Vienna + 20 conference
„Vienna + 20“: High level Conference on human rights
27 – 28 June 2013
‘When we come here, we are not celebrating history. We are talking about a blueprint for a magnificent construction that is still only half built. It is essential that we view the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action as a living document that can and should continue to guide our actions and goals.’
– High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
Opening ‘Vienna + 20: Achievements, Challenges and Perspectives’
On 27-28 June 2013, over one hundred human rights experts convened in Vienna at the ‘Vienna + 20 high level conference’ to take stock of key achievements since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) in 1993; pinpoint current challenges; and present best practices in the promotion and protection of human rights at the national, regional and international level.
|ICC Chair Adv. Lawrence Mushwana and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay|
The conference was organised by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs in cooperation with the OHCHR; Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for human rights; and the European Training and Research Centre for Democracy and human rights of the University of Graz.
Participants included representatives from OHCHR; UN institutions; regional/sub-regional/national human rights institutions; human rights defenders; independent human rights experts from civil society and academia; government representatives; Special Procedures mandate holders and UN treaty bodies.
The ICC was represented by ICC Chair Adv. Lawrence Mushwana, ICC Secretary Professor Alan Miller and Assistant ICC Geneva Representative Sarah Pallesen. The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria, Commission Nationale des Droits de l’Homme de la Mauritanie, National Human Rights Commission of India, Conseil Consultatif des Droits de L’homme du Maroc and Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte also attended the conference.
In her opening address High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (High Commissioner) noted that the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights ‘provided a significant boost to the important system of NHRIs, now to be found in 103 countries, of which 69 enjoy A status.’
“I believe this 20th anniversary provides us with a very important opportunity to go back to Vienna in order to rediscover the way forward”, said the High Commissioner.
The programme was divided into three segments: a panel discussion on ‘the legacy of the World Conference on Human Rights’; an expert panel on ‘Vienna + 20: the way forward’ and working groups focused on three key areas (a.) strengthening the rule of law; (b.) realising women’s human rights; and (c.) constructing a human rights-based approach for the post-2015 development agenda when the UN Millennium Development Goals programme concludes.
Working Group 1: Strengthening the rule of law: The right to an effective remedy for victims of human rights violations
|ICC Chair Adv. Lawrence Mushwana|
The ICC Chair participated in Working Group 1 on ‘strengthening the rule of law: the right to an effective remedy for victims of human rights violations’. The Group examined existing opportunities for individuals to pursue grievances and the relationship between the operation of human rights structures and international criminal justice system.
The Group considered the concept of a World Human Rights Court – a proposal debated in the human rights community over many decades.
In his address to the Group, the ICC Chair highlighted the instrumental role Paris Principles compliant NHRIs can play in enhancing the rule of law in cooperation with civil society organisations (CSOs) and non-governmental organisation (NGOs).
‘NHRIs and CSOs/NGOS can make joint submissions before courts, appear as amicus curiae before courts or judicial commissions, and work to ensure accountability for human rights violations’, said the ICC Chair.
The ICC Chair urged NHRIs who do not have a direct mandate or resources to provide a remedy in individual cases to use their broad mandates to ensure the right to a remedy is realised at a broader level.
The Group rapporteur in turn underscored the need to ensure that NHRIs enjoy better access to UN mechanisms and encouraged UN member states to establish and strengthen NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles.
Working Group 2: Realising Human Rights of Women Universally: Tackling the Implementation Gap
Assistant ICC Geneva Representative Sarah Pallesen represented the ICC in Working Group 2. The Group focused on making substantial contributions to defining necessary next steps in order to bridge the implementation gap and to improve the lives of women globally.
Key challenges addressed included: political will to invest in gender equality in times of economic crisis and the integration of gender perspectives – at international, regional, national and local levels and into all policies.
The Assistant ICC Geneva Representative asserted that NHRIs can play a key role in mainstreaming women’s human rights by virtue of being natural partners of the UN and a bridge between governments and civil society.
