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U.S. Participates for First Time in Universal Periodic Review

November 7, 2010

On November 5th, the United States submitted its first-ever report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

The UPR was established by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as part of the Human Rights Council, and serves as a universal mechanism for reviewing the human rights performance of each of the UN’s 192 member countries once every four years. 

The UPR provides an opportunity for each country to declare to the international community what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and fulfill their human rights responsibilities.  Going through the UPR process emphasizes human rights norms and reminds countries of their obligations, often fostering greater engagement with civil society.  Indeed, one of the UPR’s most valuable contributions is that the prospect of having a their human rights records evaluated puts pressure on countries to make changes in the lead-up to their reviews.  It has already been shown to have positive impact.

By 2011, the HRC will have completed its first cycle and reviewed the human rights records of every country.  That means that regardless of their membership on the Human Rights Council, all 192 countries will be reviewed.  While UPR recommendations are important to how a country is viewed internationally, they are not binding.

The U.S. government has clearly indicated that it takes this process seriously not only because it thinks self-evaluation is important, but because it wanted to provide an example to other countries for how a robust UPR process should work.   The U.S. self-evaluation involved broad consultation and engagement with civil society throughout the United States and over a dozen federal departments.  In doing so, the United States has produced a diagnostic tool that will enable America to continue to serve as a model of human rights behavior for other nations.  It has also enabled the U.S. to include a broader range of voices from American citizens on how they view U.S. human rights obligations, which is a critical part of American democracy.

Although some people have questioned its utility, the U.S. sees its participation in the UPR as a clear demonstration of leadership on human rights issue and another way of restoring the U.S.’s leadership role in the world. 

Serving as a snapshot of the human rights situation in the United States, the UPR offers an unprecedented insight into the human rights performance of the U.S.  Today’s report to UNHRC demonstrates America’s commitment to a strong record on freedoms of speech, association and belief, as well address areas of improvement. The report also addresses civil liberties as they relate to national security.  More information on the UPR from the State Department can be found here.