A Conscientious Objector's Guide to the International Human Rights System

Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

Summary

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was established along with the Human Rights Council by resolution 60/251 in 2006 and is a unique mechanism of the United Nations human rights system which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States once every 4½ years, based on the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and any other human rights instruments to which the State under review is a party, and voluntary pledges and commitments made by the State. During the review process, other States examine the human rights practice of a State under review based on information provided by the State, a compilation of relevant UN documents prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and information provided by other stakeholders, including NGOs (compiled by the OHCHR).

Other states may ask questions and make recommendations, which the State under review may accept or reject. The result of this review is reflected in an “outcome report” listing the recommendations made to the State under review. Until the next due review, the State under review has now four years time to implement the accepted recommendations and fulfil its voluntary pledges.

The third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review started at the 27th session (1st-12th May 2017), and will run until November 2021. Find the full calendar here: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/UPR/Calendar3rdCycle.doc (a download will begin).

Information, including a timetable of the current review cycle, is available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

As this is an inter-governmental procedure, only States can ask questions or make recommendations to the State under review. NGOs can not intervene directly, but have to get a State to ask a question or to make a recommendation to the State under review. The State under review then can either accept or reject a recommendation.

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

This mechanism applies to all member states of the United Nations.

3. Who can submit information?

The review at the Working Group is based on three sources of information:

  • Information prepared by the State under Review on its human rights situation. This can take the form of a national report no longer than 20 pages.
  • A compilation of “information contained in the reports of treaty bodies, special procedures, including observations and comments by the State concerned, and other relevant official United Nations documents, which shall not exceed ten pages” (Resolution A/HRC/RES/5/1). It can include for example Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee or the Committee on the Rights of the Child, reports by Special Rapporteurs or UN Country teams, etc. This compilation is prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR).
  • Other “credible and reliable information” provided by “other relevant stakeholders” (including NGOs), which are summarised by the Office of the High Commissioner in a document not exceeding ten pages (Resolution A/HRC/RES/5/1).

These three documents are usually available on the OHCHR website ten weeks before the start of the UPR working group.

4. When to submit information?

4. When to submit information?
The Universal Periodic Review Working Group holds three sessions per year dedicated to 14 states each, until the total of all UN members has been reviewed.


According to resolution “A/HRC/RES/5/1, “States are encouraged to prepare the information through a broad consultation process at the national level with all relevant stakeholders”. If your State is following this procedure, it might be a good idea to get involved in the process, and to lobby for inclusion of the issue of conscientious objection in the State's report. Often, coalitions of national NGOs join forces to submit a joint report. If this is the case, it can be advisable to take part in such a coalition, to make sure that the issue of conscientious objection to military service is included in a broader NGO report. Such a national consultation process is likely to take place about one year before the review.

8-6 months before the review:: The deadline for the submission of information by NGOs to the OHCHR is about six to eight months before the session. Submissions must be submitted and received by midnight Geneva time (CET) on the day of the given deadline and late submissions are not considered.

About six weeks before the session of each Working Group, the NGO UPR-Info is holding public sessions for NGOs to suggest questions and recommendations. All government delegations are invited to these sessions, and the timing should provide enough time for the delegations to consult with their respective government.
NGOs interested in taking part should contact:
UPR Info
Avenue du Mail 14
1205 Geneva, Switzerland
Phone: + 41 22 321 77 70
Fax: + 41 22 321 77 71
Email: info@upr-info.org

As the review itself is an inter-governmental procedure, it is then important to lobby other governments to raise questions and make recommendations to the State under review, either via other States' embassies in your country, or via their permanent missions at the UN in Geneva. Please get in touch if you have specific issues to raise in relation to conscientious objection to military service.

During the review:: The review itself takes place in a Working Group of the Human Rights Council, which is composed of all UN member States and chaired by the President of the Council. NGOs in consultative status can attend but not take the floor during the review.
The review is prepared by a troika, which is selected by the drawing of lots among members of the Human Rights Council and from different regional groups. The troika receives the written questions and issues raised by States and relays them to the State under review. During the review itself, the members of the troika do not have any specific role. After the review, the troika is responsible for preparing a report of the Working Group, with the involvement of the State under review and assistance by the OHCHR. One of the members of the troika will introduce the report before its adoption at the Working Group.

