On 2 May 2017, reviews of Morocco and Tunisia took place during the 27th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Together against the Death Penalty (ECPM) was there to follow the question of death penalty and its abolition. Algeria’s review (which was included in the early advocacy work) took place on 8 May 2017 but unfortunately ECPM could not be present.

Office of the United Nations in Geneva
The UPR is a review of the human rights situation in each of the United Nations Member States every four to five years. It is based on three documents: a national report from the State under review, one from the UN and its various bodies, and one summary of information submitted by other civil society stakeholders (NGO, NHRI, etc.). On this occasion, ECPM, together with its local partners (the Moroccan and Tunisian Coalitions Against the Death Penalty) and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP), submitted two reports on the death penalty and its evolution since the last UPR on Morocco and Tunisia in 2012. Those reports covered progress and obstacles regarding abolition and provided follow-up to the 2012 recommendations.

Mr. Mustafa Ramid, then Minister of Justice and Liberties, read the declaration of King Mohammed VI of Morocco the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Human Rights Forum in Marrakech
On 2 May 2017, the reviews took place at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Over three and half hours, Morocco and Tunisia presented their national reports and exchanged views with the other countries. The latter could ask questions to both countries and set out recommendations, i.e. emphasise and require the improvement of specific aspects of human rights they consider important. The UPR gives States under review the opportunity to highlight their achievements in terms of human rights issues and the international community the opportunity to raise concerns about violations and remind the former of the required progress.

During the UPR session, States under review and reviewing countries take part in an interactive dialogue based on questions/answers and recommendations.
As regards the death penalty, Morocco and Tunisia received respectively 19 and 17 recommendations requesting abolition and ratification of international instruments on abolition of capital punishment, a greater number of recommendations on this issue than in 2012, thus maintaining the pressure on national authorities and facilitating the local debate which is very useful for the advocacy carried out by NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI). Above all, those recommendations were made by countries which had only been cautiously involved in the death penalty issue thus far, such as African and Eastern European countries. Finally, some diplomatic services did not make direct recommendations on this matter but did mention it in their interventions or through questions written in advance.

The UPR gives the opportunity to numerous human rights actors to meet in a formal or informal way in a privileged context.
Although the review in itself is a State-only process (recommendations only made by diplomatic services), NGOs and other civil society organisations also have their part to play. The UPR gives all human rights actors the opportunity to meet in a special context. Civil society stakeholders can take action before the UPR through advocacy campaigns targeting the diplomatic services in Geneva and the countries under review, as ECPM did on the death penalty issue by sending strategic documents and tools to around twenty countries or like the Moroccan Coalition against the Death Penalty which held a working meeting on the UPR in Rabat. They can also participate in the session as observers and take advantage of the opportunity to meet existing and/or potential partners, or organise side-events at the UN Office in Geneva. Some States even put in place a facilitated setting for exchanges of views with civil society, as Tunisia did by setting up an open meeting with its Human Rights Minister.

Mr. Medhi Ben Gharbia, Tunisian Minister for Human Rights, received civil society actors in an open meeting parallel to the UPR.
Attendance at the UPR was very interesting for ECPM. It enabled the organisation to see not only the position of Morocco and Tunisia, countries where it has been organising activities since 2007 and 2011, on the death penalty towards the international community, but also the position of the latter on this issue. The UPR was also a great opportunity for ECPM to take notice of countries with a commitment to abolition and to meet its partners present in Geneva as well as other civil society, institutional or government actors for precise and coherent international action.

Morocco and Tunisia now have some time to choose to support the given recommendations or not, thus making consequent commitments on human rights (Tunisia has already given its response to the majority). The reviews on 2 and 8 May will lead to final reports which will acknowledge those commitments and which will be adopted by the plenary session of the Human Rights Council in September 2017. Civil society will then have to monitor and support the fulfilment of these pledges in the coming years, something ECPM will do with its local partners in all three countries.

Text & drawings : Jeanne Hirschberger