UPR IV: Turns the talk of the commons

  Universal Periodic Review                          

In a clearly visible that, the word Universal Periodic Review (UPR) has been pronounced only by the UN member states and a  few Civil Society organizations who work with the United Nations since 2008. Due to lack of awareness  and exposure on the subject, neither the electronic media nor the print media focus on it. Recently after the review on India, UPR-IV turned the talk of the commons across Tamil Nadu, owing to the enormous efforts put in by a few Civil Society Organisations, including Peoples’ Watch.   Whereas, the both the state government and the officials  did not have either essential knowledge or enough understanding on it. In this context, let us examine what the commons knew about the UPR and the review on India and who took it to the people.

The birth of UPR:

The deadliest and bloodstained World War II was more destructive than any other war in history. An estimated 45-60 million people lost their lives and millions more were injured. Therefore, the world countries  resolved to end the wars for everand wanted  to ensure eternal Peaceful . As a result, the United Nations, an international organization, was founded in 1945 by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security;  developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progres; better living standards and human rights too. Meanwhile, the experts questioned and criticized the human rights situation of the states. This made countries worry and hence they decided to review themselves thus it gave birth to Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR was established when the Human Rights Council was created on 15 March 2006 by the UN General Assembly by way  of Resolution No: 60/251.

What is UPR?

The UPR is not only a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council but also the most consultative human rights mechanism of the United Nations. It’s a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights  situation and records of all 193 UN Member States except the observer states (Palestine and Holy see) go for review every 4.5 years at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).  It is designed to expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground. The ultimate aim of this mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur. UN Member States will  seize trade agreements with countries having poor human rights  records and Standards.

The  Basis of Reviews:

The reviews are based on the following documents:

1.Information provided by the state under review, which could be in the form of a “National Report.”

2.Information contained in the reports of independent human rights experts and groups, known as the Special Procedures, human rights treaty bodies and other UN entities.

3.Information  provided by other stakeholders including national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations.

A “troika” of Rapporteurs-a group of three Human Rights Council members selected by lot, aided by a member of the Secretariate (OHCHR)-produce the report of the review.

The Review Process:

UPR reviews are formally conducted by the UPR Working Group of the Council which comprises of 47 Council Member States, The UPR reports in UPR Sessions three times per year in Geneva, with up to 14 countries undergoing review per session. Each UPR is facilitated by a “troika” (group of three) of Council Member States, but the UPR process is open to participation by all UN Member States whether or not elected members of the Council, as well as to non-governmental stakeholders.

Review on India:

Though the UPR was formed in 2006, the first cycle of review (UPR-I) took place in 2008 followed by UPR-II in 2012 and UPR-III in 2017. India took part in the fourth cycle of review (UPR-IV) on November 10, 2022. The official documents related to India’s UPR (I, II, III and IV) are available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The key role of CSOs:

Quite a lot of civil society organizations (CSOs) in India had a very constructive as well as productive engagement, exclusively since the beginning of 2021 in preparation for India’s 4th UPR. The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR) – a coalition of CSOs in India working on UPR – had conducted nine consultations including one National  Consultation, three regional consultations and six state consultations for drafting the joint stakeholders’ report submitted for India’s 4th UPR. The report provides an overview of the human rights situation in India across a diverse range of thematic issues. The report presents the status of recommendations made in UPR III (2017), a narrative section containing relevant statistics and substantive content and recommendations for UPR IV. The report was endorsed by 101 organizations and 23 independent experts on human rights across India. WGHR also has come up with fact sheets on 24 thematic issues, which have been used mainly for advocacy purposes with the diplomatic representatives in Geneva and New Delhi. The factsheets have been prepared based on the WGHR Mid-Term Report for UPR III (2020), the WGHR Joint Stakeholders’ Report for UPR IV (2022) and input from thematic experts from across India.

Apart from the WGHR consultations, there were consultations across the country by various CSOs – sometimes jointly with regional and international organizations – which helped in the submission of 69 reports from CSOs to India’s 4th UPR. Human Rights Defenders’ Alert – India (HRDA) and FORUM ASIA jointly submitted four thematic reports on freedom of association and assembly; freedom of expression and opinion; situation of human rights defenders in India and; response of NHRCI to the situation of civic space in India which were endorsed by 2699 organizations and 1457 individuals, many of whom were part of the WGHR consultations as well.

