Press release

Universal Periodic Review 28th session: Lord Ahmad's statement

Lord Ahmad gave a statement to mark the end of the 28th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations in Geneva.

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The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) allows an open and constructive dialogue on the key human rights concerns of all 193 UN member states. The UK engages consistently and comprehensively in the UPR process and we have spoken at every session and about every country since the process began. We are committed to improving the UPR process, in particular, the implementation of accepted recommendations. The UK also supports UPR related projects and, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, is a key partner of UPR Info, an NGO dedicated to promoting the UPR.

This session saw reviews of 14 countries, namely the Czech Republic, Argentina, Ghana, Gabon, Peru, Guatemala, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Benin, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Ukraine and Sri Lanka.

During this UPR session we have focused our efforts on ensuring the topics of modern slavery and UN Treaty Body Elections were consistently raised. Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) has also been a priority area for the UK.

Modern slavery

The UK government is firmly committed to eradicating the heinous crimes of forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, and this is a personal priority for our Prime Minister Theresa May. The UPR provides a unique forum for engaging UN member states in a constructive dialogue on implementing the commitments we agreed at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015 and identifying practical areas for co-operation. As committed members of Alliance 8.7 we are keen to engage with all parts of the UN system and all member states to increase coherence and support initiatives that aim to shine a light on forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking. Such initiatives include the ILO’s ‘50 for Freedom’ campaign, as well as the Why Foundation’s ‘Why Slavery?’ campaign.

2030 is not far away and yet there are, right now, over 40 million people around the world who need our help and action. Let us use the opportunities afforded by our bilateral and multilateral engagements to move the agenda forward and count down to the day when the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (2 December) can be a celebration and not a call to action.

UN Treaty Monitoring Body elections

The UN Treaty Bodies are an important part of the UN human rights system, charged with monitoring the implementation of human rights conventions in states parties. The strength of the UN human rights system is dependent on the quality of people selected and elected to serve on these expert committees. The UK is seen as setting the standard, with an open, merit-based selection process. The UPR provides an opportunity to improve the quality of membership over the long-term by promoting good practice on selection of national candidates for these bodies.

Freedom of Religion or Belief

FoRB is a fundamental tenet of modern democracy. As I stated in the 2016 Annual Human Rights Report, the UK is committed to driving international efforts to build more cohesive, tolerant and peaceful societies, where people of all faiths, and none, are equal citizens of the countries in which they live. This UPR session has demonstrated our commitment to ensuring freedom of religion or belief is kept at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Tackling restrictions on FoRB, and addressing intolerance and violent extremism, should be a priority for all UN member states. Individuals of all faiths or beliefs have the right to be protected equally under the law. As state authorities we all have a responsibility to guarantee that our laws are proportionate and not open to abuse.

Czech Republic

I welcome the Czech Republic’s commitment to upholding human rights and its engagement with the UPR. I am encouraged by the adoption of the Roma Integration Strategy and the steps underway to improve the integration, and tolerance, of the Roma community. Furthermore, the Czech National Strategy for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for 2016 to 2019 and ratification of the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention reflects the Czech commitment to defeating modern slavery.

Argentina

Argentina has made significant progress in improving human rights and implementing previous UPR recommendations, in particular by introducing the National Plan of Action for Prevention, Assistance and Eradication of Violence against Women in 2016. Argentina is 1 of only 20 countries to have signed up to, and ratified, the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention 1930, and it has been a strong partner in support of the ‘50 for Freedom’ campaign to encourage the wider global community to ratify the protocol. Areas of concern remain however, especially the need to address the conditions of detainees and prison overcrowding and ensure that the right to peaceful protest is respected.

Gabon

I welcome the progress made by the Government of Gabon on women’s rights and the protection of children, especially in relation to human trafficking. I am, however, concerned that the Government has limited the space for political debate through restrictive measures and the use of excessive force towards those wishing to exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. At the UPR the UK urged the Government to reverse this approach.

Ghana

I welcome the progress made by Ghana on their human rights agenda. We are working closely with the Government of Ghana, in particular to deliver progress in tackling forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. I was pleased to visit in July and hold meetings with the Government and civil society on these issues. I encourage Ghana to take the necessary steps to implement the recommendations made by UN member states during this review.

Peru

I welcome the progress Peru has made on human rights since its last review. It is clear that the Peruvian Government has shown determination to address human rights concerns, through the development of a national human rights strategy, which for the first time will include a reference to LGBT rights. However, we continue to urge the Peruvian Government to do all it can to tackle the issue of forced labour and sex trafficking in the highlands and rainforest regions, and to step up its work to end violence and sexual assault against women and girls across the country.

