Human Rights and Human Security
The support of human rights is a core concern of Austria’s foreign policy
Austria is an emphatic and avowed proponent of the universality of human rights, as confirmed by all states at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. Austria strives to promote the strengthening of human rights standards and mechanisms within the United Nations and their adaptation to new challenges.
Focuses of the Austrian commitment are promotion of Women’s Rights, protection of the Rights of the Child, especially children in armed conflicts, support of human rights defenders, abolition of the death penalty, combating racism and trafficking in human beings, protecting minorities, and human rights education. Austria protects human rights in its Constitution and in numerous individual laws.
Austria regards the United Nations (UN) as the leading body in the definition of international human rights standards. It supports the work of the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and actively fosters worldwide improvements in human rights within the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. Thematic Austrian focuses include in particular the human rights of internally displaced persons, the rights of minorities, and human rights in the administration of justice, especially juvenile jurisdiction. Austria regularly introduces resolutions on these topics in the HRC and the Third Committee. Work in the first year of the HRC’s existence was devoted to the development of its instituions. The commitment of Austria will be aimed now at ensuring that these new institutions work effectively. The start of the Universal Periodic Review in spring 2008 is an important step. Austria is due to undergo this comprehensive human rights review in 2011.
Austria is particularly dedicated to the integration of human rights in all UN working areas, programmes and activities (mainstreaming). All conventions of the United Nations have been ratified by the Austrian government. Every person living in Austria therefore enjoys the rights documented in them.
The main agreements are
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
- International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
In early 2007 Austria was one of the first countries to sign the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the International Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities.
The following paragraphs contain more detailed information about the focuses and aims of Austrian human rights policy.
Improving the human rights situation of women is a priority of Austrian foreign policy. Within the Women’s Empowerment Network, co-founded with the US Secretary of State, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik works together with ministers all over the world to strengthen women’s rights. The Network’s aims include combating women’s poverty, strengthening the position of women in post-conflict situations, increasing education prospects for women, and fostering the economic development of women. Following the meeting of the Women’s Empowerment Network organised by the Foreign Minister in Vienna in May 2007, the members met again in New York during the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly in September 2007.
With the declaration of the International Women’s Year in 1975 by the UN General Assembly the UN began its intensive involvement with the situation of women throughout the world. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), established in 1979, is one of the central international human rights conventions. A committee of experts, the CEDAW-Committee, verifies compliance with the Convention by way of country reports. Since 2000, on the basis of an Optional Protocol elaborated under Austrian chairmanship, it also receives complaints by individuals. Austria was one of the first states to agree to the examination of individual complaints by the CEDAW Committee. The sixth Austrian country report from 2004 was examined by the CEDAW Committee in New York on 23 January 2007.
The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993 marked a historic turning point with the explicit recognition of the rights of women as an “inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights”. The acknowledgement and demand that “women’s rights are human rights” culminated in the ambitious results of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. A further milestone was UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on 31 October 2000. This resolution for the first time emphasises the essential role of women in all phases of conflict settlement and peace-building.
Austria is not currently a member of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) but is an active observer and regularly sends a high-ranking delegation to the annual meeting. It also cooperates with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in strengthening women’s rights.
Austrian Commitment to Women's Rights
The term "Violence Against Women" is used to describe acts of violence against women on account of their sex and those that particularly affect women. Traditional violence such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or forced marriage is part of the worldwide phenomenon of violence against women that occurs in every culture, religion and social class - according to estimates, one in five women in Austria is affected by violence.
In its Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) projects Austria therefore supports the prevention of FGM and other traditional practices by financing awareness raising projects in Ethiopia. It also supports the African Union (AU) Gender Office, which combats FGM at the regional level in implementation of the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. In relation to UNIFEM activities, Austria contributed in 2006 and 2007 to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs also endeavours to raise the awareness of Austrian representative authorities in other countries to ensure that Austrians who are forced to marry, for example, can rapidly obtain consular legal protection. Austria also supports ADC projects to combat trafficking in women and girls for prostitution or slave-like work in South Eastern Europe including Moldova. Under the guidance of the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs a National Action Plan has been devised to combat trafficking in human beings, which takes particular account of the situation of women and girls.
Violence against women tends to increase considerably during and after armed conflicts. Flight and uprooting put women in uncertain situations, and sexual violence against women is used as a cruel weapon of war. Austria is therefore particularly active in urging the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). During Austria’s EU Council Presidency in 2006 a checklist for greater involvement of women in EU peace missions was drawn up and adopted by the EU Council in its conclusions on resolution 1325 in November 2006.
On 8 August 2007 the Austrian Government passed the Austrian Action Plan, which contains specific measures for implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) in peace missions, development cooperation and humanitarian aid. The National Action Plan aims at encouraging the involvement of women in peace processes, strengthening preventive measures to combat violence against women, increasing the participation of women in Austrian peace missions, and urging greater representation by women in leading positions in international organisations like the UN or EU. A working group under the direction of the Foreign Ministry will monitor the implementation of the Action Plan on an annual basis.
