UPR: Strengthen mechanism and implement recommendation to protect defenders


ISHR called for UPR strengthening at the Human Rights Council today, whilst highlighting States where implementation of UPR recommendations on human rights defender protection must be a priority.

Watch ISHR's statement on YouTube here.

(Geneva) - The UPR requires strengthening along four lines in order for it to be more accessible to civil society, more protective to human rights defenders, and more effective for real human rights change, ISHR told the Human Rights Council in a statement today.

ISHR’s intervention also highlighted positive trends seen at the UPR’s 23rd session and called upon on Honduras to respond to recent murders of human rights defenders by guaranteeing the implementation of its UPR recommendations.

A window of opportunity for reform

Addressing the Council, ISHR’s Ben Leather said the UPR must be strengthened by:

  • establishing an instutionalised mechanism to prevent, investigate and remedy cases of reprisals;
  • guaranteeing civil society participation throughout the UPR process;
  • ensuring greater follow-up to recommendations; and
  • raising the standard of UPR proceedings across the board.

ISHR intends to publish a discussion paper on UPR strengthening before the break in between the mechanism’s second and third cycles announced by the Council President this week.

‘Human rights defenders really value the UPR as a UN mechanism capable of supporting their national level advocacy,’ Mr Leather said after the session. ‘Nonetheless its impact could be greater. The break in cycles is the perfect opportunity for all stakeholders to share experiences, get creative and make the tweaks necessary to make the UPR as useful as possible for ground level change’.

Defender protection through the UPR

ISHR has long advocated for the UPR to be used as a mechanism through which to make concrete demands of States in terms of human rights defender protection and civil society space. ‘Put quite simply’, Mr Leather told the Council, ‘if States make it easier for civil society to defend human rights, then they give themselves a better chance of implementing the range of UPR recommendations they receive’.

ISHR noted with pleasure that at the 23rd session of the UPR, the breadth of States making recommendations around these issues broadened to include Cyprus, Estonia, Ghana, Iraq, Latvia, Luxembourg, Namibia and Uruguay.

Honduras and Myanmar: Two States where the UPR must contribute to change

Mr Leather called upon Honduras to explain to the Council what measure have been taken to respond to the murders of Berta Cáceres and Nelson García, two members of the COPINH indigenous organisation, during this Council’s session, and to implement the 20 plus recommendations it accepted regarding human rights defender protection its September UPR.

Honduras responded (here, number 41), saying that protection measures were being defined for the families and colleagues of the victims, whilst the State had requested that the OHCHR accompany the investigations into the murders. ISHR later met with the Head of the Honduran National Human Rights Institution to discuss the protection of local defenders as well as the Mexican defender witness to the murder of Berta Caceres, Gustavo Castro.

‘We’re concerned at reports that the investigation is being used to harass other members of the COPINH rather than get to the bottom of these crimes,’ said Mr Leather. ‘After two murders in quick succession, the Honduran State must act with urgency to protect defenders across the country and particular members of the COPINH. It must then retake conversations with civil society in order to draft regulations for the law for the protection of human rights defenders and ensure its future effectiveness’.

Mr Leather’s intervention also signalled the importance of recommendations made to Myanmar on civil society, defenders, plus the freedoms of assembly and expression. ‘If swiftly and properly implemented’, said Mr Leather, ‘these recommendations will contribute to a democratic transition that is participative, ensures accountability for past violations, and forges laws and institutions which uphold human rights and the rule of law’.

For more information contact Ben Leather on b.leather@ishr.ch or +41787794859


  • Asia
  • Latin America and Caribbean
  • Human rights defenders
  • United Nations
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Universal Periodic Review
  • Honduras
  • Myanmar