World Conference on Human Rights, 14-25 June 1993, Vienna, Austria

On 25 June 1993, representatives of 171 States adopted by consensus the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights, thus successfully closing the two-week World Conference and presenting to the international community a common plan for the strengthening of human rights work around the world.

The conference was marked by an unprecedented degree of participation by government delegates and the international human rights community. Some 7,000 participants, including academics, treaty bodies, national institutions and representatives of more than 800 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- two thirds of them at the grass-roots level -- gathered in Vienna to review and profit from their shared experiences.

United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in a message to the Conference, told the delegates that by adopting the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action they had renewed the international community's commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. He saluted the meeting for having forged "a new vision for global action for human rights into the next century".

The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action marks the culmination of a long process of review and debate over the current status of human rights machinery in the world. It also marks the beginning of a renewed effort to strengthen and further implement the body of human rights instruments that have been painstakingly constructed on the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since 1948.

In his presentation of the document to the final plenary session, Mr. Ibrahima Fall, the Secretary-General of the Conference, said that the Vienna Declaration provides the international community with a new "framework of planning, dialogue and cooperation" that will enable a holistic approach to promoting human rights and involve actors at all levels -- international, national and local.

In 1989 the General Assembly called for the convening of a world meeting that would review and assess progress made in the field of human rights since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and identify obstacles and ways in which they might be overcome. The first global meeting on human rights had taken place in Teheran in 1968.

The Conference agenda, as set by the forty-seventh session of the General Assembly in 1992, also included the examination of the link between development, democracy and economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, and the evaluation of the effectiveness of United Nations methods a mechanisms with the aim of recommending ways to ensure adequate financial and other resources for United Nations human rights activities.

From the first of four Preparatory Committee meetings in Geneva in September 1991, it was clear that these were tasks that raised many difficult, sometimes divisive, issues regarding national sovereignty, universality, the role of non-governmental organizations and questions concerning the feasibility, viability and impartiality of new or strengthened human rights instruments.

The search for common ground on these and many other issues was characterized by intense dialogue among governments and dozens of United Nations bodies, specialized agencies and other intergovernmental organizations and thousands of human rights and development NGOs from around the world.

The preparatory process included three key regional meetings, -- in Tunis, San José and Bangkok -- which produced declarations outlining particular concerns and perspectives of the African, the Latin American and Caribbean and the Asian and Pacific regions. In addition, informal meetings in Europe and North America and the scores of satellite meetings throughout the world involved broad spectrums of society made extremely valuable contributions. At the final meeting in May, which ended after an extended session, the Preparatory Committee prepared a draft final document with which the conference, hosted by the Austrian Government in Vienna, began its work and final negotiations.

The final document agreed to in Vienna, which was endorsed by the forty-eighth session of the General Assembly (resolution 48/121, of 1994), reaffirmed the principles that had evolved during the past 45 years and further strengthened the foundation for additional progress in the area of human rights. The recognition of interdependence between democracy, development and human rights, for example, prepared the way for future cooperation by international organizations and national agencies in the promotion of all human rights, including the right to development.

Similarly, the Conference took historic new steps to promote and protect the rights of women, children and indigenous peoples by, respectively, supporting the creation of a new mechanism, a Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, subsequently appointed in 1994; recommending the proclamation by the General Assembly of an international decade of the world's indigenous peoples , which led to the proclamation of two decades (1995-2004 and 2005-2014); and calling for the universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the year 1995. As of today, all countries, except for Somalia and the United States of America, have ratified the Convention. 

The Vienna Declaration also makes concrete recommendations for strengthening and harmonizing the monitoring capacity of the United Nations system. In this regard, it called for the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights by the General Assembly, which subsequently created the post on 20 December 1993 (resolution 48/141). Mr. José Ayala Lasso was nominated by the Secretary-General as the first High Commissioner and assumed office on 5 April 1994.

The Vienna Declaration further emphasizes the need for speedy ratification of other human rights instruments.

"In adopting this Declaration", Mr. Fall concluded in his final address to the conference, "the Member States of the United Nations have solemnly pledged to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and to undertake individually and collectively actions and programmes to make the enjoyment of human rights a reality for every human being."