[Human Rights] HRC/11th Session, Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
Statement by Austria, 16 June 2009
H.E. Christian Strohal, Permanent Representative to the United Nations
We align ourselves with the statement made by the Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union.
The Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 dealt with 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” provides 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. It acknowledged that the significance of national or regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, but emphasized the duty of all States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. “The universal nature of these rights is beyond question”. Governments also agreed that the situation of human rights in any country is “a legitimate concern of the international community”.
The principle of universality is an indispensable and integral part of all human rights. If we treat human rights as a menu à la carte in which every government, group or individual can pick and choose what they like, there are no human rights at all. For decades now there has been a general consensus that cultural or religious traditions cannot be invoked to deprive individuals of their fundamental rights. This is particularly important when it comes to the rights of women. Practices amounting to clear abuses of human rights, such as forced marriages, so-called “honour crimes” or genital mutilation, can never be justified by invoking culture, religion, tradition or custom.
In different ways, we are all facing cultural diversity in our increasingly multicultural societies, and in many ways cultural diversity is as important to mankind as natural diversity is for the environment. Yet, societies are all too often still caught in thinking on the basis of stereotyped identities and along national, ethnic or linguistic lines. Furthermore, the terms “cultural diversity”, “traditional values” or “regional particularities” are often misused for states not fulfilling their human rights obligations they have accepted when ratifying international treaties. These are some of the reasons making us particularly cautious when discussing initiatives that might infringe on that international obligation of states to protect all human rights of all human beings.
We need to understand universality in a way which manifests itself not only at the level of abstract norm but rather in the context of a global order in which the fundamental concerns of all human beings can be asserted as morally and even legally binding on society as a whole.
For the principle of universality to prevail, we must unconditionally accept its most essential dimension – that the rules must be the same – for everyone and at all times.
I thank you.