3-4 months after the review: The report of the Working Group is adopted by consensus at a plenary session of the Human Rights Council. During this session, NGOs are allocated a total of 20 minutes for oral statement after the presentations of the State under Review and other States (20min each) and before the outcome report is adopted. Only NGOs in consultative status are allowed to make an oral statement.
It is also possible to write a statement as not every NGO can be considered and coalitions of NGOs are generally favoured. These written statements will become official United Nations documents but they have however less impact than an oral statement. There is a deadline of usually two weeks before begin of the session for written statements, and there are very detailed technical instructions for submissions of statements, which have to be submitted by email.

For a webcast of the interactive dialogues please visit: http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/archive.asp?go=080507.

5. Special rules of procedure or advice for making a submission?

As stated in point 3.) The OHCHR asks NGOs to limit their official submission to a five page (2815 words) document, to which other information can be attached. When the information is submitted by a large coalition of NGOs, the official submission can reach ten pages (5630 words). For ease of reference, paragraphs and pages should be numbered. NGOs need to submit their report as a Microsoft Word document by email, and not in any other file format (no PDF), nor on paper.

As of the third cycle of the UPR, the OHCHR has devised 'Matrices of recommendations of countries to be reviewed during the 3rd cycle of the UPR' . The purpose of the matrices is to collect precise and specific information on the level of implementation, in the State under review, of both the accepted and noted recommendations from their previous reviews. Stakeholders are now also encouraged to submit their completed country-specific matrix, alongside their written submissions. NGOs are encouraged to download their country matrix now available here http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/NgosNhris.aspx, and should complete the final column in the table. The matrix provides a list of received recommendations, clustered by theme, and then allows space for "Assessment/comments on level of implementation".

This is an example of a matrix here https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/matrix_argentina.png

The second and subsequent cycles of the UPR will focus on the recommendations accepted by the State under review during previous review cycles, and on the development of the human rights situation in the State since the last review. However, any other issues that come within the scope of the Universal Periodic Review can also be raised.

The OHCHR has issues “technical guidelines” for National Human Rights Institutions and NGOs, which they need to follow when submitting information to the UPR. The guidelines for the second cycle (2017-2021) can be found at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/UPR/TechnicalGuidelines3rdCycle.... (a download will begin).

Submissions should be sent to through the "On-line UPR submissions registration system" to register contributions for the UPR documentation from UN entities and stakeholders available in the following link: https://uprdoc.ohchr.org. Stakeholders should follow the "Guidelines for the Use of the On-Line UPR Submissions Registration System" available here www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/UPR/How-to-GuideUPR_Online_Registration.... Should organizations encounter technical problems using the Online system, please contact the UPR Submissions Helpdesk through the following email address: uprsubmissions@ohchr.org.

For help and questions relating to the Universal Periodic Review, the website of UPR-Info at http://upr-info.org has a wealth of advice and information.

6. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

If the submission complies with the technical guidelines, it will be made available on the OHCHR website ten weeks before the start of the UPR working group. Information contained in the submission will hopefully also be included in the OHCHR compilation of information provided by “other relevant stakeholders”.

Following-up

After the review, it is important to follow-up on the recommendations accepted by the State, and to monitor their implementation.

States are encouraged to submit a mid-term report on the implementation of UPR recommendation to the Human Rights Council. This provides a further opportunity for lobbying, and NGOs in consultative status can also submit comments in form of a written statement to the Human Rights Council.

7. History of the use of the mechanism.

The issue of conscientious objection was brought up several times during the first cycle of the UPR, for example during the review of Colombia in 2009. Resolution: A/HRC/10/82

The OHCHR has developed a special database for the documentation related to the universal periodic review at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/Documentation.aspx.

