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The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process was established by the General Assembly in 2006 (Resolution 60/251) and involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. The review process is state-driven and falls under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which was created by the same resolution. It is a unique mechanism designed to remind states of their human rights obligations and, in that process, strengthen and promote the protection of human rights globally. The UPR entails a peer-to-peer review process based on a dialogue between and among states, and allows for equal scrutiny of states’ human rights records.

The reviews are carried out by the UPR Working Group composed of all 47 members of the Council. However, any other interested UN member states may take part in the dialogue session with the state under review. During these three and a half hour sessions, participating member states may ask questions and offer comments and recommendations to the state under review. The Working Group is responsible for producing an outcome report with recommendations, which is subsequently by submitted to the Human Rights Council for adoption. Progress on the implementation of the recommendations by the state under review, together with any other developments in the field, will be considered the next time the state comes under review (projected to be every 4-5 years).

Which states are reviewed by the UPR?

Every member state of the United Nations is reviewed under the UPR. Since the beginning of the UPR’s second cycle (May 2012), 42 member states have been reviewed annually. These reviews take place three times a year.

The UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed. It provides the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

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Which human rights obligations does the UPR consider?

Which human rights obligations are assessed by the UPR depends on the state under review. Each state may only be evaluated in relation to its obligations set forth in:

Because 189 of the 193 UN member states have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women (CEDAW), almost every state can be assessed on their express obligations under the convention, including in respect to their obligations to eliminate VAW. As General Recommendation No. 19 of the CEDAW Committee has noted, the definition of discrimination as set forth in Article 1 of CEDAW includes gender-based violence. In short, because VAW constitutes a form of discrimination within the meaning of article 1. states are under a positive obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent acts of VAW; to investigate such acts and prosecute and punish perpetrators; and to provide redress and relief to victims.

What about the states that haven’t ratified CEDAW?

The UDHR provides a normative framework within which to measure the record of states not party to CEDAW. Article 2 (“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status…”) read not least in conjunction with Article 3 (“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”) indicates that states are under an obligation to eliminate violence against women.

Also, many states have human rights obligations under other treaties which mean that they must address violence against women. Violence against women has been raised in nearly every UPR, in the context of sexual violence, rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation or human trafficking.

iconStarCan civil society engage with the UPR?

Yes. There are three key entry points for civil society organisations to engage with the UPR to raise awareness of the status of women in the State which is under review:

1. State’s consultation in the preparation of its report: prior to the UPR, the state under review submits a report to the working group on the status of human rights in the state. During the preparation of this report, there should be a national consultation, at which point civil society organisations may contribute information on violence against women.

2. OHCHRs consultations in the preparation of its stakeholder report: also prior to the UPR, the OHCHR accepts submissions from civil society organisations (and other stakeholders) on the status of human rights in the state under review. Submissions on violence against women can be put into the ‘stakeholder report’ which is then circulated to participating states in preparation of the UPR session.

Note: No accreditation or consultative status is required to submit information to the OHCHR for a state review. There are, however, strict deadlines and technical guidelines (see the UPR website)

3. ECOSOC consultative status: CSOs (and other stakeholders) who have this status may apply to observe the UPR’s session. They may also issue oral statements to the HRC when the outcomes of state reviews are considered.

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iconStarCase Study: ‘Your Rights. Right Now.’
Irish civil society’s engagement with the Universal Periodic Review

…Ireland’s reaction to the 2016 Universal Periodic Review will come to be seen as a watershed moment in the protection of rights and equality in this State.

Irish Council of Civil Liberties

On 11 May 2016, Ireland was reviewed by the UPR Working Group. Taking advantage of the UPR process to raise awareness on issues of violence against women in Ireland, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties launched “Your Rights. Right Now” (YRRN) – a coalition of 19 Irish civil society actors and organisations. Together, YRRN produced a comprehensive report that would be used substantially throughout the UPR process.

What did the report say?

YRRN submitted its report to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to be included in the stakeholder summary report for distribution to states participating in the UPR. With regard to gender-based violence, YRRN’s report stated:

Violence against women

Violence Against Women
Ireland has not signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)… Eligibility for safety orders should be extended to parties involved in intimate relationships regardless of whether they cohabitate and specific offences of stalking and cyber-harassment should be enacted. There is insufficient data on the nature and extent of domestic violence in Ireland to develop evidence-based policies, plan service provision and identify gaps or discrimination in services. There has been no comprehensive audit of sexual abuse and violence since 2002. Although demand for relevant services grew, cuts have continued since the introduction of austerity measures in 2008 so that many women are on waiting lists for support services and cannot be accommodated in refuges.
The Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) which must be satisfied when applying for social protection, can be a barrier for women experiencing violence in accessing social protection entitlements. Migrants experiencing domestic violence face difficulties in applying for independent residence permits.

  • Sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention
  • Ensure consistent, independent, data collection on domestic and sexual violence
  • Make legislative provision to allow migrants who experience domestic violence to apply for independent residence permits
  • Adequately fund domestic and sexual violence support and advocacy services


Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution equates the existence of a foetus with the right to life of a pregnant woman. Abortion is unlawful in Ireland except to save a woman’s life; women in all other circumstances must travel abroad for abortion services. The provision of information regarding abortion is strictly regulated and criminalised in certain circumstances by the Abortion Information Act 1995. In cases of conflict with foetal existence, doctors are prevented from making clinical decisions in the best interests of safeguarding a woman’s health or dignity. A number of cases of harm to women, including avoidable deaths, arising from Ireland’s abortion laws have occurred since 2011. UN Treaty Bodies have criticised the non-compliance of Ireland’s abortion laws including its Constitution with international human rights standards.
There are concerns over the failure to provide adequate services, and cumbersome and discriminatory procedures under the Act. While the provisions of the 1861 Act that criminalised abortion have been repealed, the PLDPA re-criminalises abortion, imposing a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

  • Repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution
  • Decriminalise abortion by repealing sections 22 and 23 of the PLDPA 2013
  • Repeal the Abortion Information Act 1995
  • Provide a human rights compliant framework for abortion, in law and in practice

iconLockWant more? Read the submission by the Irish Civil Society Coalition, Your Rights. Right Now during the 25th Session of the UPR

Did the Your Rights, Right Now report influence the Universal Periodic Review?

YRRN’s report was referred to throughout the OHCHR’s Stakeholder Summary Report, including:

Joint Submission 3 (“Your Rights. Right Now”) recommended that Ireland sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention…

… JS3-YRRN indicated observed that, while the provisions of the 1861 Act that criminalised abortion had been repealed, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act in 2013 re-criminalised abortion, except where there was a risk to life, imposing a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. … JS3-YRRN emphasized that provision of information regarding abortion was strictly regulated and criminalised in certain circumstances by the Abortion Information Act 1995.

This, together with submissions from other civil society organisations (The Irish Family Planning Association; The National Traveller Women’s Forum; Free Legal Advice Centres; Sexual Rights Initiative, Ottawa, Canada; Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland and Sex Workers Alliance Ireland), successfully led to advance questions from the Working Group to Ireland. Some of these included:


Various UN treaty bodies have expressed concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in Ireland. Does Ireland have any plans to address these concerns?


Czech Republic

Does the Government consider revising the relevant legislation in order to decriminalize abortion also in cases of rape or incest and possibly other cases when the woman’s life is not in danger? Does the Government intend starting a Constitutional reform that would broaden women’s access to abortion?


Could the government of the Republic of Ireland elaborate which steps are envisaged to examine the restrictive abortion regime in Irish law? Does the government of the Republic of Ireland envisage to establish an expert group on abortion matters which can contribute to a coherent legal framework including the provision of adequate services?


What measures is Ireland prepared to take to bring its legislation and medical practices in line at least with minimum international standards of sexual and reproductive health and rights and to allow abortion in the most serious cases such as rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality and serious risks to the health of the mother?


Does the Irish Government consider a review of Article 40.3.3 of the Irish constitution in which the biological existence of a foetus is put on an equal basis with the right to life of a pregnant woman? The coalition of organisations also actively promoted the UPR process through the media, hosting live, public broadcasts of the UPR session in venues around Ireland, and publishing detailed information of the proceedings online.


What was the outcome?

262 recommendations were made by member states over the course of the three hour review, including:

  • Portugal, Andorra, Italy, Turkey, and Bosnia and Herzegovina recommended Ireland ratify the Istanbul Convention
  • France, India, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Israel, Maldives, Ghana, and Moldova variously called for Ireland to “strengthen measures to combat domestic and sexual violence against women” and “implement the new Domestic Violence Bill”
  • Lithuania, Uruguay, Bahrain, Russia, Moldova and Chile recommended strengthening of shelter and support services for victims of Domestic Violence
  • Fifteen states recommended review of access to abortion

Of these recommendations, 152 were immediately accepted by Ireland – including access to abortion review and strengthening services for survivors of domestic violence. YRRN availed the opportunity to send delegates to observe the UPR session. Speaking afterwards, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties issued a statement welcoming Ireland’s “significant pledges to improve human rights…”

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