Sunday, 13 April 2008

Universal Periodic Review begins with UK in the hotseat

The Human Rights Council launched the Universal Periodic Review mechanism for monitoring of human rights last week. On Thursday, it was the turn of the United Kingdom. The event got coverage on Reuters, with the headline ‘UN forum faults Britain over terror suspect rules’ ( According to the account:

‘Britain was criticised by its allies and detractors at the U.N.'s main human rights forum on Thursday, over its treatment of terrorism suspects, prison inmates and racial minorities. In a three-hour debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council, countries also raised questions over the conduct of British troops deployed overseas and rising rates of suicide among prison inmates in overcrowded domestic jails. Britain, the closest U.S. ally in the "war on terror", is among the first 16 countries whose records are being examined by the 47-member forum at a two-week meeting. In response to concerns voiced by Cuba, India and Syria, Michael Wills, Britain's minister of state for justice, said his government was constantly reviewing counter-terrorism legislation to deal with an unprecedented threat. Switzerland said it hoped Britain would reduce rather than extend the maximum period during which suspects may be detained without charge. Currently 28 days, it is already the longest in the European Union, the Swiss delegation said. Iran voiced concern at "increasing racial prejudice against ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants" in Britain and a "disproportionately high number of stops and searches carried out by police against members of ethnic or racial minorities". The U.S. expressed concern at what it said was a rise in suicides among inmates in prisons throughout Britain and Ireland.’

I would describe this as being off to a good beginning. The criticisms seem frank and quite well-placed. It is appropriate that a Western country be treated this way in order to ensure balance, fairness and universality. Britain sent a relatively high ranking official, which is also a good sign of the importance of the event. No doubt the critics of Britain, including Iran, India, Syria, Cuba, the United States and even Switzerland will get their turn to be challenged. Hopefully, the UK will be as hard on them as they were on it. And they won't be able to complain the way they have in the past when their human rights abuses were denounced in United Nations fora. Their behaviour last week will make it hard for them to argue that they are being abused, or that their sovereignty is threatened. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I couldn’t find accounts of this on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The supporting documents are all there, of course: But there is no report on the session itself, which is unfortunate. Here is the programme for the next four years: As you can see, Ireland will be one of the last to present.

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