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UN Human Rights Council
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Human Rights Council, as the custodian of universal human rights standards, has a
central responsibility in the worldwide promotion and protection of human rights. Victims
from all over the world look to this Council and its mechanisms for recognition of their plight, for assistance to ease their suffering and for justice as the best response to prevent future violations and abuse.
The Council has recently given proof of its ability to act in real time on human rights
emergencies. The Special Sessions on Libya and Syria, in addition to the creation of a country mandate to monitor the human rights situation in Iran, stand testimony to this effect. In all of these situations the Council gave a clear and unequivocal message that the international community will not tolerate excessive and indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population. Violations have to be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators must be held accountable. Now we have to translate words into concrete action.
However, more needs to be done. There are other situations which require the urgent attention of the Council. As was highlighted by the High Commissioner for Human Rights last week, the situation in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan is of serious concern. Continuous monitoring of the human rights situation on the ground will be of utmost importance, as are comprehensive investigations into reported crimes by all sides. The world is expecting the Human Rights Council to take a clear stance on this situation and to make its contribution to a sustainable peace in the region.
Since this is the first membership of Austria at the Human Rights Council allow me to express my sincere gratitude for the overwhelming support for our candidature and to offer our full cooperation with all Council members.
Let me now briefly outline some cornerstones of our human rights policy: Austria is proud of its long-standing record of active engagement to ensure the protection of human rights and has been consistently engaged in advancing universal human rights within the framework of the United Nations: Austria served as a member to the Commission of Human Rights for several terms and has actively participated in the work of the Human Rights Council as observer since its establishment.
The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and several follow-up conferences
are further examples of our commitment. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
served as basis for the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights and remain of pivotal importance today.
We will continue this active engagement for human rights as a member of the Council. The
following principles shall guide us in this endeavour:
First and foremost, the promotion and protection of human rights is a core priority of
Austria’s foreign policy. Austria fully shares the view expressed by Secretary General Kofi
Annan in 2005 that, I quote “humanity will not enjoy security without development, it will not enjoy development without security, and it will not enjoy either without respect for human rights”.
Second, Austria is a strong supporter of the United Nations treaty bodies, the Special
Procedures of the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These mechanisms make a difference to victims on the ground. Full cooperation with these mechanisms as well as implementation of their recommendations is of utmost importance. Austria has extended a standing invitation to all Special Procedures and regularly presents its periodic reports before the treaty bodies.
Third, Austria’s engagement in multilateral fora on human rights has always been guided by a spirit of cooperation and dialogue. Austria remains committed to working with all other nations in an open and transparent way and to promote a culture of cross-regional cooperation in addressing human rights issues and concerns. At the Human Rights Council, Austria acts as main sponsor of resolutions on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities, human rights in the administration of justice, and the human rights of internally displaced persons. Over the years, all these resolutions were adopted by consensus and benefited from broad co-sponsorships across all regions.
Finally, Austria strives to be coherent in terms of our human rights policy at home and
abroad. Austria is a party to all major international human rights treaties. The European
Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into the Austrian constitution; the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are directly enforceable. Austria is fully cooperating with international and regional human rights monitoring bodies. The Austrian Government is in regular dialogue with Austria’s highly active civil society, especially in the follow-up of the UPR process which is taken very seriously. We consider the UPR a useful tool to further improve human rights standards at the national level. Austria is also committed to strengthening human rights institutions within the EU and hosts the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, which provides extensive expertise and advice to the EU and its member states.
Austria is concerned by a worldwide increase in attacks against journalists. Despite clear legal obligations many journalists are threatened, detained or forced to leave their country. The increase in targeted killings of journalists is of particular concern. Impunity for those responsible for attacks constitutes the biggest obstacle for the effective protection of journalists. From both a human rights perspective as well as a democratic and rule of law point of view, attacks against journalists are an especially deplorable form of violence. Independent reporting of journalists is an essential requirement for the freedom of the media, which is considered a cornerstone of any democratic state based on the rule of law. Important initiatives to strengthen the protection of journalists are already underway, such as at UNESCO or the OSCE. More needs to be done to consolidate our efforts. The Human Rights Council has an important role to play in this respect.
Austria is also committed to contributing to the respect of freedom of religion and belief. We are deeply troubled by recurring incidents of attacks against religious minorities in all parts of the world and among all religions. It is our firm conviction that interreligious tensions or conflicts can only be solved through dialogue and partnership. Austria will offer her services and expertise at the Human Rights Council, since over the last decade Austria has hosted a number of high-level dialogues between religious and secular leaders.
Child trafficking and exploitation constitute blatant violation of children’s rights.
Unfortunately, they continue to occur all over the world. As a member of the Human Rights
Council Austria will work to address this issue and to help develop strategies which take the best interest of the child into account in all situations. Finally, racism, xenophobia and intolerance on grounds of ethnic origin, gender, age, sexual orientation or religion is an ongoing challenge and of concern to all of us. Austria is aware of its specific historic responsibility and is committed to the fight against xenophobia, anti-
Semitism, discrimination against Muslims and all other forms of racism and intolerance. In
our current government programme, we have committed ourselves to a series of measures to enhance the protection against racism and discrimination, including a commitment to the implementation of the EU Framework Decision against Racism and Xenophobia as well as the recommendations of the UN-Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination. Austria is a strong advocate for comprehensive solutions against racism, discrimination and intolerance at the United Nations and will therefore continue to be actively engaged with all UN-processes in this area.
Let me conclude by reiterating Austria’s firm commitment to human rights and to the rule of law. We are looking forward to contributing to the continous improvement of human rights worldwide in partnership with the other members of the Human Rights Council. What counts, in the final analysis, is implementation on the ground. Rest assured that Austria, together with its EU partners, will continue to support the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her field activities.
I thank you for your attention.