The Universal Periodic Review, a human rights exam for UN Member States

The second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Yemen will be held in January 2014. The UPR is a mechanism through which the human rights records of every United Nations member State are reviewed by all the other member states.

During the UPR, UN Member States make recommendations to the State under Review on how to improve their human rights records. The State under Review has then to implement these recommendations before the next review.

If you want to know more about the UPR process, watch WILPF’s webinar on the Human Rights Council and the UPR.

An opportunity for WILPF and its partners to bring local experiences

There are different ways in which civil society can take part in the UPR process. In particular, prior to the review, civil society can participate in national consultations held by the State under review, submit a report to the Human Rights Council UPR Working Group, lobby foreign States through embassies and permanent mission in Geneva and/or participate in the UPR pre-session.

The UPR pre-sessions are organised by UPR-Info, a Geneva-based NGO, with the objective of strengthening collaboration between civil society organisations, national human rights institutions and UN member States. The pre-session gives the opportunity to NGOs to present their reports and more importantly to suggest recommendations to permanent delegations.

WILPF systematically engages in pre-sessions to bring its expertise and share it with various stakeholders in Geneva. The Human Rights Information and Training Center (HRITC), a partner organization of MENA Agenda 1325, a project of WILPF, came to this UPR pre-session with the support of WILPF to talk about women in Yemen. We have focused our recommendations on women’s rights and gender-related issues and suggested concrete measures to address the loopholes of Yemen’s legislations.

Status of women in Yemen’s legislations

Although Yemen has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, laws and legislations in Yemen are still not harmonized with international conventions and treaties. After almost 30 years, Yemeni women continue to suffer from discrimination in law and practice. The personal status law, the penal code, and the citizenship law are among others that contain provisions that discriminate against women.

In the current constitution of Yemen, women are not ascribed the equal citizenship status with men as article (31) describes them as “sisters of men”. Women cannot leave the country without the permission of their male guardian. The personal status law grants the husband the right to divorce his wife whenever he wants without the need to justify the divorce. Whilst a woman seeking divorce, according to article (54) in the personal status law, is required to give reasons justifying her decisions. The judge will investigate and decide whether the reasons are valid. If granted divorce, she will then lose her financial rights.

Discriminatory provisions can be further demonstrated in article (40) of the personal status law which requires the woman to obey her husband in what is in the “better interest for the family”, including asking permission of her husband whenever she wants to leave the matrimonial home.

The so-called “honour killings” remain largely unpunished by the law. ِArticle (232) in the penal code states that man who kills or injuries his wife or her partner in committing adultery should pay a fine or be imprisoned for only one year, a penalty far less severe than for any other killing.

A woman’s voice from Yemen in the UPR pre-session

The representative of HRITC, only Yemeni on the panel, gave a powerful testimony of what life is for a woman in Yemen. She draw the audience attention on human rights violations faced by women in Yemen and especially inequality and discrimination, limited participation in public and political life, limited right to education and health and high rates of violence against women.

She shared her experience as a woman living in Yemen with concrete examples. For example, she explained that girls have a limited access to education because of the lack of schools and inadequate access to toilets. She also talked about restrictions imposed on women when it comes to parental authority. She finished her presentation describing the hardship survivors of violence are affected by, and in particular, the threat of honor killings.

Concrete measures to improve women’s lives in Yemen

The current National Dialogue Conference (NDC) offers a genuine opportunity to advance women’s rights in the new constitution and the final reports that will emerge from the consultations. The NDC has 9 working groups, where each group is discussing a particular topic and is asked to submit a final report to the NDC secretary general. On this occasion, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has addressed the chair of the rights and freedoms working group with a list of recommendations for women’s rights to be embedded in the final report. The NDC has not yet concluded and it is not known if it will endorse the final report submitted by the rights and freedoms working group.

In the suggested recommendations by HRITC and WILPF to the second UPR of Yemen, we echoed some of the recommendations made by HRW. More specifically, the recommendations spanned the topics of 1) Equality and non-discrimination; 2) Participation to public and political life; 3) Right to education and right to health; and 4) Violence against women and honour killings.

To read all the recommendations on concrete measures to improve women’s lives and the loopholes of Yemen’s legislation regarding the status of women, download the joint recommendations by WILPF and HRITC.

What to do now?

WILPF International Secretariat, in particular the Human Rights programme and the MENA Agenda 1325 project, will promote the endorsement of our recommendations by UN Member States.

We will keep you updated on the outcome of the second UPR of Yemen; you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for live updates and subscribe to our newsletters to get the latest news directly in your inbox.