International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute visit to Geneva

June 1st, 2017

The South African and Syrian delegation in front of the United Nations Palais de Nations.

By Lizette Burger

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Lawyers for Human Rights and the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC)formed part of a delegation that attended the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) pre-session in Geneva, Switzerland. The visit took place from 3 to 7 April and included an intensive training programme. The delegation, together with a Syrian delegation, were hosted by the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), who also funded the entire trip.

The IBAHRI provides human rights training to legal practitioners and institutions; conducts fact-finding missions and produces expert reports with key recommendations; intervenes where persons involved in the operation of legal systems have been arbitrarily threatened, detained or abused; and participates in advocacy programmes and trial monitoring. The IBAHRI works with lawyers, law associations and bar associations around the world in submitting reports to the UN on human rights relating to the legal profession.

In September 2016, the LSSA submitted a joint shadow report with the IBAHRI and the SALC to the UPR. The report, inter alia, dealt with South Africa’s national obligation in domesticating international human rights treaties; the weakening of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal; and the role of the legal profession in ensuring access to justice.

Busani Mabunda at the UPR-Info pre-session on South Africa at the Palais de Nations.

The UPR was implemented by the UN in 2007 as a peer review mechanism. It involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states. States have the opportunity to declare what actions they have taken to improve human rights issues in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

The UPR works in cycles, with approximately 48 of the UN’s 193 member states reviewed each year. The first cycle was from 2008 to 2011, the second from 2012 to 2016 and the third from 2017 to 2021. (South Africa submitted country reports for the first cycle (2008) and second cycle (2012), which can be accessed at The shadow reports submitted at the time are also available on the website.) Prior to the review of a country, organisations and institutions are able to submit information, namely, the shadow report, regarding the human rights issues and recommendations they would like to be considered.

South Africa will be reviewed during the third cycle (in September), hence the delegation’s shadow report submission and attendance of the pre-session. Pre-sessions provide an opportunity for civil society and institutions to present their concerns raised in the shadow reports to a room of diplomats and lobby them to take up the concerns.

The delegation participated in the UPR-Info pre-session and the presentation was well received.

The delegation received training on UN mechanisms and how they function, the role and function of treaty bodies, special procedures and the Human Rights Council. Future opportunities for human rights mechanisms were also discussed, and meetings took place with various permanent missions with the aim to advocate for key recommendations to be raised by states in the UN Human Rights Forums.

Meetings also took place with Special Rapporteurs, the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the South African Ambassador to Geneva, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko. There was also an inter-professional exchange with the Genève Bar Association Human Rights Commission, where it was agreed that the LSSA will foster a relationship with them.

Legal practitioners are encouraged to make use of UN systems, particularly in respect of human rights issues.

Further information on the UN mechanisms can be obtained from the Professional Affairs Department by e-mailing

Lizette Burger, Professional Affairs Manager,

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (June) DR 21.