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Parliamentarians scrutinise UK's human rights record ahead of UN review

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UNA-UK co-organised a parliamentary meeting on 27 March, examining whether the UK has lived up to its commitments on human rights ahead of a review by the United Nations next month.

Co-Chaired by Dominic Grieve QC MP and Mike Gapes MP, the joint meeting examined priorities for the UK's forthcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) - a peer-review process by which the human rights record of all 193 UN member states is regularly scrutinised at the Human Rights Council. The UK's last review was in 2012, and its next review will take place on 4 May 2017.

The UK's UPR comes at an important time, with the UK Government preparing its exit from the European Union, and questions raised about the potential impact on human rights protections in the UK going forward. In his remarks, Dominic Grieve, who chairs the APPG on the Rule of Law, recognised that "Brexit gives cause to reaffirm the UK's commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights".

Speakers included Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of UNA-UK; Rob Fenn, Head of the Human Rights and Democracy Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); Scott McPherson, Director of Law, Rights and International at the Ministry of Justice; and Melanie Field, Executive Director of Strategy and Policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. A dozen parliamentarians were in attendance from across party lines, as well as representatives from civil society and the diplomatic community.

In her opening remarks, Natalie Samarasinghe set out the unique value of the UPR process in enabling all states to be reviewed on a broad range of human rights issues. She noted that while all UN member states have participated in the UPR, governments must take the process "seriously" by ensuring that recommendations are implemented and reported on at the national level. Natalie also expressed concern about a recent move by the UK Government to "put the Human Rights Council on notice'" until it removes its "disproportionate focus on Israel". 

Speaking on behalf of the FCO, Rob Fenn emphasised the importance of upholding the "rules-based international order" to ensure that the UK remains a "global Britain" after leaving the EU. He recognised that cooperation with the UPR process was vital to the UK's global influence, and pointed to a recent statement by the UK - on behalf of 63 states - at the Human Rights Council, recognising that "it is time to focus on the sustainable implementation" of UPR recommendations in order to ensure their impact on the ground.

The forthcoming UPR has seen a welcome increase in parliamentary interest, with the recent APPG meeting due to be followed by an evidence session of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 26 April. UNA-UK hopes these these meetings will set a precedent for further parliamentary engagement, which constitutes a vital measure of accountability in the absence of any formal enforcement mechanism.

The meeting was organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the United Nations, coordinated by UNA-UK, in partnership with the APPG on the Rule of Law, the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Read UNA-UK's submission to the UK's Universal Periodic Review

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