labrys Kyrgyzstan have been struggling for years to convince the government to expand women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, to develop sexuality educations programs, and to effectively prosecute violence against women and LGBT individuals. In the face of strong gender norms and a legislative system reluctant to respond to domestic violence, the path to progress has been long and fraught with obstacles.

In 2010, Labrys Kyrgyzstan and the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) partnered to submit a report to the United Nations through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). As a result, the government of Kyrgyzstan accepted recommendations from the Czech Republic and Uruguay to review and reform legislative actions around gender-based violence and hate crimes, and invited Labrys to hold a training for government officials.

This is just one example of how the UPR process can impact people’s ability to access health services and exercise their rights. In the first three years since the UPR began, 143 states received 14,335 recommendations, of which 2,494 related directly to women’s rights, 309 to sexual orientation and gender identity, 188 to sexual violence, 107 to female genital mutilation, and 51 to maternal health.

The UPR is used by the United Nations Human Rights Commission to review each of the 193 member states of the UN on its entire human rights record. Every four and a half years, member states review each other’s human rights records, ask direct questions, and then make specific recommendations on how human rights concerns can effectively be remedied. Human rights obligations are reviewed based on the Charter of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights treaties the state has signed onto such as the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and any other applicable international laws.

The issues addressed are determined by three reports: a State Report by the country’s government, a Compilation report by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and a Stakeholder Summary Report by civil society and human rights institutions. Civil society groups are able to participate in the process by submitting Stakeholder Reports, participating in government consultations on the State report, building civil society advocacy coalitions, and engaging in advocacy with member states.

SRI and the International Planned Parenthood Federation have developed an in-depth guide on the UPR process and how to be involved. Sexual Rights and the Universal Periodic Review: A Toolkit for Advocates is available here and contains background information, instructions on how to engage in the process, and resources. You can also access recommendations made during the UPR process here.

Flickr photo via Heinrich Boell Foundation Southern Africa

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