[Human Rights] HRC/16th Session, High Level Segment, H.E. Mr Michael Spindelegger Foreign Minister of Austria
UN Human Rights Council
H.E. Mr. Michael Spindelegger
Federal Minister for European and International Affairs
Madame High Commissioner,
Ladies and gentlemen,
One month ago I stood here before you heading Austria’s delegation to the Universal Periodic Review. Today I am delighted to be back in this very assembly room, having the opportunity to once again underscore the importance Austria attaches to the promotion and protection of human rights both globally and nationally and to the Human Rights Council as the central human rights organ of the UN.
Before sketching you some of our key priorities, let me salute, at the outset, the efforts undertaken by the people and leadership in Tunisia and Egypt to manage a peaceful and swift transition to pluralist democracy – together with our partners in the EU, we are ready to support a process of broad-based national dialogue, preparing for democratic elections, but also of holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable.
The freedom of expression, together with the freedom of association and the freedom of peaceful assembly – they need to be protected by all governments, and not threatened through excessive use of force, such as recently in places like Belarus, Bahrain, Libya and Iran: repression not only violates human rights, but also weakens, over time, state authority.
Austria is proud of its long-standing record of active engagement to ensure the protection of human rights. The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and several follow-up conferences are examples of our commitment. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action remain of pivotal importance today and served as the basis for the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Austria was repeatedly a member of the former Human Rights Commission, has actively taken part in the establishment of the Human Rights Council, and has been constructively contributing to the Council’s work as an observer.
Equally, during our turn as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2009 and 2010, we have aimed to prioritize human rights: We advocated for the strengthening of the rule of law, the protection of civilians in armed conflict and the promotion of the contribution of women as a measure to preserve peace and security.
Also outside the UN system Austria attaches great importance to the promotion of human rights: We host the head offices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe as well as the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, and we work closely with the Council of Europe.
We want to continue this active engagement for human rights as a member of the Human Rights Council. Austria has therefore presented its candidature for membership for the period 2011–2014. Allow me to take a moment to tell you how we aim to engage with the Council and what my government have pledged to achieve if we will be elected to share the responsibilities of a member.
In all our work, we will be guided by a spirit of cooperation and dialogue, engaging with all states, and other stakeholders, in the Council in an open and transparent manner. In order to contribute to the full implementation of the mandate of the Council, Austria pledges to foster a culture of cross-regional cooperation in human rights issues and in problem solving processes – and it is also in this spirit that I have had the honour to join my South African Colleague, HE Maite Nkoana–Mashabane earlier today for the opening of our joint exhibition here.
Austria wants to be an active member of the council. Already as an observer, Austria has been engaged in advancing human rights for minorities, for internally displaced persons, and in the administration of justice. Resolutions on these issues were always passed by consensus. We plan to continue this engagement as a member.
We want to be coherent in terms of our human rights policy at home and abroad. Austria strives to uphold the highest standards in legislation and practice in Austria. We implement the international human treaties we have ratified and we take our commitments seriously. We fully cooperate with international mechanisms, treaty bodies and special procedures, having issued them a standing invitation.
What have we pledged to achieve as members? Let me touch on four key issues that are dear to me and to my country:
Strengthening the rule of law is a longstanding Austrian foreign policy priority. This includes the support of legal reform programmes as well as justice and reconciliation mechanisms. The promotion of international measures in order to strengthen human rights in the administration of justice, and in particular in the administration of juvenile justice, are an essential component of this engagement, as are an active cooperation with the International Criminal Court and international tribunals.
Austria is also committed to a continuous improvement of its own rule of law standards: In addition to already existing norms in criminal law which penalize all forms of torture, the incorporation of an explicit definition of torture in the criminal code and the further improvement of legal protection against torture are currently taken. Legal adjustments to the criminal code in the area of crimes against humanity and war crimes are also currently being developed. Furthermore, we are preparing the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the establishment of a national prevention mechanism.
We have pledged to contribute to the protection of children. To this end, we have just recently incorporated the rights of the child explicitly into the Austrian constitution in accordance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child. In addition, Austria will ratify the Convention of the Council of Europe on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Furthermore, Austria is taking measures in the international fight against sexual exploitation of children in tourism and in the new media, as well as against child trafficking. At the Council we aim to continue our focus on juvenile justice and children deprived of their liberty. We also aim to build on the experience as member of the Security Council Working Group on children affected by armed conflict.
Austria is also committed to continue its contribution to upholding the respect of freedom of religion and belief. Deeply worried by recurring incidents of physical violence and hate speech against individuals because of their minority beliefs in all parts of the world, we want to contribute to harmony between different faith systems. It is our firm conviction that this can only be achieved through dialogue. Over the last decade we have hosted a number of high-level dialogues between religious and secular leaders and we are honoured to host the 5th Annual Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations in 2012. In these activities, particular focus has consistently been laid on strengthening the role of women and the inclusion of young people. In this respect, the promotion of democracy, freedom of expression and assembly as well as the adherence to social, cultural and religious pluralism, including freedom of religion, are of utmost importance to us.
Austria is fully engaged in the fight against racism, discrimination based on race, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and related intolerance on the international and national level and we actively participated in the Durban Review Conference in 2009. On the domestic level, Austria takes concrete measures to integrate migrants as well as to foster intercultural dialogue and awareness-raising against racism and xenophobia among the population. By implementing international treaties and EU directives, the anti-discrimination legislation has been strengthened over the past years. Our Equal Treatment Commission, the Ombud for Equal Treatment and the relevant bodies of our Länder provide for a far-reaching protection against discrimination in employment as well as in access to goods and services. A further priority is the continuation of human rights and anti-discrimination training for judges, civil servants and in particular the police.
I am convinced that this Council is the central actor in the United Nations for the promotion and protection of human rights. In order to live up to its mandate it needs to prove that it is able to respond to urgent human rights situations when they arise. The Review process that is currently underway in Geneva and New York is an excellent opportunity to reaffirm the role and the relevance of the Council in this respect. Let us not disappoint people on the ground who expect us to act comprehensively and in a timely manner.
Work on the ground has taken a new dimension with the office of the High Commissioner. Austria remains committed in its support of an independent and effective OHCHR, and we aim at further strengthening its engagement with the Office also through times of fiscal constraint. Austria shall likewise continue to support the important work of Special Rapporteurs of the Council and that of Treaty Bodies; we advocate the further strengthening of the UPR system.
I have aimed at giving you an overview of the broad, substantive and substantial range of Austria’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights at the global, regional and local level. Austria undertakes its numerous activities and initiatives in close cooperation with an equally broad range of partners at all levels, including other governments, international bodies and civil society. In turn, we hope for your continued cooperation. We will be measured by our results – in this regard, Austria will strive to implement the UPR recommendations we received last month in this very room. We will also strive to continue our contribution to make human rights a reality for everyone.
I thank you for your attention and look forward to our cooperation.