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Universal Periodic Review and Disability– an Indian experience

That disability does not find any place in the larger human rights paradigm is a common refrain you hear in the disability sector. And it definitely has a lot of truth to it. However, the disability sector itself has to pull up its socks and interact more to ensure that the existing human rights mechanisms are disability inclusive. Universal Periodic Review (U.P.R.) is once such mechanism where the disability sector can bring their issues to the forefront. National Disability Network (N.D.N.) made a submission on disability to O.H.C.H.R. for the Stakeholders’ Report for India’s upcoming U.P.R., a first time for the Indian disability sector. Shivani Gupta, who was part of process, had the opportunity to go to Geneva to lobby with various Missions on the issue. Here is her experience.

Universal Periodic Review (U.P.R.) is a new and unique mechanism of the United Nations (U.N.), which was created in March 2006. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. U.P.R. is an automatic process of peer reviews of the human rights practices of all 192 U.N. Member States in the world, once every four years. U.P.R. is a significant innovation as it is is based on equal treatment for all countries.

U.P.R. is a State-driven process under the Human Rights Council that provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations, irrespective of whether they have ratified any particular human rights treaty or not. There are three reports that are prepared and made available on the website of Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (O.H.C.H.R.) for each State before the their U.P.R. Session:

  1. The National Report prepared and submitted by the State.
  2. The Stakeholders Report – a compilation of several reports received by O.H.C.H.R. from various national N.G.O.’s and National Human Rights Institutions (N.H.R.I.s).
  3. A U.N. Report - compiled by O.H.C.H.R. based on information contained in the reports of treaty bodies, special procedures, and other relevant official U.N. documents.

My Experience of engaging in the process

My experience of U.P.R. began when I attended a meeting organised by the Working Group on Human Rights (W.G.H.R.), a coalition of human rights organisations working on the Stakeholders’ Report and therefore were consulting with different stakeholders. It was my first experience of working with a group that represented stakeholders from varying human rights organisations such as women, children, L.G.B.T., Dalits and many others.

My biggest realisation from attending this consultation was that everybody was talking about their issues and in spite of disability being such a cross-cutting issue, it is alien to everybody. This is to say the women’s organisations are not talking of women with disabilities; children’s organisations are not talking about children with disabilities and so on. Therefore, we need to be there to represent our issues ourselves.

Members of the National Disability Network (N.D.N.) were present in all W.G.H.R. consultations and yet their final report included nothing on disability. I believe it was so because it was the first time for all of us and with regular interaction things would change.

Following this, regional and national consultations were organised by the National Human Rights Commission (N.H.R.C.) for the preparation of their report. Here again nobody understood disability issues and in spite of the participation of people with disabilities and D.P.O.s in all these consultations, their report has negligible mention of disability issues.

We, at N.D.N. were keen to make a strong presentation on disability and therefore decided to draft our own Stakeholders’ Report. With inputs from over 20 national D.P.O.s, N.D.N. prepared a report focusing on disability issues. It was with great delight that we noticed an inclusion of one recommendation from the N.D.N. report in the final O.H.C.H.R. compilation. Though only one recommendation was taken into the main Stakeholders’ Report, it represented the recognition of a disability organisation’s network for the first time.

I got an opportunity to meet with persons working on human rights and disability issues in five Missions in Geneva namely – Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Maldives and Canada. It was in these meetings that I gained clarity of the process and how it works.

I also realised that the three reports though important, had limited function and the actual advocacy began a month before the U.P.R. Session was to happen. How it works is that the Missions in Geneva and elsewhere sends recommendations to their home office, which finalises them based on diplomatic relations with India and the country’s thrust areas. These recommendations need not always be dependent on the three reports.

India is going to have its second U.P.R. in the 13th Session in May 2012. The country will be reviewed on how it has progressed on recommendations made during the first cycle. Additionally there will be an opportunity for other States to make new recommendations. Each country’s U.P.R. Session is for three hours, which is podcasted live. Every State will have not more than a minute to make their points and therefore the recommendations they make have to be very crisp.

During my meetings, I did get a confirmation from the Austrian and the Maldives Missions that they would make recommendations related to disability to India at the upcoming U.P.R. This would be an achievement from the last U.P.R. where India had zero recommendations pertaining to disability. There is further opportunity for getting more recommendations by meeting various Missions in Delhi and presenting our issues to them.

Learnings from my participation in the U.P.R. process

  1. U.P.R. is a major and one of its kind international advocacy opportunity for the disability sector to highlight our issues and make them heard by our Government especially in a scenario where the U.N.C.R.P.D. Treaty Body would review India several years after our State Report is submitted owing to their work backlog.
  2. Regular and constant networking with other human rights organisations is crucial for us to ensure integration of our issues and getting more support and partners to have our concerns heard.
  3. Our preparation for U.P.R. has to begin well in advance by sending in the Stakeholders’ Report before the submission deadline and then advocating with various Missions at least two weeks before the actual session.
  4. We should provide specific, crisp and concrete recommendations to the Missions that are as cross-cutting as possible. Related background material on the recommendations would make acceptance of our recommendation easier and better.
  5. Different Missions must be provided with different recommendations, as it would be an opportunity lost if all States make the same recommendation to India.
  6. Most importantly it is a process that gives us an opportunity to unite and review our specific matters together. It requires us to recognise each other’s issues and work on them collectively as an individual’s voice has no place in the process.