The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an exceptional mechanism within the framework of international human rights. The fact that it evaluates all UN member states’ human rights records on a universal basis sets it apart from other enforcement mechanisms that do not give equal time to all countries or do not seek to cover all human rights. Following the introduction of hybrid modalities in the third cycle, the UPR faces a turning point in terms of who is included in the process and how. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with UN officials, diplomatic mission members, civil society representatives, and academics, as well as personal reflections on my experience attending the 40th session of the UPR in Geneva, this project examines the participation of states and civil society actors throughout the existence of the mechanism. In regard to state participation, it finds that as states have learned “what to expect” out of the UPR process, they have become increasingly adept at using the language of human rights to make it appear as though they are engaged while maintaining ultimate control over their fate in the outcome of their review. Conversely, while civil society actors possess extremely limited agency within the formal UPR process, their strong engagement with the mechanism through informed, specific recommendations demonstrates their potential to exert “public pressure” on states if given the platform to do so. Given these findings, as well as the solidification of the mechanism after fifteen years of existence, I argue that visible civil society participation at the review stage is a risk worth taking.
O'Brien, Lucien F., "Peer Reviewing the World: Increasing Civil Society Participation in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review" (2022). Political Science Honors Projects. 93.
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