It was November 2014, and Grenada was already one month overdue in submitting its national report for the Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council. I was the official responsible for ensuring the report was completed – so I was under pressure. One month after the deadline, I hadn’t begun collecting data or drafting the text.
I was a nervous wreck; paranoid due to the stories I heard about the UPR; silently praying that by some miracle the assignment would be taken from me. I had already convinced myself that a report of this magnitude could not be completed in a few weeks. After all, the UPR cycle is four and half years long.
While attending to one of my files, I stumbled upon a letter from the Commonwealth Secretariat, reminding the government that the UPR report was past due and offering assistance to ensure that it was completed and submitted ahead of the presentation in Geneva. What a find! I was sure that the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Adviser would agree that an extension was our only option. The response came quickly. An extension was not possible but completing the report was, if we committed to it.
When I read those words I remember feeling that maybe, just maybe, it was possible if I gave it a try. Within a few hours the Commonwealth Secretariat sent me A Guidance Note and tools for the preparation of Grenada’s National Report and a Working Table of Grenada’s UPR recommendations in thematic order.
With that information, I was able to pull together an action plan and suddenly I didn’t feel alone anymore. I was now on a mission to help reassure my colleagues who were also doubtful that the report was possible. Our first step was to reconstitute the National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights (NCCHR), a multi-stakeholder group responsible for leading the process of implementation and follow-up of the last UPR. With the Christmas vacation quickly approaching, the Commonwealth’s efforts were sterling in helping us pull together an action plan that allowed us to collect the required information to write the report.
On 9 January 2015, 11 days before the report was to be presented in Geneva, the Committee met and the information was collated. During the drafting process it felt like the Commonwealth Secretariat’s adviser was in the room with me, because whenever I sent a “help, please call” e-mail, my phone rang within minutes to answer my questions and alleviate my concerns.
At last! The first draft was completed and submitted to Cabinet for consideration and approval. Our Cabinet heeded the need for urgent consideration and the report came back with the stamp of approval.
But the Commonwealth’s assistance did not stop with the preparation of the report. They put me in touch with a representative from the OHCHR who funded my travel to Geneva. Our delegation received assistance in selecting appropriate accommodation and airport transfers. They also provided sample opening statements to be delivered at the Review. The Commonwealth Small States Office became Grenada’s mission to the UN in Geneva during our delegation’s stay.
Now the Commonwealth Secretariat is helping us implement the recommendations accepted during our last review. It has heeded our request for support in establishing a National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) and is helping us improve on our commitments to treaty bodies by submitting outstanding reports.
In 2016, the Commonwealth helped us organize the first consultation to establish the NHRI. We will also benefit from a regional Caribbean best practice platform initiative on treaty body reporting and UPR scheduled for the first quarter of 2018.
I am truly inspired by the technical human rights expertise and assistance provided by the Commonwealth Secretariat. I am appreciative of the frank and respectful manner in which our engagements take place. When I feel overwhelmed, I am comforted knowing that they are only a phone call or an e-mail away and I am always, always assured of help. I feel very much a part of the Commonwealth family and I would like to place on record, the gratitude of the Government and people of Grenada for all the assistance received from the Secretariat. I look forward with great anticipation to greater collaboration in the future.