Contact Details: 
OHCHR address: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)  Email: uprsubmissions@ohchr.org http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/ContactUs.aspx
Further Reading: 

Interpretations

Title Date
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution A/HRC/RES/20/2) 05/07/2012

recalling all previous relevant resolutions and decisions, including Human Rights Council decision 2/102 of 6 October 2006, and Commission on Human Rights resolutions 2004/35 of 19 April 2004 and 1998/77 of 22 April 1998, in which the Commission recognized the right of everyone to have conscientious objection to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and general comment No. 22 (1993) of the Human Rights Committee”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
CO to military taxation Neutral
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 2004/35) 19/04/2004

The resolution recalled all previous resolutions of the Human Rights Commission and especially “calls upon States that have not yet done so to review their current laws and practices in relation to conscientious objection to military service in the light of its resolution 1998/77, taking account of the information contained in the report”;
In addition, it “encourages States, as part of post‑conflict peace‑building, to consider granting, and effectively implementing, amnesties and restitution of rights, in law and practice, for those who have refused to undertake military service on grounds of conscientious objection”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 2002/45) 23/04/2002

The resolution recalls the previous resolutions of the Human Rights Commission regarding conscientious objections to military service and especially takes “note of recommendation 2 made by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its report (see E/CN.4/2001/14, chap. IV, sect. B), aimed at preventing the judicial system of States from being used to force conscientious objectors to change their convictions”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 2000/34) 20/04/2000

The resolution recalls the previous resolutions of the Human Rights Commission on the subject of conscientious objection to military service and “calls upon States to review their current laws and practices in relation to conscientious objection to military service in the light of its resolution 1998/77”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1998/77) 22/04/1998

The resolution recalls the early resolutions of the Human Rights Commission on the subject of conscientious objection to military service, and highlights:

  • article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right of everyone to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”;
  • impartial decision making on applications for conscientious objection and the “requirement not to discriminate between conscientious objectors on the basis of the nature of their particular beliefs”;
  • that “States should (...) refrain from subjecting conscientious objectors to imprisonment and to repeated punishment for failure to perform military service, and (...) that no one shall be liable or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country”;
  • that States, in their law and practice, must not discriminate against conscientious objectors in relation to their terms or conditions of service, or any economic, social, cultural, civil or political rights”;
  • asylum for “conscientious objectors compelled to leave their country of origin because they fear persecution owing to their refusal to perform military service when there is no provision, or no adequate provision, for conscientious objection to military service”.
Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1995/83) 08/03/1995

Recalling its earlier resolutions, the Commission “draws attention to the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and “affirms that persons performing military service should not be excluded from the right to have conscientious objections to military service”.

The Commission calls on States to introduce “within the framework of their national legal system, independent and impartial decision-making bodies with the task of determining whether a conscientious objection is valid in a specific case”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (resolution 1993/84) 10/03/1993

The Commission recalls its previous resolutions on the subject and “appeals to States, if they have not already done so, to enact legislation and to take measures aimed at exemption from military service on the basis of a genuinely held conscientious objection to armed service”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1991/65) 06/03/1991

The Commission reaffirms “its resolution 1989/59 adopted without a vote on 8 March 1989”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1989/59) 08/03/1989

The Commission “appeals to States to enact legislation and to take measures aimed at exemption from military service on the basis of a genuinely held conscientious objection to armed service”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service. (Resolution 1987/46) 10/03/1987

The Commission recognised “that conscientious objection to military service derives from principles and reasons of conscience, including profound convictions, arising from religious, ethical, moral or similar motives”, and appealed “to States to recognize that conscientious objection to military service should be considered a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

It recommended “to States with a system of compulsory military service, where such provision has not already been made, that they consider introducing various forms of alternative service for conscientious objectors which are compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, bearing in mind the experience of some States in this respect, and that they refrain from subjecting such persons to imprisonment”.