UPR-IV on India:

The 41st Session of UPR-IV on India took place on 10th Nov.2022 from 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. India’s delegation was headed by the Solicitor General of India, Mr. Tushar Mehta. The delegation comprised  of Deputy Minister of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr. Sanjay Verma and senior representatives from not only the Ministry of External Affairs, but also other Ministries of the Government of India, such as Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Rural Development as wel as the NITI Aayog – the National Institution for  Planning and Transforming India.

The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta presented a comprehensive picture of India’s achievements in the realization of human rights obligations. A brief of his speech given below:

“Despite the challenges, India has been successful in establishing a vibrant, inclusive and democratic polity and taking democracy to the grassroots which has been vital and enabling factors in enjoyment of human rights by our people.”

“India with 1.3 billion nationals is home to one-sixth of humanity and is an incredibly diverse country. Despite its several achievements, India remains a country with many developmental challenges simultaneously negotiating social, cultural, religious, political, and economic transformations.”

“Preservation and protection of the environment has been a central pillar of India’s civilization and culture. The Supreme Court of India has recognized the right to a clean environment as a part of an individual’s right to life guaranteed by the Constitution of India.”

“India appreciates the role played by human rights defenders, civil society groups and journalists in a democratic polity contributing to our goals of keeping it open, pluralistic and inclusive. India has always condemned instances of harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns and violent attacks against human rights defenders, activists, journalists and their family members.”

“Concerning the FCRA, India is a home for over 1,00,000 vibrant, proactive and independent civil society organizations and NGOs which play an important role in the protection and promotion of human rights. FCRA provides the basic framework under which NGOs wish to seek funds from abroad for their activities in India. The legal provisions of the Act are similar to the regulations in other democratic countries. The process of registration under the Act is transparent and technology-driven. All data related to registration, renewal, annual returns etc. are in the public domain. In cases of refusal, the reasons and provisions under the Act and rules are specifically cited and the applicant is duly informed. Even if any renewal application is rejected or cancelled, the organization can still continue its operation and receive foreign funds by seeking permission on a case-to-case basis.”

“Regarding Jammu and Kashmir, the government of India has taken several steps for the all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir, including restoration of democracy at the grassroot levels, good governance, unprecedented development of infrastructure, tourism and trade. This year, Jammu and Kashmir has already received over 16 million tourists, the highest ever so far.”

“Concerning the freedom of religion or belief I would like to reiterate that India is a multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi religious society and we not only respect but celebrate our diversity.”

“Concerning the abolition of the death penalty, in India death penalty is imposed only in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed where the crime committed is so heinous that it ‘shocks the conscience of the society’. While imposing the death sentence, the Court has to record its special reasons for arriving at such a drastic conclusion.”

“Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 is concerned, it is a limited and focused legislation, which reaffirms India’s commitment to the welfare of persecuted minorities in the region.”

“We have enacted legislations like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, National Security Act to deal with the menace of terrorism and to protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. These legislations have been enacted to secure a balance between the liberty of citizens and the security of the State. They have adequate safeguards inbuilt against any potential misuse.”

Response of Member States:

More or less 132 Member States who had registered to engage in the peer review and the detail of their responses are given below:

  •       America, Britain, Germany, France, Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Senegal and Estonia questioned that India has signed the UN Convention on Torture (CAT) on 14th Oct.1997 but why has not yet India ratified it? Moreover, why not India enact domestic anti-torture law to strengthen CAT? What steps are being taken by India?
  •       America has alleged that India has the highest number of journalists killed in the world?
  •       America denoted that the World Press Freedom Index -2021 has indicated that India ranks 142 out of 180 countries and found that India has the highest number of internet shutdowns globally and has recommended the following:

 i.India should regulate the FCRA in a transparent manner. Spain also put forward the same.

ii) It is worrisome that laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) , the National Security Act(N are used against lawyers, eminent writers, poet and social activists etc., Serious steps should be taken by

India to ensure these acts comply with international human rights obligations and commitments.

iii. India should intend to proceed with further legal reforms and ensure Police Complaints Authorities (PCA) in all states to take disciplinary action against officers found to be credibly complicit.

iv) The rights of human rights defenders must be protected.