Rights of the Child
The Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General in 1989 entered into force in Austria on 5 September 1992. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors compliance with the Convention by the parties to it. Austria submitted its second country report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in October 2002 and it was examined in January 2005. The third Austrian country report is due in autumn 2009.
A National Action Plan for the rights of children and juveniles was elaborated with the active involvement of the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs following the General Assembly Special Session on Children in 2002. An initial report on the measures in the National Action Plan was presented in autumn 2007 with account taken of the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The protection of children affected by conflict situations has long been a focus of Austrian human rights policy. On 1 February 2002 Austria ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts (“child soldiers”), which calls for the raising of the minimum age for participation in armed conflicts to 18 years. Austria’s main aims are the establishment of a worldwide prohibition on the recruitment of child soldiers and an uncompromising stance and punishment of those who force children to participate in wars.
At the Paris Conference in February 2007 “Free Children from War”, Austria and 58 other states supported the Paris Principles and Commitments. It also supports numerous projects within its development cooperation on the reintegration of child soldiers and children affected by war. Austria provides psychosocial support, schooling and vocational training.
All Austrian soldiers and police officers participating in EU or UN peace missions receive training in the rights and the protection of children.
The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography was ratified by Austria on 6 May 2004. The Austrian action plan elaborated under the direction of the Foreign Ministry against trafficking in human beings, which was adopted by the Federal Government in March 2007, takes into account the aims of the Convention to protect the rights and specific needs of children in combating the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
The systematic protection of the rights of the child in Austrian development cooperation is explicitly stated in the Development Cooperation Act. Many development cooperation projects are devoted to the protection and promotion of children’s rights or involve children as actors in development cooperation: “Rwanda: schoolchildren – the farmers of the future”; “Albania: combating trafficking in girls”; Northern Uganda: reintegration of child soldiers”; “Moldova: children and juvenile protection programme”.
Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings
Trafficking in human beings is a grave violation of fundamental human rights and human dignity. It is a worldwide problem that has grown to alarming proportions. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people, particularly women and children, are trafficked every year. Trafficking in human beings is increasingly becoming one of the most profitable forms of organised crime. Because of its location in the centre of Europe, Austria is both a destination and transit country.
In order to structure and intensify measures in Austria to combat this scourge, the Human Trafficking Task Force under the direction of the Foreign Ministry was set up in November 2004 by decision of the Council of Ministers. One of the main results of the work of the Task Force is the National Action Plan against Human Trafficking adopted by the Council of Ministers in March 2007. It takes a comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking and includes measures for national coordination, prevention, protection of victims, prosecution and international cooperation.
To deal with the transnational component of human trafficking, an internationally coordinated approach is required. From February 13 to 18 2008, the Vienna based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) together with the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UNGIFT) organised the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking.
The objective of The Vienna Forum was to raise awareness and facilitate cooperation and partnerships among the various stakeholders.
Three overriding themes on human trafficking were addressed:
- Vulnerability: why does human trafficking happen
- Impact: human and social consequences of human trafficking
- Action: innovative approaches to solving complex problems
To view the full provisional agenda, please visit the UNGIFT website
Austria is a signatory to all relevant international legal instruments to combat human trafficking including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, as well as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Protection of Human Rights Defenders
The protection of human rights defenders is a matter of particular concern for Austria and the EU. Many people speak out non-violently throughout the world for the respect and protection of the human rights of others. Because of their commitment these human rights defenders are often persecuted and suppressed and therefore require particular attention by the international community. Austria therefore supported the formulation of EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which were adopted by the foreign ministers of the European Union in June 2004. These Guidelines implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1999.
Austria continues to actively promote the protection of human rights defenders in all bilateral and multilateral forums, e.g. through a policy of intervention on behalf of individuals. Meetings with representatives of human rights and women’s rights group are regularly arranged during visits to other countries by Foreign Minister Plassnik.
Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination
One of the most fundamental human rights principles is the equal dignity and rights of all people. This equality is established in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 7 of the Austrian Federal Constitution. Based on this principle, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, to which Austria is a state party, calls on all states to take concrete measures to combat discrimination against persons on account of their colour or ethnic origin. The 15th to 17th Austrian country reports will be considered by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2008.
Austria actively combats racism within the framework of the United Nations and in other organisations. The UN has organised three world conferences against racism (1978, 1983, 2001). At the third UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, Austria was among the nations to adopt a Declaration and a Programme of Action to combat racism, discrimination and intolerance worldwide.
To implement the Durban Programme of Action the Austrian Federal Government is working under the guidance of the Foreign Ministry on the drafting of an Austrian action plan against racism and xenophobia as a platform for coordination of the various measures already existing to combat racism at the national, regional and local levels.
