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Participants in the UN Human Rights model

Students become diplomats and negotiators during a UN Human Rights model

13 December 2019

More than 40 international students from eight European universities gathered at the University of Padova in Italy recently to learn the art of diplomacy and negotiation all while standing up for human rights.

The students were participants in the second annual Model Universal Periodic Review (UPR), organized by the master’s degree students of the Human Rights and Multi-Level Governance at the university, along with UN Human Rights Office. The Model UPR initiative gave students a chance to put into practice much of the knowledge they gain during lessons on the UPR, one of the main human rights mechanisms.

To make the UPR simulation more realistic, students and graduates of the master's degree, some of whom did internships in Geneva-based UN bodies, shared their first-hand experience of how the UPR procedure worked. Nathalie Gurgel was one of these students. Having participated in the first Model UPR, she later went on to work in the UPR Branch of the UN Human Rights Office as an intern. She said both the initiative and the internship gave her better understanding of what can be a complicated human rights process.

“I believe that UPR makes difference in the Human Right perspective in several countries, because gives the responsibility for different States to analyze and give recommendation for other States about Human Rights situations” she said. “I thoroughly believe that to have a peaceful society we all need to Stand up for Human Rights.”

Students were divided into the various components of the UPR process, including diplomats from country under review, NGOs wanting input their information on how the country, and representatives from national human rights institutions. John Paul Pwa Abeng Amah is studying in a university in Venice. A former secondary teacher in Cameroon, he said he decided to study to help make his community more aware of human rights. The Model UPR process has given him a better understanding of how rights should be integrated into countries, and what to aspire to back in Cameroon.

“It brings to the forefront the universality of human rights, so that even if the standards in Africa are not as high (as the European ones) it is something that we can aspire to,” he said. “I am absolutely a human rights defender, a ferocious one, towards arriving at the European standard (of human rights) which is such a guarantee for everyone enjoying basic human rights.”

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is one of the most complex procedures of the UN human rights system. It is a mechanism based on dialogue and cooperation in which UN Member States make recommendations to their peers: any country can address recommendations to the States under Review, which can either support or note those received and commit themselves to implement those accepted. This procedure aims to evaluate UN Member States’ actions and performances in the field of human rights and encourage them to improve their human rights situations in their country.

Viera Pejchal, from the UPR Branch of the UN Human Rights Office, said the Model UPR was a great chance for the Office to engage with students and the youth, who could play a future role with the mechanism.

“It allows for a better understanding of human rights principles and values, it teaches about the UN and human rights mechanisms, it emphasizes the importance of collaboration of different stakeholders and it further promotes interest in protection of human dignity for all. Student strengthen their soft skills such as diplomacy, negotiation, public speaking and become advocate for human rights on the ground,” she said.

  • I will respect your rights regardless of who you are. I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you
  • When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone's rights are undermined, so I will stand up
  • I will raise my voice. I will take action. I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.

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