Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

10 April 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the United Kingdom this morning, during which 38 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

Presenting the national report of the United Kingdom was MICHAEL WILLS, Minister of State for Justice of the United Kingdom, who stated that his country had been working hard to fulfill the pledges and commitments it made to the Human Rights Council in 2006 and had made significant progress in that regard. The UK had been continuously supporting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights providing over £2.5 million annually of un-earmarked funding and had also provided considerable financial support to other UN agencies. The UK was also preparing for the establishment of its National Preventive Mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and was working towards the ratification of the new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UK was deeply committed to the success of the Human Rights Council and to the success of the Universal Periodic Review process and viewed this process less as an examination, but more as a discussion about how countries could tackle difficult issues responsibly and creatively, without ever losing sight of the importance of respect for human rights. It was believed that the review came at a time of new information about the past use of British territory for extraordinary renditions, about treatment of detainees in Iraq, as well as issues about how long terrorist suspects can be held properly without charge. The Government of the UK was proud of its record on human rights and of its achievement in bringing rights home through the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic legislation in the Human Rights Act. The Minister recalled that in the UK’s recently published National Security Strategy, the Prime Minister said that the starting point for a security strategy had to be clarity about values: “human rights, the rule of law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all…form the basis of our security, as well as our well-being and our prosperity.”

The UK viewed the promotion of respect for human rights for everyone as vital in tackling the roots of terrorism, the Minister stated. The UK had recently presented proposals to Parliament for post-charge questioning of suspects and also proposed an extension from the current 28 days pre-trial detention to 42 days. It was recalled that, at present, all detention beyond 48 hours must be authorized by a judge. All control orders, which impose restrictions on the movement and activities of suspected terrorists, were subject to mandatory review by the High Court. In October 2007, the House of Lords found control order legislation fully compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. All deportations using assurances attracted extensive rights of appeal in the UK and potentially an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

With regard to children’s rights, the UK had amended the criminal law so that parents who caused physical injury to their children could be prosecuted and could no longer use the “reasonable punishment” defence for assaults occasioning cruelty, actual or grievous bodily harm. Last month the UK had reaffirmed its commitment to its child poverty reduction targets. Since signing the Optional Protocol against the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK had strengthened the law and developed a range of practical measures to assist enforcement. The State did have certain reservations to the articles in the Convention, related to separation of children from adults in custodial establishments, which was currently under review. The State was also reviewing the need for its reservation relating to the application of UK immigration laws. As regards enforced disappearances, the UK supported the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and recognized its importance internationally and the Government was currently considering the implications for the UK of signing it.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights; the efforts of the State to enhance human rights training and public awareness; the State’s efforts to ensure that procedures elaborated and implemented on human rights were in line with international human rights law; the steps taken with the Muslim community to combat terrorism; efforts to reduce poverty and achieve the MDGs; reference in the national report to efforts to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation; respect for people from different cultures and religions; the Government’s efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention to the Rights of the Child; legislation on race relations; and the State’s efforts to promote non-discrimination and equality.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to conditions and legislation for the detention of terrorist suspects, and the definition of the laws on terrorism, in particular; the Human Rights Act of 1998; operational difficulties of the 2007 counter-terrorism act; the role of human rights press officers; the results of the 1998 inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972; progress made into prosecutions for those responsible for paramilitary activities in Northern Ireland; the gender perspective approach in the national report and plans for next stages of the review; the issue of detention of children and the detention of children in asylum seeking families; equal protection for all children per the law; freedom of opinion and expression in view of racist-based propaganda; rendition flights and collateral demand in view of the State’s anti-terrorism policies; and introducing domestic legislation on discrimination the grounds of color and nationality.

Other issues pertained to whether training and education for members of the police and armed forces included human rights; detainees access to lawyers; application of human rights obligations for armed forces serving overseas and outcomes of investigations conducted into human rights violations committed by British forces serving overseas; the rights of migrants; steps by the Government to address the problem of overcrowded prisons and to address the increase in prison suicide rates; inter-prisoner violence and conditions for female detainees; domestic violence; the rights of older persons; sexual orientation as grounds for asylum; the State’s approach on privacy rights; racial prejudice against ethnic or racial minority groups and discrimination on the basis of nationality or ethnicity; corporal punishment; and the British Overseas Territories Act with respect to the respect of human rights.