Guatemala

Guatemala has taken steps in the right direction: increasing the legal age to marry to 18 years and moving closer to fully abolishing the death penalty. Yet, protecting women against violence, the inclusion of marginalised groups, ensuring the protection of human rights defenders and investing in the youth are fundamental issues that need to be addressed. The fight against corruption and impunity must continue, by ensuring CICIG is able to perform its work effectively. Only then will Guatemala be able to build a successful society and economy.

Benin

I am pleased to see progress on human rights in Benin, in particular the abolition of the death penalty and progress on good governance and anti-corruption measures. I hope that going forward particular attention is paid to the independence of the judiciary. At the UPR we expressed our concern at the continued practice of ritual infanticide and urge Benin to take action to eradicate it, and take practical measures to ensure implementation of the Children’s Act.

ROK

I welcome the efforts made by the government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to incorporate accepted recommendations into their second National Action Plan on Human Rights, which was adopted in 2012. During this UPR, the UK encouraged the ROK to continue to make progress towards the abolition of the death penalty and to ensure that legislation does not prevent the right to peaceful expression and assembly. We have also recommended that the Government should take further action to end discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation in all fields, including in the military.

Switzerland

Switzerland has demonstrated a strong commitment to ensuring the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all its citizens. I commend the Government of Switzerland for its continuing work on forced labour and rights for the disabled, but note that legislation against discrimination falls short of fully protecting the rights of LGBT persons, specifically same sex couples wanting to marry and adopt children. At the UPR the UK encouraged Switzerland to redress this imbalance.

Pakistan

With 117 countries speaking at Pakistan’s UPR it was the busiest review this session. The UK has closely followed the positive steps that Pakistan has taken since its last UPR, including strengthening legislation to protect women and minorities, establishing a National Commission for Human Rights, and adopting a National Action Plan (NAP) on Human Rights. As set out in the NAP on Human Rights, early establishment of an independent National Commission for Minorities would help ensure the protection of the rights of people of all faiths and support their empowerment in society. A fully inclusive electoral roll, where all Pakistani citizens should have the equal right to participation and voting without discrimination or religious bias, is also essential. Pakistan remains a Human Rights Priority Country for the UK. The UK Government continues to be deeply concerned about the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, and in particular that of members of the Christian and Ahmadiyya Muslim communities, with regular reports of violence and discrimination based on their religion or belief. The UK has encouraged more action to ensure that these minority communities have the same access to the right to freedom of religion or belief as everyone else. We would also welcome Pakistan’s commitment to conducting a review of its stance on the death penalty, and hope a clear timeline can be set out following this.

Zambia

I welcome the progress the Government of Zambia has made to improve its human rights record and look forward to further progress following challenges around the election period in 2016. As we set out during the UPR, we look to Zambia to adopt an open, merit-based selection process when selecting national candidates for UN Treaty Body elections, and to review legislation to establish a minimum age for marriage.

Japan

At the UPR we commended Japan’s efforts to end the scourge of modern slavery, including ratification of the Palermo Convention and the Trafficking in Persons Protocol; and signature to the Call To Action in September this year. We remain concerned over the continued application of the death penalty. We recommend introducing a moratorium and instigating a public debate on abolition of the death penalty, while also addressing how best to support victims and their families. We anticipate that Japan will use the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics to encourage greater social inclusion for citizens with disabilities.

Ukraine

We welcomed Ukraine’s significant progress on human rights since the last review and look forward to continued progress in co-operation with the international community and civil society. Implementation of Ukraine’s Action Plan will play an important role in further improving human rights in Ukraine, particularly in areas such as minority and LGBT rights. We remain deeply concerned about the decline in the human rights situation in Ukraine’s east and in illegally annexed Crimea, both of which are the result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Sri Lanka

We thanked Sri Lanka for its continued engagement and commitment to implement UN Human Rights Resolution 34/1. While improvements have been made to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka since January 2015, much remains to be done and we call on Sri Lanka to adopt a time bound action plan for implementing its Human Rights Council commitments. We encouraged Sri Lanka to complete its work to enact human rights compliant counter-terrorism legislation, to establish transitional justice mechanisms and to continue with police reform. We also made specific recommendations to the Government of Sri Lanka encouraging the design and implementation of strategies to tackle sexual and gender-based violence, including addressing related stigma affecting victims and survivors. The UK also recommended Sri Lanka consider introducing legislation requiring businesses to report publicly on efforts to ensure transparency in supply chains, as part of Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan to combat human trafficking.

Conclusion

We encourage all countries reviewed this session to thoroughly consider and where possible accept the UK’s recommendations as well as taking the necessary practical steps to implement these going forward. I look forward to the formal adoption of these recommendations at HRC37 in March 2018.

Published 19 November 2017