Down the Rabbit Hole: the UNHRC’s Universal Review Process


As part of a National Endowment for Democracy project addressing the voting records and activities of the United Nations Human Right Council (UNHRC), Chris Sabatini and Amy Williams examine the recommendations Latin American governments have made in the regular, though relatively obscure, UNHRC Universal Review Process (UPR) in which all member countries can raise their governments’ human rights concerns with a specific country’s before the country’s representatives.

Even in the narrower scope of the UPR, they write for Latin America Goes Global, it is evident that countries such as ArgentinaBrazil, and Ecuador have shown a marked reluctance to support basic political and civil rights, both among the leaders of the Global South and within the hemisphere, especially in comparison to Costa RicaMexico, Peru and Uruguay.   The latter countries—at least in the UPR process—emerge as stalwart defenders of “first generation” human rights (i.e. political and civil rights) regardless of the country in question. Curiously, Colombia, Chile and Paraguay fall somewhere in between.

For some countries social, economic and cultural rights are part of a broader human rights vision and agenda that includes political and civil rights. For others, they serve more as a way of distracting from their own and their friends’ shortcomings, Sabatini and Williams observe: 

As expected, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador collectively thumbed their nose at international norms protecting civil and political rights. Neither with neighboring countries or the countries of the Global South did they speak out to promote civil or political rights. The few instances where they did raise civil or political issues were particularly hypocritical: Venezuela recommended protecting the independence of the judiciary in Slovakia and implementing a professional code of conduct for judea and prosecutors in Slovenia, and Cuba about protecting the freedom to peacefully demonstrate in Chile and freedom of religion in Egypt. One especial favorite of ours was Cuba’s recommendation to Bolivia to “advance in the implementation of human rights to live in harmony with Mother Earth.”


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