One of the main activities of the IRCT Geneva Office is to support our members to influence the work of UN human rights monitoring mechanisms. As part of this work, I had the pleasure of hosting Josephine Akiru from our member centre in Uganda, African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV), for three days of intense lobbying in connection with the UPR review of Uganda. The UPR is a political review of a country’s overall human rights compliance, which is applied to all UN member States every four and half years.
The main focus of our lobby activities was to ensure that the State representatives were aware of the gravity of the torture situation in Uganda and that they would make relevant and targeted recommendations that ACTV can use in their future advocacy activities. The main issues in focus were the need for adoption of an anti-torture law; improvements to condition of detention and independent monitoring; access to rehabilitation for torture survivors; and timely payment of compensations to torture survivors awarded by the Uganda Human Rights Commission. It is important to note that these issues were selected based on a combination of importance and likelihood of being addressed in the UPR.
UPR advocacy is all about timing: you can’t be too early because then no one will remember what you said; if you are too late the recommendations are already prepared; and you want to find a time where the State representatives have a bit of time to sit down and listen to you. We had decided on the week between the main vacation period and the Human Rights Council Session. While many State representatives confirmed this choice we still ended rescheduling meetings at an average of 2-3 times per meeting. While this can be quite stressful, it also creates a certain feeling of satisfaction when all meetings are done and you have managed to meet about 12 States in two effective working days.
All in all it was a very positive experience and most of the States we talked to were very positive about including ACTV’s priority issues in their UPR recommendations to Uganda. In the end 23 States made 28 recommendations to Uganda pertaining to the four priority issues – all of the States that we met except one made relevant recommendation. Unfortunately, no recommendations were made in relation to the right to rehabilitation, which indicates that we need to be better at explaining this issue to diplomats.
While this exercise must be characterised as a great success, it was unfortunate that the Government of Uganda decided to keep recommendations pertaining to adoption of an anti-torture law and adequate and timely payment of compensations for torture under review until the March 2012 session of the Human Rights Council. This leaves the Ugandan NGO, with support from IRCT, with more work in convincing the Government that it should accept and implement these recommendations.
Asger serves as a legal officer at the IRCT, working in Geneva on UN human rights mechanisms.