Austrian Foreign Policy recognises that the protection of minorities is an important guarantee of political and social stability and the territorial integrity of states. Against the background of a domestic ethnic group policy for people living in Austria - based on the Austrian Ethnic Groups Act and a number of other laws and regulations - as well as the long-term protection offered to the German-speaking ethnic group in South Tyrol, Austria has long supported the strengthening of protection for minorities within at the international level. (Picture: Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik with South-Tyrolean Govenor Luis Durnwalder)
In 1992 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities proposed by Austria. The Declaration defines the rights of members of minorities for the first time and mentions specifically article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right of persons belonging to ethnic minorities to practise their own language, culture and religion.
In 2005, on the initiative of Austria, the UN established the office of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, who deals with the concerns of minorities throughout the world and also visits different countries. As part of the reform of the UN, the UN Working Group on Minorities was also transformed in September 2007, again on the basis of an Austrian initiative, into a forum for minorities. For the first time it is possible for representatives of civil society and minorities to participate in the development of strategies and measures for the worldwide protection of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. In addition, the Independent Expert on Minority Issues can include forum recommendations in her report to the Human Rights Council.
Human Rights Education
The effective protection of human rights is dependent on knowledge and awareness of the status of these rights both in the population and also among state decision-makers such as public authorities, police or the judiciary.
In December 2004 the UN therefore established the World Programme for Human Rights Education. In Austria numerous human rights education initiatives have been launched. Human rights education is also a focus of Austrian foreign policy with Austria playing an active role within the framework of the UN and the Human Security Network. During the Austrian chairmanship of the Human Security Network in 2002 and 2003 a manual on human rights education Understanding Human Rights was elaborated by an international team of authors under the leadership of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Graz (ETC Graz). The manual was published by ETC Graz with the support of the Foreign Ministry and has been translated to date into 11 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. It is designed as a tool for teachers and students and offers a useful starting point for an understanding of human rights and violations of them. It is now available to a wider public through online training material on the ETC Graz website.
Since its publication the manual has been utilised throughout the world in human rights education measures. In 2006, for example, it was used in seminars for judges, public prosecutors and police officers in Ethiopia, in a workshop on freedom of opinion and the media in Sarajevo, in a seminar on freedom of the media and press in Beijing, in a training course for human rights observers in Afghanistan, and in a training course for judges from Iraq.
The Human Security Network
The concept of human security was presented for the first time in 1994 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It stands not just for the absence of war and violence in a country but for a much more comprehensive idea of security with the basic human needs at its centre: these include security from violence, but also adequate food, accommodation and health care. The idea is that human security should contribute to peace and wellbeing in the world.
This concept is particularly relevant in conflict and war situations, but also after the end of conflicts, in all of which cases civilians are usually the weakest and most vulnerable. The international human rights system, humanitarian international law and refugee law therefore provide important foundations for human security.
The Human Security Network (HSN), an association of foreign ministers from 13 countries, has set itself the task of promoting the concept of human security as a feature of all national and international policies. The standpoints espoused by the HSN should be fostered above all within the United Nations. There is also close cooperation with academics and civil society. The network arose in 1999 from the successful collaboration between Austria, Norway and Canada with a view to achieving an international ban on anti-personnel mines. The current members are Austria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and Thailand, with South Africa participating as an observer. Greece took over chairmanship in May 2007.
Apart from urging states to accede to the Anti-Personnel Mine Convention (Picture: Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch, President of the Nairobi Summit on the Anti-Personnel Mine Convention, presents a copy of the 2004 Nairobi Declaration) and the International Criminal Court, focuses of the HSN include the control of small arms and light weapons, the promotion of women, peace and security, the protection of children in armed conflicts, questions of humanitarian international law, and dialogue between civilisations.
Austria chaired the Network in 2002/2003. During this time it focused in particular on human rights education as a basic prerequisite for human security. To this end the European Training and Research Center (ETC) Graz elaborated a manual on human rights education entitled - Understanding Human Rights on behalf of the then Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which has now been translated into 11 languages and used in various projects, some of which are supported by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs and Austrian Development Agency (ADA). A further focus of the Austrian chairmanship was the protection of children in armed conflicts. In this context, a strategy paper to strengthen the rights of children in armed conflicts was elaborated together with a syllabus for teaching children’s law to be used in the preparation of the military for EU and UN missions abroad.
Today, the commitment by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs to promote human security focuses above all on
- the further development and improved implementation of the international human rights system and humanitarian international law
- children in armed conflicts and
- combating anti-personnel mines and an international agreement on cluster munitions.
The Network calls for an improvement in cooperation by the international community in the UN Human Rights Council. Together with Japan and the Friends of Human Security, the Network is also involved in the follow-up and implementation of the concept of human security, which was included for the first time in the General Assembly World Summit Outcome document in September 2005.
The most recent ministerial meeting of the Network in May 2007 in Ljubljana continued its consideration of the subjects of children in armed conflict, violence against children and the Austrian initiative of an international agreement on cluster munitions. The main focus of the Greek chairmanship is the effect of climate change on human security.