Information was also sought on the State’s human rights education programme for children; the intention of the State to ratify the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on individual communications; the role of the European Commission on Human Rights in domestic legal cases; the Commission for Equality and Human Rights; steps taken to implement the UN declaration on human rights defenders; the eligibility conditions for assistance to asylum seekers while awaiting the adjudication of their claims; the minimum wage rate in the UK; measures being taken to address discrimination on grounds of Islamaphobia; and education for children of ethnic minorities. The issue of the Falklands/Malvinas islands was also raised.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations, some of which addressed the elaboration of a national programme to deal with overcrowded prisons; to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution; to provide access to a lawyer immediately after detention and not after 48 hours; to regulate time limits on detention for terrorist suspects; and to review all anti-terrorist legislation to ensure it corresponded with the highest international standards of human rights and continued commitment and action by the Government to review its terrorist act to ensure human rights were upheld therein. Moreover, recommendations were made with regard to the State lifting its reservation to article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; setting up a commission on violence against women; to consider to ban corporal punishment throughout all British territories; to continue implementing steps to combat poverty; to address the high incarceration rate of children; to protect the children and families of refugees and to acceded to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families; to increase access to prisons by the ICRC; and to elaborate and enhance policies to ensure the respect for human rights in situations of armed conflict.

The delegation of the United Kingdom provided responses to a series of questions posed to it during the course of the discussion. With regard to the questions posed on the States counter-terrorism measures, the delegation said steps must be taken to protect people, but there must be respect for human rights on equal footing. Powers introduced by various terrorist acts must be proportionate and only in limited circumstance was secret information used in cases of suspected terrorists. If there were inaccurate statements made by the press the State undertook to correct them. The criminal act gave the power of the police to conduct stop and search operations in cases of terrorist suspects which was not based on discrimination. The Government was committed to developing a close partnership with the Muslim community to combat terrorism.

As regards the UK armed forces, the delegation said the State’s human rights obligations were primarily territorial and in certain cases the European Convention on Human Rights applied. Members of the armed forces were subject to British Criminal law and could be tried for crimes wherever they were committed regardless of who the victims were. Any such acts were followed by an investigation and the suspect was subjected to British military laws. The UK did not accept that international humanitarian law was the basis for international period review. Moreover, all members of the armed forces received human rights training annually and prior to deployment.

As to the investigation into the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972, it was stated that over 900 witnesses gave evidence to that inquiry. As to the issue of Northern Ireland, in general, the delegation said it had committed £34 million pounds over the last six years to re-examine all deaths attributed to 1968 and 1998 in the region. On prison conditions, the Government had conducted a review of the prisons in England and Wales which looked at the demands for prison places over the medium- and long-term; an extra £1.2 billion for prison places had been authorized. There was also a suicide prevention strategy aimed at inmates in British prisons that the Government had been implementing.

Concerning to the protection of children, the delegation affirmed that unaccompanied children were only detained in very few circumstances. Children could only be detained as part of a family group and in cases when alternative arrangements were being made as a temporary measure. As to cases of domestic violence, efforts were being made to support victims of domestic violence and to try and bring to justice suspects. An action plan was initiated in 2007 to identify measures underway and plans to deliver key objectives to combat domestic violence and all forms of violence against women. Concerning children in criminal justice system, it was remarked that the focus of the Government was on rehabilitation of children and to prevent acts of juvenile delinquency from occurring.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Slovenia, Cuba, India, Peru, Malaysia, Pakistan, Mexico, Japan, Ghana, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, the Republic of Korea, Azerbaijan, Italy, China, Nigeria, Romania, Egypt, Indonesia and Brazil.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Syria, Belgium, the Sudan, the United States, Iran, Morocco, Sweden, Algeria, New Zealand, Norway, Ecuador, Argentina and Israel.

The 25-person delegation of the United Kingdom consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Borders and Immigration Agency, the Home Office and the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of the United Kingdom are Egypt, the Russian Federation and Bangladesh.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on the United Kingdom can be foundhere.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of the United Kingdom on Monday, 14 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by India after which it is scheduled to adopt the reports of Tunisia and Morocco.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp