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Council holds panel to commemorate twentieth anniversary of Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

MIDDAY

25 February 2013

The Human Rights Council held today a high-level panel discussion to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, hearing a video address by Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General. The discussion focused on the implementation of the Declaration and achievements, best practices and challenges in this regard.

In an opening statement, Remigiusz A. Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council, said that with the Vienna Declaration, for the first time, it had been agreed at the international level that all human rights were universal, indivisible and interrelated and that human rights situations in some parts of the world could be the subject of legitimate concerns of the international community.

Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, in a video message, said that the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action two decades ago had advanced the efforts to strengthen human rights work around the world, and had reinforced important principles such as the universality of human rights and the duty of States to uphold them. At the same time, promoting and protecting human rights had been confirmed as a priority United Nations objective.

Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, read out the statement on behalf of High Commissioner Navi Pillay in which she said that the Vienna Conference had marked a new appreciation by Governments and human rights activists of gender-specific human rights violations and a new appreciation of women’s rights, and had raised the issue of violence against women which up to then was largely excluded from human rights discourse. Much remained to be done to curb violence against women, particularly in conflict situations where abusers went unpunished.

Reinhold Lopatka, State Secretary for European and International Affairs of Austria, noted the need to analyze the results of the 1993 Vienna Conference to identify what needed to be done further to strengthen the institutions that would improve the promotion and protection of human rights across the world. Also, in light of current challenges, the international community had to stay firm in its commitment to hold accountable violators of human rights.

Gennady Gatilov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, said that the results of the Vienna Conference had redefined their era and saw the consolidation of the principle of equality among all persons, the true recognition of universality of human rights, and the duty for all States without exception to respect those rights. Its implementation needed to be ensured in a comprehensive manner and by taking long-term measures.

Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, recalled that the basic power of human rights resided in their universal nature, which remained despite differences in religion and culture, even though these had to be taken into account. The real struggles for human rights were not waged amongst cultural families but against the cultural relativism of the powerful. The obligation of human rights flowed from the dignity of each individual.

Speaking as a panellist, Adama Dieng, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General for the prevention of genocide, recalled that only one year after the signing of the Vienna Declaration terrible events in Rwanda and Bosnia had emphasised the urgency to implement the Plan of Action; and that at the 2005 World Summit all heads of state and government committed to the concept of the “Responsibility to Protect.”

Safak Pavey, Member of the Turkish parliament and member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had played a very important role in making discrimination unacceptable and shameful at the level of States. A much stronger challenge than changing laws in compliance with international law was the resistance of traditions.

Carla Del Ponte, Former Prosecutor of United Nations international criminal law tribunals, said that the main achievement in the protection of human rights was the deferral to justice of the most political and military figures responsible for the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Peacemaking and nation-building efforts would neither make peace nor build nations unless they included, from their inception, a justice component to prosecute the worst violations of International Humanitarian Law.

Hina Jilani, human rights lawyer, said that the World Conference on Human Rights had been convened at a critical juncture and had become an important opportunity for activists, academics and civil society actors to interact and bring consistency and rationality to their advocacy. The Vienna Declaration had also contributed to the creation of a protection mechanism for human rights defenders and had reaffirmed the principle of the self-determination of peoples.

Albert Sasson, Special Advisor of the National Human Rights Council of Morocco, said that thanks to the Vienna Conference there were today more than 60 national human rights institutions with statutes which were in keeping with the Paris Principles. Vienna was not just a point of departure, so it was important to think of what more could be done to build on what had been already achieved.

Gustavo Gallón, Director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, recalled that at the time of the Vienna Conference there were still those who cast doubts over human rights but stressed that an acceptable level of protection of human rights had not been achieved; additional efforts were needed to address serious human rights crises, to increase the human rights budget within the United Nations, and to bring together concerns about human rights and security.

In the discussion on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, delegations said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had marked a turning point in the promotion and protection of human rights and was one of the most important human rights documents. Attention should be paid to the rights and freedoms of all individuals, particularly those that were frequently marginalized, including women, children, persons with disabilities, members of minorities, and indigenous persons. Poverty made it difficult for victims of human rights violations to obtain redress and therefore it was crucial that poverty eradication was at the heart of human rights machinery. Political considerations must be separated from the respect for human rights, while the global cooperation on human rights must be based on mutual respect and principles of universality.

Speaking in the discussion were Morocco on behalf of the Francophone Group, Slovenia on behalf of the Platform for Human Rights Education and Training, United States, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Uzbekistan, Mozambique, Iran on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Chile on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, China on behalf of like-minded group of countries and Gabon on behalf of the African Group.

Also taking the floor was the non-governmental organization European Disability Forum and Disabled People International, who spoke on behalf of the International Disability Alliance.

The Council concluded its midday meeting at 3:30 p.m. and immediately resumed its high-level segment.

Opening Statements

REMIGIUSZ ACHILLES HENCZEL, President of the Human Rights Council, in his opening remarks said that the focus of the high-level panel on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action would be on its implementation, achievements, best practices and challenges. The Vienna Declaration was adopted in 1993, when the world community had been riding on the crest of a wave of freedom, democracy and change which had emerged from the Cold War era, particularly the democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe and the end of apartheid in South Africa. For the first time, it had been agreed at the international level that all human rights were universal, indivisible and interrelated and that human rights situations in some parts of the world could be the subject of legitimate concerns of the international community.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, in a video message, said that human rights and fundamental freedoms were the lifeblood of the United Nations and that the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action two decades ago had advanced the efforts to strengthen human rights work around the world. Important principles had been reinforced, including the universality of human rights and the duty of States to uphold them. Promoting and protecting human rights had also been confirmed as a priority United Nations objective. This had led to the crucial decision to create the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose voice had been consistent, clear and resonant wherever and whenever rights were being threatened or violated. There was still a long way to go to translate principles into practice as for many people human rights were but a distant dream. The panel was an opportunity to ask what must be done to ensure that those rights were implemented fully. Only when the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family were truly respected, could freedom, justice and peace be expected in this world.

BACRE NDIAYE, Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, read out a statement on behalf of Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in which she said that the World Conference in Vienna had taken place at a turning point; it had been a time of transformation marked by shifting paradigms and new opportunities. The Vienna Conference had led to lasting achievements in human rights and had forged strong relationships among human rights activists. It had marked a new appreciation by Governments and human rights activists of gender-specific human rights violations and a new appreciation of women’s rights, which had been reflected fully in the outcome of the United Nations World Conference, which called for the equal and full enjoyment by women of all human rights and that this constituted a priority for Governments. A major focus of women’s organizations in the lead up to the Vienna Conference and the Conference itself had been violence against women, an issue largely excluded from the human rights discourse because of its perceived private, non-state nature. Women’s organizations had led the call for the recognition of violence against women as a human rights violation and the shocking accounts of sexual violence in the context of the conflict in the Balkans had bolstered those demands. The recognition of the link between genocide and crimes of sexual violence in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court owed much to the Vienna Conference. Much remained to be done, as discrimination against women persisted, gender stereotypes prevailed, and women and girls continued to be sexually and physically abused and their abusers went unpunished, particularly in conflict situations.

REINHOLD LOPATKA, State Secretary for European and International Affairs of Austria, said that the conference which led to the Vienna Declaration paved the way for setting up independent national human rights institutions all around the world. It was important to analyze the results of the 1993 conference to identify what needed to be done further to strengthen the institutions that would improve the promotion and protection of human rights across the world. Despite progress which had been made in recent years, human rights continued to be violated around the world. In light of current challenges, the international community had to stay firm in its commitment to hold accountable violators of human rights. It was also necessary to address pressing questions such as how to mobilize the necessary resources, what role non-governmental organizations could play, and how to make justice prevail. Mr. Lopatka said that from 25 to 27 June 2013, a conference in Vienna was going to reassess the progress marked during the past 20 years and make a renewed commitment to the protection of human rights.

GENNADY GATILOV, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, said that the results of the Vienna Conference had redefined their era and that it was the Vienna documents that enshrined the protection of human rights, which everyone had to try to achieve. With the Vienna Declaration for the first time in history, they had seen the consolidation of the principle of equality among all persons, the true recognition of universality of human rights, and the duty for all States without exception to respect those rights. As a result, an international standard was obtained which was vital for freedom. The Vienna Declaration promoted respect for human rights and brought together efforts to achieve a common goal. Human rights had the power to unite and had to be used as an instrument to bring all civilizations together. The Vienna Declaration reminded States of their obligation to implement agreements based on international instruments. Therefore, its implementation needed to be ensured in a comprehensive manner and by taking long-term measures. There could be no rapid results but, rather, painstaking and constant work was needed.

Statements by Panellists

STAVROS LAMBRINIDIS, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, recalled that the basic power of human rights resided in their universal nature. The human rights movement provided a legal underpinning and language to wage a battle on the behalf of every individual. The Vienna Declaration underlined that the promotion and protection of human rights was important for the international community. Europe had suffered the experience of two world wars and a genocide, and had brought this experience to the discussion on the Declaration. Today Europe brought the clear notion that the universality of human rights began at home, with the willingness to tackle them with a wealth of mechanisms and with no room for complacency. The European Union was open to both internal and external scrutiny, including through the Council of Europe and the European Human Rights Court, as well as United Nations mechanisms and civil society. Europe was committed to protecting civil society. The universality of rights remained despite differences in religion and culture, even though these had to be taken into account. The real struggles for human rights were not waged amongst cultural families but against the cultural relativism of the powerful. The obligation of human rights flowed from the dignity of each individual.

ADAMA DIENG, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General for the prevention of genocide, said that the Vienna Declaration was one of the human rights instruments which enjoyed broad support from civil society and was an ambitious instrument seeking to achieve concrete results. The duty to protect and promote the rights of the most vulnerable strata of the population required a consistent commitment from the international community. Only one year after the signing of the Vienna Declaration terrible events in Rwanda and Bosnia had emphasised the urgency to implement this plan of action. The establishment of international tribunals and ad-hoc and national courts to prosecute those responsible for international crimes and massive violations represented important steps in the fighting against impunity. Mr. Dieng recalled that at the 2005 World Summit all heads of state and government committed to the concept of the “Responsibility to Protect”, to protect civilian populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This Summit had been a natural development of the 1993 conference that produced the Vienna Declaration, hence Mr. Dieng invited all delegations to accept the challenge of contributing to a world free of atrocities.

SAFAK PAVEY, Member of Turkish Parliament and Member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had played a very important role in making discrimination unacceptable and shameful at the level of States. Over the past two decades developments and changes within the international community had strengthened multilateral human rights actors and procedures. Many countries had accepted human rights as a less controversial issue on foreign policy agendas. However, human rights still provoked political controversy. There had been and still were too many serious human rights violations today that remained inadequately addressed or unaddressed by the international community. Global economic and financial crises, climate change, poverty, gender inequality, growing power and influence of emerging States were all factors likely to have a deep influence in shaping the future development and implementation of human rights as a global issue. A much stronger challenge than changing laws in compliance with international law was the resistance of traditions. There was a need to focus more on cultural campaigns and maybe make that a benchmark for participatory democracy. The focus should be on the implementation of what had already been adopted through education and accountability.

CARLA DEL PONTE, Former Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Law Tribunals, said that the main achievement in the protection of human rights was the deferral to justice of the most political and military figures responsible for the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The creation of the ad hoc tribunals was a great success of international justice. The first generation of international criminal tribunals to try those most responsible for the most serious crimes committed in the Former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda demonstrated clearly that impunity was no longer tolerated by the international community, following the Vienna Declaration. The Yugoslavia Tribunal inspired the establishment of the Rwanda Tribunal, the special crimes tribunals or chambers for Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia, Lebanon, and the permanent International Criminal Court. It also fostered the development of domestic war crimes courts. Peacemaking and nation-building efforts would neither make peace nor build nations unless they included, from their inception, a justice component to prosecute the worst violations of international humanitarian law on all sides, to end the culture of impunity and to make it clear to everyone that no one was above the law.

HINA JILANI, Human Rights Lawyer, said that the World Conference on Human Rights had been convened at a critical juncture in the advancement of the United Nations human rights system. Twenty years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the expectations from the Conference remained as relevant to any assessment of the event as the impact of the Conference on subsequent human rights related developments globally and within the United Nations. The Conference had become an important opportunity for human rights activists, academics and other civil society actors to interact and to bring both consistency and rationality to the advocacy carried out on issues of critical importance. Among the most significant achievements of the Conference had been the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. That Office had had a tremendous impact on the consolidation of work in the field of human rights, on maintaining consistency in the promotion of existing initiatives, and on taking important new initiatives. The Vienna Declaration had also contributed to the creation of a protection mechanism for human rights defenders and had reaffirmed the principle of the self-determination of peoples.

ALBERT SASSON, Special Advisor of the National Human Rights Council of Morocco, said that thanks to the Vienna Conference there were today more than 60 national human rights institutions with statutes which were in keeping with the Paris Principles. The Vienna Conference had triggered the mechanism which allowed the international community to make progress in the protection of human rights. Morocco had followed the movement so well that today it had a national human rights institution which was much more than just an advisory body. One of the main achievements of the Vienna Conference was that the teaching of human rights had been incorporated in the education system, which was fundamental for making children aware of the importance of human rights. Furthermore, the Vienna Declaration had given Morocco the resources to promote and protect human rights. Vienna was not just a point of departure, so it was important to think of what more could be done to build on what had been already achieved.

GUSTAVO GALLÓN, Director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, said that at the time of the Vienna Conference there were still those who had cast doubts over human rights or considered economic, social and cultural rights to be merely inspirational. In an unequivocal way the Vienna Conference stated that doubt could not be cast on the universal character of human rights and the Declaration made it clear that States were responsible for the eradication of obstacles that hampered the realisation of rights. The Vienna Declaration paved the way for additional instruments on indigenous people, women, children, and persons with disabilities. The Vienna Conference also backed the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the most important institutional innovation of the Conference. These achievements would have not been possible without the participation of civil society. An acceptable level of protection of human rights had not been achieved. As a matter of urgency additional efforts were needed to develop effective mechanisms to address serious human rights crises, improve the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, increase the human rights budget within the United Nations, and bring together concerns about human rights and security.

Discussion

Morocco on behalf of the Francophone Group said that this was an opportunity to reiterate the commitment of its Member States to the promotion and protection of human rights. The many achievements of the Office of the High Commissioner, which faced growing and major challenges, were welcomed. Slovenia on behalf of the Platform for Human Rights Education and Training said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was one of the most important human rights documents and drew attention to human rights education and training. These were essential for the promotion of universal respect and observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. United States said that unyielding attention should be paid to the rights and freedoms of all individuals, particularly those that were frequently marginalised, including women, children, persons with disabilities, members of minorities, and indigenous persons. Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group commended the Human Rights Council’s fight against racism and racial discrimination, and urged the international community to generously donate to the Fund to combat racism and racial discrimination. Uzbekistan proposed that a register of best practice be prepared for national institutions as well as a compendium of regional standards and criteria for effective functioning. Mozambique said that in order to live up to the spirit and letter of the Vienna Declaration, there should be continued stepped up efforts aimed at implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Iran on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement said that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had marked a turning point in the promotion and protection of human rights and had reaffirmed the right to development as a fundamental part of human rights. Still, the existing international order continued to be led by exclusivity noted Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and added that political considerations must be separated from respect for human rights. Poverty made it difficult for victims of human rights violations to obtain redress and therefore it was crucial that poverty eradication was at the heart of human rights machinery. Further, global cooperation on human rights was essential and it must be based on mutual respect and principles of universality, said Chile on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group. China on behalf of the Like-minded Group of Countries added that the promotion of human rights must be conducted in a cooperative spirit, with mutually respective dialogue and in line with the principles of the United Nations Charter. Gabon on behalf of African Group reiterated the responsibility of the Human Rights Council in ensuring that decisions made were indeed implemented.

European Disability Forum and Disabled People International, speaking on behalf of the International Disability Alliance, said that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been the first post-Vienna Convention which had laid down the international legal framework to eliminate exclusion and discrimination faced by one billion persons with disabilities; unfortunately, many persons with disabilities in the world today were excluded from development cooperation

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