The Pacific Island States: Themes Emerging from the United Nations Human Rights Council's Inaugural Universal Periodic Review?

Article excerpt

This commentary reviews the Universal Periodic Review experience of the Pacific Island states. Under the auspices of the new United Nations Human Rights Council, every UN member state, including the 12 Pacific Island states holding UN membership, underwent the Universal Periodic Review in 2011. This new process seeks to review compliance with fundamental human rights through, in effect, 'peer review'. Pacific Island states were reviewed but rarely participated in the review of other states. The UN documentation on the reviews of the Pacific Island states is perused to identify common themes: the desirability of more extensive engagement with the international human rights system (increased ratification of core treaties for example); and a need to transform international human rights into a meaningful reality informing national laws and policies. These are considered further with reference to the relevant review reports. The commentary concludes by looking towards the second review cycle and mooting some realistic areas of improvement.

CONTENTS

I   Introduction
II  The UN Human Rights Council and UPR
III Pacific Island States and the First Cycle of UPR
IV  Areas Identified as Requiring Further Attention from
    All or Most Pacific Island States
       A More Engagement with International Human Rights
          1 Universal Ratification of Core Human Rights Treaties
          2 Interaction with UN Special Procedures
          3 Technical Assistance
       B More Embedding of Human Rights at National Level
          1 National Human Rights Institutions
          2 Legislative and Constitutional Provisions
          3 Human Rights Programs
V  Looking Towards the Second Cycle of Universal Periodic Review

I INTRODUCTION

In September 2011, the final four Pacific Island states (herein defined as the member states of the United Nations) underwent Universal Periodic Review ('UPR') before the UN Human Rights Council ('HRC'). By this review process, the UN membership hopes to obtain a better picture of international compliance with fundamental human rights and freedoms and to identify areas in which progress can be made, through for example the provision of technical assistance to a state. This commentary extracts themes emerging from the inaugural UPR process of those Pacific Island states. Accordingly, the review process will be explained, by way of background. Thereafter, attention will turn to the actual review outcomes of the identified states to ascertain common ground. Selected areas found to be of concern will then be further analysed to provide a more complete legal analysis. It is clear that, despite their myriad of differences, many Pacific Island states share more than an ocean. Finally, some tentative conclusions on avenues of progress will be presented in anticipation of the second cycle of UPR.

II THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL AND UPR

In 2006, the General Assembly opted to create a new body 'responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner': (1) the HRC. Although the international community was broadly supportive of this initiative, not least given the growing criticism of, and disillusionment with, the former Commission on Human Rights, (2) Palau and the Marshall Islands joined Israel and the United States in voting against the enabling resolution in the General Assembly. (3) Part of the enabling resolution required the HRC to undertake a UPR of all states, evaluating compliance with contemporary international human rights and international humanitarian laws. (4) UPR of all member states was carried out over a four year period, (5) with the entire process (and indeed the HRC itself) then undergoing an evaluation by the General Assembly in order to determine its future role and status.

The modalities of UPR are contained in a resolution of the HRC. …