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Statement by H.E. Mr. Wolfgang Waldner State Secretary for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria
at the UN Human Rights Council – 19th Session,
Geneva, 27 February 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start my remarks by addressing the human rights crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic. The mounting death toll is a source of grave concern for all of us. I am shocked by the reports and evidence presented by High Commissioner Navi Pillay and the International Commission of Inquiry that crimes against humanity have been committed by the Syrian government. I call on the Syrian authorities to immediately end the brutal assault on their own people.
Austria welcomes all steps by the international community to end the suffering of the Syrian people. In this respect, I welcome the appointment of Kofi Annan as Special Envoy on the Syrian crisis. Austria also fully supports tomorrow’s urgent debate in this respect.
It is our duty to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for these crimes. The International Criminal Court should start proceedings against these perpetrators. We support the Commission of Inquiry in the pursuit of its mandate and call on the Syrian Government to provide it with all cooperation and information required. I am pleased to announce that Austria will support the important work of the OHCHR in Syria with a voluntary financial contribution.
Let me turn to some of Austria’s priorities for the work of the Council:
The year 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. We appreciate the work of the Independent Expert on minority issues in promoting the implementation of the Declaration. Austria is proud to be the main sponsor of a panel on 13 March which will focus on achievements, best practices and challenges in the Declaration’s implementation. It will also collect ideas on how to integrate more effectively the rights of persons belonging to minorities into the work of the Council. I would like to invite all of you to actively engage and participate in the discussion.
At this session of the Council, Austria will introduce a resolution on the Forum on Minority Issues. The first four sessions were successfully completed and have addressed the right to education, the right to effective political participation, the right to effective participation in economic life as well as the rights of minority women and girls. We hope for your support to ensure that the Forum remains this unique platform for dialogue and cooperation involving a wide range of stakeholders.
Austria is committed to contributing to the respect of freedom of religion or belief. We are thus deeply concerned about growing discrimination and the rising number of violent attacks against members of religious minorities and their places of worship in many parts of the world. Especially those who have chosen a religion that differs from the majority often face enormous difficulties, sometimes even putting their own life at risk. We thus urgently need to step up our common efforts to make human rights policy more responsive to these pressing needs.
Another source of concern for Austria is the worldwide increase in attacks against journalists. It is unacceptable to see a steadily growing number of journalists threatened, arbitrarily detained or forced to leave their country. The increase in targeted killings is of particular concern. Such attacks constitute a serious threat to fundamental freedoms, democracy and to the cause of human rights as a whole.
Under international law there is a clear duty and responsibility of governments to protect journalists. This is a fundamental pillar of the universal, inalienable right to press freedom.
Impunity for those responsible for attacks is a major obstacle for the effective protection of journalists. The fact that more than 90% of reported cases of abuse remain unresolved speaks for itself. The current climate of impunity is prompting fear and leads to self-censorship of journalists. The Human Rights Council needs to send a strong message to perpetrators who kill, assault, intimidate or lock away journalists: These acts have to stop and perpetrators must be brought to justice.
In this context, Austria organised expert consultations in Vienna last November that resulted in a road-map towards a more efficient protection framework. Let me highlight some of the concrete elements:
1. We need to be more systematic and vigorous in condemning attacks against journalists and violations of their rights;
2. We need to devote more efforts to fighting impunity and to holding the perpetrators of attacks against journalists accountable;
3. We need to ensure better cooperation and coordination among the various international, regional and local actors, including in establishing effective early warning mechanisms;
4. We need to call on all relevant actors to comply with existing standards on the protection of journalists;
5. Finally, we need to ensure full cooperation with existing protection mechanisms, in particular with Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, who play a crucial role in monitoring compliance.
Besides a series of further activities, our ultimate objective is to achieve a substantial resolution by the Council with a view to placing the protection of journalists firmly on the international agenda. In the months to come we will continue to engage in a dialogue with all of you on how to move forward the discussion and ultimately ensure that journalists can report without fear of being attacked, harassed or even killed.
The protection of the human rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is a longstanding Austrian priority in the Human Rights Council. Millions of IDPs are still waiting for durable solutions that ensure full respect of their human rights. Austria remains committed to advance their cause in the Council. At this session, we are looking forward to holding a side-event, together with OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur, on the role of women in peace processes and durable solutions to internal displacement. We are also looking forward to introducing a resolution during the next session of the Council.
The promotion and protection of children’s rights is a key priority for Austria during our membership in the Council. I am proud to announce that tomorrow Austria will be among the first states to sign the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted during the last session of the General Assembly. We are looking forward to soon receive the necessary clarification from the Committee on the procedures it seeks to apply for the treatment of complaints launched under this protocol.
Austria aims at contributing to an increased protection of children from violence and abuse worldwide. It is in the administration of justice where states have a particularly clear duty to set norms in accordance with their human rights obligations and where they must abide by these norms in their application. Unfortunately, in reality, it is in the administration of justice where human rights are often violated. Children are particularly vulnerable. The focus of our resolutions on the administration of justice has thus been on juvenile justice, underlining the importance of restorative justice and rehabilitation as its aims. In January this year we supported the Special Representative on Violence against Children, Ms. Marta Santos Pais, in hosting an interagency consultation on violence against children in detention in Vienna.
In order to further enhance our support to the promotion of children’s rights, Austria is now presenting our first ever candidate to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Justice Renate Winter. Justice Winter has over 30 years of hands-on national and international experience in juvenile justice and child protection, working with State parties from diverse legal cultures on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As an international judge in post-conflict situations, she successfully tackled challenges in the protection of women and children, including the rehabilitation and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict. I am confident that Justice Winter will enhance the high professional standing and contribute significantly to the work of the Committee.
All these initiatives pursue one overriding objective of Austria’s international engagement: fostering the rule of law. It is only through the vigorous pursuit of the rule of law in all countries that a life in dignity and freedom will be ensured for everyone. The recent developments in the Arab world are witness to this fundamental principle.