Recognition of CO Recognised

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Recommendations and Commitments
Title Date
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Paraguay 28/03/2011

44. Ghana asked about measures taken to respond to requests made by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and the Human Rights Committee to enforce the legislation prohibiting the recruitment of children by the military. It referred to the gap that existed between men and women’s income at almost all levels, despite legal provisions on equal remuneration. Ghana made recommendations. (…)

II. Conclusions and/or recommendations (...)
85. The following recommendations enjoy the support of Paraguay which considers that they are already implemented or in the process of implementation: (...)
85.35. Ensure the effective exercise of the right to conscientious objection and ensure that no minor (under 18) is recruited into the Armed Forces (Slovenia);
85.36. Implement effectively the legislation prohibiting the forced military recruitment of children under the age of 18 (Ghana);
85.37. Comply with the legislation prohibiting the forced military recruitment of children (Hungary);
85.38. Put in place measures to effectively prevent underage military recruitment (Japan);

Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Estonia 28/03/2011

58. Slovakia (...) noted the (...) lack of clear grounds for accepting or rejecting an application for an alternative to military service. Slovakia made recommendations. (…)

II. Conclusions and/or recommendations
77. The recommendations formulated during the interactive dialogue and listed below have been examined by and enjoy the support of Estonia. (...)
77.77. Ensure that the right of conscientious objection to military service is upheld, and clarify the grounds for acceptance or rejection of such claims (Slovakia);

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Austria 01/06/2011

93.The following recommendations will be examined by Austria which will provide responses in due time, but no later than the seventeenth session of the Human Rights Council in June 2011:
93.47. Raise the age for all enrolments into armed forces to the age of at least 18 years in line with the CRC recommendation (Ghana, Slovakia);

"93.47 Austria does not accept the recommendation.
The option of performing the military service starting at the age of 17 is based solely on the voluntary enlistment of the person concerned and requires the consent of his legal guardian. Neither the direct participation in combat nor the voluntary enlistment for military service in international operations is admissible. Under these provisions, full respect of the entire Convention on the Rights of the Child including its Optional Protocol is guaranteed.

Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Georgia 16/03/2011

37. Slovenia took note of the concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on the issue of conscientious objectors, in parti­cular, the differences between the length of non-military alternative service and military service and asked what steps had been taken to address that difference. Slovenia made recommendations. (...)

II. Conclusions and/or recommendations
105. The recommendations formulated during the interactive dialogue and listed below have been examined by Georgia enjoy the support of Georgia: (...)
105.63. Reduce the length of alternative service for conscientious objectors so that it is the same length as the military service (Slovenia);

Length/terms of service Recognised
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Eritrea 08/03/2010

Recommendations were made on the indefinite prolongation of the military service of conscripts (by Canada (58) and the United Kingdom (60)), the non-recognition of the right of conscientious objection to military service (mentioned by Slovenia (59), and Argentina (57)), and abuses within the National Service programme (referred to by the USA (62) and the United Kingdom (61)
Also that it take effective measures to protect under-18s from recruitment, (by Germany (56), Argentina (57), the United Kingdom (61), the USA(62), Poland (63) and Ghana (64)) (http://wri-irg.org)/node/20858

Eritrea rejected all recommendations related to military service, possibly with the exception of those relating to sexual exploitation and violence against women in the Armed Forces.

Recognition of CO Not recognised
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Uzbekistan 13/03/2009

Slovenia asked (a) what steps the Government was taking to ensure that all individuals with a conscientious objection to military service are able to exercise this right and not only those belonging to recognized religious groups whose beliefs require such refusal; (...) Slovenia recommended that Uzbekistan (d) ensure that conscien­tious objection to military service is available to individuals irrespec­tive of their religion or belief, that the process for consideration applications is under civilian control and to provide a non-punitive civilian alternative service; (b) respond soon to these requests (of special procedures to visit the country) in a positive way.
Uzbekistan indicated indicated that it would study the conformity of the (...) recommendations with the national legislation.” (http://wri-irg.org/node/20856)

17. According to the article 22, paragraph 1, page 1 of the Law “On general military duty and military service” recruits are released from military duty and military service in a mobilization invocatory reserve during the peacetime:
(a) If recognized unfit for military service due to health problems;
(b) If one of near relatives (brother, sister) has died during the military service;
(c) If he/she has a holy order in one of the registered religious organizations.
18. According to the article 37, paragraph 2 of above-mentioned Law, citizens at the age from 18 to 27, listed in military registry and subject to draft, have the right to choose alternative service if they are members of registered religious organizations and there dogma prohibits the use of weapons and service in the army.

