The international human rights system uses various mechanisms to monitor and promote human rights. However, when the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Council created the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2006, it aimed to ignite a missing political component within the UN system – a system which had previously been criticised for its lack of political traction. This new peer-to-peer review mechanism opened up the dialogue on human rights performance, to allow states and civil society to drive international recommendations. A decade after its creation, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
has launched the report The role of the Universal Periodic Review in advancing human rights in the administration of justice
to assess the relevance of UPR recommendations, focusing in particular on the administration of justice and the involvement of lawyers within this relatively new process.
Lawyers are at the forefront of human rights protection on the ground. Therefore, ensuring the independence of the profession for judges, lawyers and prosecutors is of paramount importance if human rights abuses are to be reported and successfully litigated against. As one of its main findings, The role of the UPR in advancing human rights the administration on justice
finds that until now the role of lawyers in the UPR process has been limited, and recommendations relating to the independence of the legal profession have accounted for a very small percentage of overall recommendations. The report explores the UPR’s potential to strengthen the international legal human rights framework in relation to human rights in the administration of justice.
“The fact that states tend to overlook the separation of powers and the role of primary institutions, and especially the role of the court system, in the protection of human rights, is a concern affecting the mechanism as a whole”
Beginning by addressing the UPR’s role, the report uses a ten country case study portfolio to shed light on key features of the international mechanism, that provide justification for lawyers to be more involved. Increasing protections for legal professionals and improving working conditions are perhaps some of the more straightforward reasons put forward but, more importantly, calls for greater involvement by the legal profession are tied to its overall responsibility to uphold human rights standards.
Having a well equipped legal profession, trained to defend human rights in the court system, plays a major role in fostering change on the ground which in turn results in greater protection of human rights. Qualitative and quantitative insights highlighting this point are brought forth in the report, with 1,256 recommendations relating to the independence of judges, lawyers and prosecutors being scrutinised in the process.
Out of 38,298 recommendations, made to the UPR between 2008 and 2014, only three percent relate to the independence of the legal profession. What this shows is that this vital international human rights mechanism has paid little attention to a fundamental component in human rights protection. The lack of standardised guidelines followed by States, when making UPR submissions, is evidenced by the lack of international human rights recommendations relating to legal professionals (despite the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers regularly citing such issues).
The IBAHRI’s final recommendations begin by asking recommending states to pay specific attention to information coming from lawyers’ associations and to consider the separation of powers and judicial independence as priority human rights issues. To states under review, the IBAHRI recommends that the judiciary and professional organisations of lawyers be more involved in the implementation and monitoring of international human rights recommendations.
Furthermore to lawyers and lawyers’ associations and to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the IBAHRI urges better use of existing UN Basic Principles and Rule of Law Indicators, so as to create a benchmark of standards by which to monitor states’ adherence to international law and norms.