  •       Belgium raised the following question:
  • What measures will the government of India take to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, free from threats, harassment, intimidation and attacks?
  •   Will the government of India review and repeal anti-minority laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and anti-conversion laws which target religious minorities, and introduce measures and legislation to prevent and respond to communal and targeted religious violence?
  • What measures will the government of India take to eliminate all forms of discrimination against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from all religions? How does the government of India ensure the effective enforcement of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, including in rural areas?
  •       Panama denoted that India should follow the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that India take measures to ensure the implementation of inclusive education for students with disabilities and redouble its efforts to reduce illiteracy among persons with disabilities.
  •       Britain and Ireland questioned what steps is the Government of India taking to protect the rights and interests of minorities as enshrined in Articles 29 and 30 of India’s constitution?
  •       Germany questioned that how is the Indian government going to ensure that forced evictions are conducted in line with the UN Guiding Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Displacement and Evictions? and how will the Indian government react to criticism of anti-conversion laws and undertake steps to review related laws to strengthen the right to freedom of religion?
  •       Luxembourg has recommended the immediate release of long-term jailed human rights defenders in India and the granting of citizenship to stateless people.
  •   France has recommended that the cases against the human rights defenders be withdrawn immediately.
  •   Russia has recommended greater focus on human rights, providing quality free education, eradicating poverty, and building housing for the rural poor.
  •   Countries such as Portugal, Argentina and Holy See have recommended the abolition of the death penalty.
  •   Angola has recommended that attacks against religious minorities be stopped.
  •   Sudan has recommended that poverty be eradicated and that special attention and care be given to stateless refugees.
  •   Algeria advocates to prevent  violence against women and remove socio economic inequalities.
  •   South America has suggested that India should follow universal human rights norms.
  •   Sweden denoted that the status of right to association, right to peaceful assembly and right to labour in India is worrying, India adheres to UN guidelines on the rights of domestic workers.
  •   Saudi Arabia has suggested that priority should be given to economic development and the protection of the rights of the oppressed.

People’s questions:

It’s a prodigious effort of People’s Watch, a human rights organisation located at Madurai,Tamil Nadu made a solidarity call to political parties,    all movements and civil society organizations working with and among children, women, Dalits, Adivasis, organised and unorganised labour (trade unions), fisherfolk, homeless people, transgenders, LGBTIQ, persons with disabilities, elders, internally displaced, refugees, internally displaced, Bar Council, Students Union and all institutions run by and for the religious from all faiths such as gurukulams, Jamaths and other institutions run by the Muslim communities, communities of Christian, Buddhist religious such as convents, seminaries, religious houses etc to screen UPR-IV on India. It was widely agreed by all. It was screened through UN web TV link more than three thousand places across Tamil Nadu. Simultaneously Tamil translation was carried out by a team led by Comrade Thiagu. At the same time, the live telecast was viewed on Facebook and YouTube as well.  Few thousands of people witnessed the live telecast of UPR-IV and so it turns the talk of the commons and the viewers raised the following questions:

  1. The Citizenship [Amendment] Act 2019 was passed by the Indian parliament and facilitates Indian citizenship to “persecuted” minorities from neighbouring countries but excludes Muslims. Hundreds of Muslims, including students and women activists, have been arrested for protesting against the CAA, which has been criticised for the lack of conformity with international human rights standards. Many of them have been booked under UAPA law.
  2. The UAPA is an “anti-terrorism” law under which authorities can designate someone as a “terrorist” based on suspicion and detain them for months without bail. The application of UAPA has led to prolonged detentions of human rights defenders and activists (eg. Bhima Koregaon case).
  3. iii. Violence based on gender and religious affiliation persist (eg.Hijab and wearing any form of religious attire).
  4. Indian government-imposed internet shutdowns across India, resulting highest number of internet blocks in the world. In our experience, Tamil Nadu faced an internet shut down following the police firing and massacre of 13 civilians in Thoothukudi on May 22, 2018. Internet shutdown was imposed not just in Thoothukudi but also in the neighbouring districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari.
  5. Right to peaceful assembly, association, freedom of speech and expression is not absolute in nature and very often restricted mostly in the name of law and order problem .
  6. The report on human rights situation in India on different thematic issues were endorsed by 2699 organisations and 1457 individuals. Amongst 2219 organisations and 1032 individuals chose to remain anonymous endorsees. Obviously, it shows the human rights situation in India.

Next Review:

Indeed, India should review itself based on the questions, responses and recommendations given by the Member States. Mr.Sanjay Verma, Secretary of India’s Foreign Ministry assures, “The government of India’s abiding commitment is for the promotion and protection of the human rights of our people. As the world’s largest democracy, India is committed to the highest standards of human rights.”  We do hope India will adhere with its words. Let us see in the next review on February 2023.

S Mohan is a human rights activist

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Violation of Human Rights in India in 2023

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Indian government continued with state policies that discriminate and stigmatise religious and other minorities resulting in increasing incidents of communal violence in many parts of…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News