Recognition of CO Neutral
Discrimination Neutral
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Israel 19/03/2009

"Slovenia noted with concern the information in the OHCHR compi­lation and stakeholders’ reports on the refusal to the right to con­scien­tious objection, part of the right to freedom of thought, con­scien­ce and religion, and on imprisonment in this regard. It asked if Israel intended to review this, and recommended ceasing impriso­ning conscientious objectors and considering granting the right to conscientious objection to serve instead with a civilian body independent of the military." (http://wri-irg.org/node/20850)

"461. Israel had also taken upon itself to promote the following items from the Council's recommendations:" (...)
"(h) Granting the right to those who object to serve in the army on conscientious grounds to serve instead with a civilian body inde­pendent of the military, such as in the form of the newly established and strengthened Public Commission for National Civil Service;
"

Recognition of CO Recognised
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Colombia 13/01/2009

Slovenia recommended that Colombia should recognise the right of conscientious objection to military service “in law and practice and ensure that recruitment methods allow it (and) guarantee that conscientious objectors are able to opt for alternative service, the duration of which would not have punitive effects.” (http://wri-irg.org/node/20848)

Colombia rejected this recommendation, arguing that “The Colombian Constitution and the legal framework establish that all citizens have the obligation to enrol in the military service when the circumstances so require to defend the National sovereignty and the public institutions and to provide security conditions for all citizens. This obligation has been upheld on several occasions by the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court.

Recognition of CO Not recognised
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Serbia 18/03/2009

During the Universal Periodic Review the question of arrangements for conscientious objectors to military service was raised by both the Russian Federation and Slovenia. Replying to the Russian Federation's question in the December 2008 Working Group, Serbia reported: “According to the Constitution, conscientious objectors could serve their military duty without the obligation to carry weapons. There were 1,730 institutions and organizations for civil service. The civil service lasted nine months and 49 per cent of conscripts had opted for it.
Slovenia made a number of specific recommendations:
that Serbia restore civilian control to decision-making in relation to applications for conscientious objection to military service, to extend the time limit for applications to be made, remove the exclusion of all those who have ever held a firearms licence from being recognized as conscientious objectors, and equalize the length of alternative and military service.” (http://wri-irg.org/node/20852)

Serbia's response to these recommendations:
Certain proposals and recommendations of the Republic of Slovenia have already been incorporated into the Draft Law on Civilian Service, which is in parliamentary procedure. With the passage of that law, civil control regarding civilian service would be laid out in detail, so that the members of the Appeals Commission shall not be members of the Ministry of Defense, except for the Commission president. This will reduce the possibilities of abuse on the part of the First Instance Commissions and organizations or institutions, thereby ensuring total civil control over civilian service.”
“The equalization of military and civilian service is not possible, because a soldier serving armed military duty spends an uninter­rupted six months in his unit, while a person in civilian service spends eight hours in his assigned organization or institution, is free on weekends and has the right to regular and awarded leave. The proposal “to invalidate the exception of those who have held weapon permits from the right to conscientious objection” is in absolute collision with the arguments of the institution of conscientious objection and, thus, cannot be accepted.

Length/terms of service Not recognised
Discrimination Not recognised
Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodical Review: Turkmenistan 19/03/2009

Slovenia enquired about the Government’s recognition of conscientious objection to military service. It recommended that Turkmenistan recognize this and stop prosecuting, imprisoning and repeatedly punishing conscientious objectors. (...)” (http://wri-irg.org/node/20854)

555. Concerning the recommendation to recognize conscientious objection to military service and with respect to recognizing the right of persons renouncing military service on religious grounds, Turkmenistan provided information that conditions existed that allowed for guaranteeing the right to freedom of religion and the fulfilment of military duty by serving in non-military structures of the Ministry of Defence, such as medical and construction units. Turkmenistan also indicated that the process of improving the legislation on religious organizations was ongoing.

Recognition of CO Neutral
Repeated punishment Neutral

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