Human Rights history: a journey through the past 20 years

In 2013, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights marks 20 years since its establishment.

It was 20 years ago, on 20 December 1993, when the General Assembly voted to create the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, acting on a recommendation from delegates to the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna earlier the same year.

On 5 April 1994, José Ayala-Lasso, an Ecuadorian lawyer and diplomat, became the first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

As part of the activities to mark its 20th Anniversary, the UN Human Rights Office launched today a special website and a timeline of key events in the human rights field in the past 20 years, from the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on 25 June 1993 through Human Rights Day 2013.

The website boasts a colourful design and features background information about the World Vienna Conference in 1993 and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which called for the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It provides information on special events planned all over the world to celebrate the 20th Anniversary and Human Rights Day 2013 and it offers easy access to tools and promotional material.

Other functions include a list of 20 of the many important human rights achievements that have been accomplished since the Vienna Conference, videos, messages and feature stories.

A new interactive feature of the website is the interactive timeline that outlines major milestones in a number of critical human rights areas.

The timeline places particular emphasis on the core international human rights instruments (and their dates of entry into force), declarations and programmes of actions, key conferences, the appointments of the High Commissioners and the establishment of the mandate of thematic human rights experts.

Each key event is illustrated by audio visual material, feature stories or media content related to that specific issue. This list is not exhaustive but attempts to put focus on some of the most significant achievements in the field of human rights over the course of the past two decades.

Please check the website at and the timeline at

As part of the 20th anniversary activities, the Office also produced a promotional video to highlight some of the historic human rights events of the past 20 years, successes, challenges and looking forward at the road ahead - for human rights.

The United Nations General Assembly created the mandate of High Commissioner for the promotion and protection of all human rights on 20 December 1993. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA booklet - PDF), adopted by the World Conference, marked the beginning of a renewed effort in the protection and promotion of human rights and is regarded as one of the most significant human rights documents of the past quarter century.

11 October 2013

See also