Vienna, 5 October 2011 – In its first meeting as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Austria successfully stood up for its priority topics: rule of law, children’s rights and protection of minorities. 70 states from all regions supported the resolution tabled by the Austrian delegation on human rights in the administration of justice. The focus of this initiative is on the rights of children in conflict with the law and on the observance of rule-of-law principles in criminal procedures and the correctional system. Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger stressed as a particular success that “the text of the resolution calls upon UN member countries to refrain from prosecuting children under 12 and not to criminalise victims of child trafficking on grounds of their status”.
Together with 66 states Austria filed another resolution on the protection of minorities that demands a public discussion about the world-wide protection of minorities on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration in 2012. The difficult situation of religious minorities world-wide will also play a central role in this. “Austria consistently advocates the rights of religious and other minorities in the Human Rights Council. We plan to benefit from the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to Minorities to move the rights of threatened minorities higher up on the international agenda“, Spindelegger said. The discussion about it will be held at the 20th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012.
The effort to fight impunity – another priority pursued by Austria also at the UN Security Council – brought about an important new tool: Austria together with Argentina and Switzerland filed a resolution to install a special rapporteur for mechanisms of coming to terms with the past after severe violations of human rights. “With this initiative, Austria is making an essential contribution to strengthening the rule of law and justice for victims of serious violations of human rights“, the Foreign Minister said. More than 70 states from all regions supported the installation of a special rapporteur; this will also be the first mechanism available to the UN Human Rights Council for dealing comprehensively with the fight against impunity.
State Secretary Wolfgang Waldner who held the first Austrian speech at the UN Human Rights Council stressed Austria’s efforts to terminate impunity: “Those who are responsible for serious violations of human rights must be brought to justice. Victims and their families are entitled to fair compensation.”
In addition to the above, Austria initiated and organised an informal discussion on the topic of “domestic workers” with a special focus on the problem of exploitation and slavery. Apart from representatives from governments and international organisations as well as NGOs, the special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, also attended the event. The Austrian delegation showed its commitment in a number of negotiations on other initiatives to make the Austrian concerns heard. Austria’s delegate Ambassador Christian Strohal, for example, chaired a panel discussion on issues of tolerance and reconciliation on the occasion of the first celebration of the international Mandela Day.
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