The Assistant ICC Geneva Representative affirmed NHRIs’ commitment to give priority to women’s political and public participation; advancing women’s economic and social rights; responding to violence and discrimination against women and girls; and addressing women’s health and reproductive rights as reflected in the Amman Declaration and Programme of Action.
She recommended that the Group’s outcome document call on all relevant stakeholders to cooperate in ensuring the effective implementation of the Amman Declaration and Programme of Action.
In its conclusions, the Group said the time is now to insist that Governments and other duty bearers comply with formal obligations to promote, respect and protect the human rights of women. It underlined the importance of ensuring young women and girls participate in key decisions affecting their lives.
Working Group 3: Mainstreaming Human Rights: A human rights based approach for the post-2015 development agenda
The ICC Secretary participated in Working Group 3 on ‘mainstreaming human rights: a human rights based approach for the post-2015 development agenda’. The Group examined how the post-2015 framework can ensure that human rights principles such as equality, non-discrimination, participation and accountability will be consistently taken into account in all development measures.
The ICC Secretary emphasised that as independent bodies with broad mandates and core functions in line with the UN Paris Principles, NHRIs are well positioned to shape, implement and ensure accountability in the post 2015 development agenda.
In its concluding statement, the Group called for increased protection of human rights defenders; access to justice and remedy for all on an equal basis; recognition of the role played by NHRIs and civil society; and rejected any questioning of the universality of human rights principles on the basis of traditional or cultural values.
Vienna + 20: Strengthening the Human Rights Movements Globally
A well-attended NGO conference preceded the high level conference on 24 - 25 June, 2013.
The outcome declaration, welcomes ‘the impetus that the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action has given to the establishment of National Human Rights Institutions within States’.
On the issue of torture, cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment the declaration acknowledges the emergence of national preventive mechanisms but raises concern about lack of the independence, resources and effectiveness of these mechanisms.
In their conclusions presented to the high level Vienna + 20 conference, civil society representatives called for a World Conference on Human Rights in 2018.
20th Annual Meeting of Special Procedures
Also preceding the high level conference was the 20th Annual Meeting of Special Procedures on 25 June 2013.
Key challenges and areas of concern flagged by Special Procedures mandate holders include:
• Insufficient implementation and follow up to their recommendations, lack of cooperation with them and paucity of resources;
• Low level of NHRI engagement at HRC sessions in relation to the adoption of country mission reports; and
• Declining influence of NHRIs in relation to their governments and the merging of roles between NHRIs and CSOs.
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekkagya recommended for NHRIs to:
• Include in their annual reports recommendations by Special Procedures mandate holders with a view to ensuring wide dissemination thereof; and
• Establish focal point or an entity dedicated to human rights defenders with specific attention to groups of defenders at particular risk such as women defenders and those working for women’s rights and gender issues.
In his address, the ICC Secretary asserted the importance with which the ICC regards its relationship with Special Procedures mandate holders and the invaluable contribution Special Procedures make to protect human rights on the ground.
The ICC Secretary reasserted the ICC’s commitment to assist NHRIs bridge the gap between national and international human rights platforms.
‘The ICC is specifically focused on encouraging NHRIs to take advantage of the strengthened opportunities for engagement in particular with the Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures,’ said the ICC Secretary.
The NHRIs of Mauritania and Morocco also took the floor and shared experiences on how their work at country level seeks to reinforce that of Special Procedures mandate holders.
A side-event on ‘European austerity policies – potential impact on the realisation of economic, social and cultural (human) rights’ was organised by the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (EN-NHRIs) in cooperation with Anti-Poverty-Network Austria, FIAN Austria, and the Austrian Forum ESC-Rights on 27 June, 2013.
ICC Secretary Alan Miller and Deputy Director of the German Institute for Human Rights Michael Windfuhr participated as panellists.
The event analysed the impact of policy changes introduced as a result of austerity measures on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights in Ireland, Spain and Greece.
Background and outcome documents, speeches and presentations are accessible below on this page.