Although Canada enjoys a pretty positive reputation internationally, we do have human rights issues here, including the right to housing, women’s inequality and Aboriginal issues, among others. A relatively new initiative, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), provides Canadians with an opportunity to have their say about how Canada is doing on these and other human rights issues.
The United Nations Human Rights Council established the UPR initiative in 2006. The human rights situations of selected Member States are evaluated by the rest of the Member States. The goal of this process is to encourage all Member States to improve their individual human rights circumstances. Reviews of each Member State take place every four years. Significantly, stakeholders, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations agencies and national human rights institutions can and do attend the UPR Sessions. See: “Basic Facts about the UPR” Online at United Nations Human Rights website.
For each review session, groups consisting of three Member States, referred to collectively as “troikas”, are selected to perform UPRs. Prior to a particular review session, the “troikas” are given written questions from other Member States, and prepare Working Group reports. These reports contain a summary of the review session dialogue, the responses to the questions and recommendations that are received by the States Under Review, and the recommendations made by the other States (See: “UPR Process” Online).
Through the entire UPR process (before the review session, during the review session, and during the period of time between reviews), NGOs have several opportunities to participate in and impact the process. Before a review session, NGOs can participate in national consultation processes with the government of the States Under Review. Governments are encouraged to hold national consultations with relevant stakeholders. Thus, contacting Canadian NGOs is one way that Canadians can have their say in important human rights issues.
NGOs can submit reports and information to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), before the review, pertaining to the human rights situation in their country. Moreover, NGOs can inform other Member States of the specific human rights issues that they feel are important in their country and lobby these States to address these issues in the interactive dialogue portion of the review session.
Canadian government officials who respond to the UPR process are concerned about Canada’s international reputation on human rights and will follow through with the recommendations or some of them.
Canada’s first UPR was held in 2009. Canada’s Report was prepared in collaboration with the provincial, territorial and federal governments. The report addressed human rights issues such as Aboriginal issues, women’s rights, immigration and anti-discrimination. (UPR Process Online). Canada received a total of 68 recommendations made by 42 fellow Member States. Of those, 39 were accepted. Some of the issues brought to Canada’s attention included the treatment of Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, homeless persons, children, women, racial minorities and refugees. (Canada’s Fourth Session, online.)
Submissions by Canadian NGOs featured significantly in the first UPR. Forty-nine NGOs submitted reports to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [Canada, 4th Session]. In addition, immediately after the review, Amnesty International issued a press release highlighting the recommendations received by Canada from other Member States during the review session. Further, NGOs have made submissions to the Canadian government encouraging the implementation of UPR recommendations.
Canada tabled the outcome of the UPR in the House of Commons and the Senate in May 2010. Canada has ratified/signed the following two conventions following the UPR recommendations: the Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Also, the Standing Committee on Human Rights has been mandated by the Senate to conduct reviews of issues related to human rights. The Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights (CCOHR) has established a permanent committee, with membership of all relevant federal departments, that meets once a month to discuss and track the progress of the accepted recommendations and Canada’s commitments. Canada’s UPR is now a standing item on the agenda of CCOHR, and provincial and territorial officials provide regular updates on relevant initiatives undertaken by their respective governments. Canada hosted a UPR review midterm side-event in June 2011 for those countries whose UPR occurred alongside Canada. This event generated a constructive dialogue and positive responses from participating states and NGOs (See: “Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights”, 6 February 2012, Online.)
Canada’s next national report on the UPR is to be submitted to the OHCHR by 21 January 2013. Canada’s UPR review session, its second, will take place in the 16th session, from April 22 to May 3, 2013. Individual Canadians can get involved in the process by contacting individual stakeholder organizations. A good place to start is to check the website for NGOs who participated in Canada’s first UPR.