"GLOBAL STANDARDS - LOCAL ACTION" (Rede nur in englisch)
15 Years Vienna World Conference on Human Rights - International Expert Conference
28 August 2008, Hofburg, Vienna
Opening Statement by
Hans Winkler, State Secretary for European and International Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen,
it is a great pleasure to welcome all of you here in Vienna at the opening of the conference "Global Standards - Local Action, 15 Years after the World Conference on Human Rights". I am grateful that so many of you followed our invitation to come together to reflect on key challenges we are facing today in this 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It is my hope that this conference will make a thorough assessment of major developments and challenges in the realisation of human rights worldwide and identify concrete strategies and policies on how to address them.
In 1993, the international community assembled here in Vienna for the World Conference on Human Rights. A total of more than 7000 participants, among them representatives of 171 governments and of more than 800 NGOs, attended the two weeks conference not far from here at the Austria Center, next to the UN Headquarters in Vienna. The decision to convene the conference was inspired by the end of the East-West conflict. It was felt that with the fall of physical and ideological walls, the moment was right to draft a common platform for reinforced action for the promotion and protection of human rights.
The negotiations at the World Conference centered on a number of issues which remain key challenges today: the universality of human rights and the question of how to deal with traditional or religious particularities; the question of sovereignty; the role of civil society. On these and many other questions, the "Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action" provided clear answers and commitments of all States which are as relevant and important today as they were then.
The VDPA reaffirmed the universality and indivisibility of all human rights. While it acknowledged that the significance of national or regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it emphasized the duty of all States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Governments also agreed that the situation of human rights in any country is "a legitimate concern of the international community".
The VDPA contains important undertakings and commitments of States on a broad range of human rights issues - from the rights of minorities and persons with disabilities to the promotion of democracy and development and the fight against racism and torture. The VDPA was a milestone in putting the human rights of women and girls on the international agenda as an integral part of universal human rights.
The VDPA also led to the strengthening of the UN human rights machinery, most significantly the establishment of the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since its inception 15 years ago, the Office has developed into a global voice for human rights, with a broad range of activities, in particular at field level, to support the realisation of human rights.
I welcome all those here today, who played a key role in making the 1993 conference a success and who worked to translate its outcome into reality.
today, 15 years later, we have to ask ourselves whether the promises and commitments of the Vienna conference were met. Certainly, important progress can be observed. Many States undertook serious efforts to improve their human rights performance, including through the establishment or strengthening of national human rights institutions. A number of significant steps were taken to further complement and complete the body of international human rights standards as indicated in the VDPA, e.g. the Convention against Enforced Disappearances , the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the individual complaints procedure under the CEDAW Convention, or the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Far-reaching developments occurred when it comes to the responsibility of Governments to protect their own populations and the accountability of individuals for serious human rights violations.
Many people in all parts of the world felt emboldened and encouraged by the promise of the VDPA and stood up for their rights. They often did so against considerable risk and sacrifice. Many of those present here today can testify to this.
But also today, human rights remain a distant aspiration for many; they continue to be violated in all parts of the world. Consider women’s rights: we hear daily reports of discrimination and violence against women. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten or abused. Many become victims of human trafficking. In conflict situations, sexual violence against women and girls is used as a deliberate weapon of war.
We see attempts to build new walls against universal human rights standards: we still hear the argument of sovereignty and non-interference when human rights concerns are being raised. Some argue that they accept their human rights obligations only to the extent that they are considered compatible with culture, tradition or religion. Fundamental guarantees are put into question by some in light of the threat of international terrorism.
We need to deal with these and other challenges and provide clear answers. For instance, Austria has a longstanding commitment to the dialogue of cultures and religions. Over the least years, we have undertaken a number of concrete dialogue initiatives, focusing in particular on women, youth, religious leaders and the media. Our commitment to such dialogue is based on the strong belief that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the common ground on which we stand. We are also convinced that we can succeed in the fight against terrorism only when we stay firm on human rights, in particular the absolute prohibition of torture. It is our clear commitment to welcome the scrutiny of our own human rights record by international human rights monitoring mechanism.
"where do universal human rights begin?" Eleanor Roosevelt famously asked. "In small places, close to home. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere". The implementation and realisation of international human rights standards at local level is, certainly, the key challenge we are facing today. It is also the main theme and purpose of this conference: how can we improve local action based on existing global standards? We hope that the conference will identify the main features and good practice for effective national systems for the promotion and protection of human rights, with a particular emphasis on the role of national human rights institutions and civil society. Another key question is how we can make sure that people know about their rights so that they can claim them. The conference shall assess progress made and develop strategies and methods in human rights education and learning both for the general public as well as for public officials.
While human rights have to be implemented in "small places" at local level, important responsibilities rest with the international community. As we can see from issues like the global food crisis, or climate change, many questions affecting the human rights of people can only be addressed effectively through cooperation among all States. Regional and international human rights mechanisms and institutions also play an important role in providing guidance and support to Governments as to the further improvement of their human rights performance through monitoring and technical assistance. How to improve this work of international and regional human rights mechanisms is, therefore another key question of the conference.
I am confident that over the next two days, this gathering of expertise and experience in human rights from many countries and backgrounds will come up with concrete findings and recommendations. As a contribution to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Austria will present the results of this conference to the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and the ongoing deliberations on further improving the realisation of human rights worldwide.