LEVERAGING THE UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW TO IMPROVE HUMAN RIGHTS– THE GHANA STORY
In every economy, humanity is the center of all contributions to development made, as they are affected and in turn affect changes that make living better each moment. The sustainable growth and development of a territory does not happen at the progress of one area only but the consideration of many diverse factors ranging from economy through to attitudes of the masses or the people. With this in sight, all spheres of living anywhere across the globe are operated with intentional mechanisms and efforts to protect humans and other resources.
Talking about protection of resources including that of humans, requires that a key role be played by human rights in order to ensure that all are equally protected and are accessing the spaces to attain their full potentials, and as well contribute their quota peacefully to their respective communities. Of course, the world cannot experience any advancement without the effort of humans. That is to say, individuals must come first and the rest will follow regardless of the difficulties in certain states in ensuring that all persons are treated fairly and not deprived of their basic entitlements.
In our parts of the Ghanaian society, the mention of human rights in some places have stirred anger and caused individuals to be furious about the issue of altering the culture of ‘respect’. Meanwhile, human rights in our own context are explained as the rights and freedoms which all humans are entitled to. Thus, the proponents of the concept usually assert that everyone is entitled by reason of being human. It therefore makes the knowledge of the basic rights of human by the UN which includes; right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinions and expressions and the right to work and education, are very essential.
Due to the lapses in ensuring the basic human rights in certain countries, the United Nations which is the Intergovernmental organization aiming to maintain peace and security as well as harmonize actions for nations creates that system to monitor and aid with operations of efforts to protect all persons in their respective regions. With this reason, the United Nations at its 60th General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution 251 to establish the Human Rights Council (HRC) with the responsibility of promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. One of the key mandates of the council is to undertake a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the fulfillment of each state’s human rights obligations and commitments.
WHAT IS UPR?
The Universal Periodic Review is a unique Human Rights mechanism where each of the 194 UN Member States are peer- reviewed and examined on their entire human rights record every five years regardless of its size or political influence, under the same rules and supervision. Starting from 2006, there have been three cycles of review of the states and each state is required to respond to the recommendations made by its peers and also provide data on the implementation of previously accepted recommendations, including voluntary commitments. The process remains a co-operative and for that reason requires the full participation of the state under review.
Periodically reviewing the processes is important for advancing the realization of human rights at the national, regional and global levels. In that, it enables the bigger UN umbrella with its members to work hand-in-hand and be enlightened on each other’s Human Rights situation to offer the needed assistance and learn some viable techniques from one another.
THE UPR PROCESS
All the review processes involve some key stages within the four and a half- year cycle which include;
I. Preparation of Information towards review.
II. Creation of Working Group on the UPR.
III. Human Rights Council regular sessions.
IV. Implementation of Outcomes.
From 2006, the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review took place and was concluded in 2011 as the second began in May 2012 and ended in 2016, with the third beginning in May 2017 and ending in 2021.
Records have it that Ghana received 241 recommendations after undergoing the third review in November 2017 by the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group. Meanwhile, 200 recommendations saw the support of Ghana while the remaining 41 were noted. The Country accepted an additional 12 recommendations during the formal adoption which took place in March 2018, as 10 out of the 12 were totally accepted and the remaining 2, partially accepted. In all, Ghana accepted 212 out of the 241 recommendations while 29 of them were noted.
Before the third review by the UPR working group of the Human Rights Council, Ghanaian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) came together in a broad-based coalition led by the FOS Foundation to undertake several activities within the cycle. These activities included;
● CSOs Pre UPR Reports Submission Workshop which was held in March 2017. In that workshop, CSOs submitted over 10 thematic reports to the Human Rights Council by deadline of 30th March 2017.
● In -country Pre- Session was organized in Accra where factsheets on respective thematic areas of the rights were developed by the CSOs as an advocacy and lobbying tool in the process.
● The development of the state report which saw the government of Ghana consulting the CSOs before it was submitted to the Human Rights Council.
All of these were to ensure that the Human Rights situation in Ghana received more improvements due to various challenges that were identified.
Many challenges have sometimes undermined the implementation of various human rights policies in our society due to the hesitant nature and negative response to some of those commitments. This may be attributed to orientation of the people and an unconducive environment that welcomes such interventions.
For instance, Canada’s previous recommendations to Ghana were related to Sexual rights, implementation of the 2007 Domestic Violence Act and transparency. These are done based on the results presented by the states.
Some of the significant human rights challenges for Ghana continue to relate to civil and political rights including violence against women and children, child labour and human trafficking, discrimination and violence against sexual minority groups and persons living with disabilities, prolonged pre-trial detentions and prison conditions. Others have been stated as relating to economics, social and cultural rights even though there has been some progress with the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
However, inequalities persist in access to water, health, and education, as well as high levels of poverty, as approximately 7 million people live below the poverty line and additional 7 million people at risk of slipping into extreme poverty.
RESULTS SO FAR
There have been some interventions as a result of the various recommendations that were accepted by the country. These range from bills and policies through to activities that will address the challenges identified. Some of these documents are;
● A National Gender Equality Bill to ensure women’s participation in decision making and politics, was being prepared for Cabinet approval for passage by Parliament by the end of 2018.
● There was also a provision to ensure that every reported case of domestic violence, including female genital mutilation, was investigated and prosecuted, the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service has put in place a number of systems, including a referral system that provided victims with counselling, medical and legal assistance.
● The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection also operated public and supported private shelters to provide care and rehabilitation services for victims of abuse and trafficking.
● The Ghana Education Service, through the Child Friendly School Programme, had developed a professional code of conduct for teachers, which defined physical violence as including corporal punishment. Under the code, teachers were prohibited from inflicting any form of corporal punishment on a child.
● The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection had developed a child and family welfare policy to eliminate corporal punishment and other forms of abuse against children, both at home and in school. Key interventions under the policy included strengthening community partnership and collaboration with chiefs, queen mothers, community leaders, and religious and other faith-based organizations.
● Under the Mental Health Act, inhumane treatment of mental health patients had been criminalized, and free decentralized community oriented services had been established. The Ministry of Health had issued guidelines and launched campaigns for the education, training and monitoring of traditional and faith-based mental healers.
Undertaking many important steps and making strides in the area of human rights have seen a lot of progress as a result of the Universal Periodic Review process which states are made to go through. Most people may be concerned as to why there still a lot of work to be done in advancing human rights and protecting vulnerable people in many places across Ghana. With collective efforts and review of the effects of our own policies would mean that we can hold the government and state institutions accountable and also put them on their toes to work efficiently for us, the people. Failure to implement recommendations and protect the people would mean a cut in the support from the United Nations which a developing state like Ghana would not risk. It is up to us– the entire society– to own the process and contribute to the implementations that will advance the human rights situation across the country and beyond.
Written by Mavis Naa Korley Aryee– Youth Advocate, Curious Minds Ghana (@cmghana) and Presenter, Gems of Our Time on Uniiq 95.7 FM.
Mavis can be reached via @naa_korley on Instagram and @MavisAryee on Twitter.