ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON IMPLEMENTATION OF THE VIENNA DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION

24 September 2013

The Human Rights Council this morning held a general debate on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

In the general debate, speakers reaffirmed their commitment to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.  They said that the integrity of the Council was determined by fidelity to the spirit of the Vienna Declaration.  The Council needed to defend the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.  The protection of civil society and non-governmental organizations was key to the furtherance of the human rights agenda.  Speakers stressed the importance of technical cooperation and capacity building to enable States to better protect human rights. 

Speakers noted that the realization of the right to development was a major issue.  Others stressed that no human being should be denied his or her rights solely because of his or her sexual orientation.  Human rights defenders needed support in their relentless efforts to promote human rights.  Despite the steps taken by many States to implement the provisions of the Durban Declaration and various conventions against discrimination, racism was increasing in several countries.  It was time for the international community to take steps to combat racism and racial discrimination.  New challenges had emerged since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration 20 years ago.  The right to privacy was challenged by digital tracking and surveillance technologies. 

Speaking in the general debate were Lithuania on behalf of the European Union, Cuba on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Slovenia on behalf of Austria, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Switzerland, Ireland, United States, Austria, Maldives, Thailand, Indonesia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, Algeria, Morocco, China, Netherlands, Egypt and the Council of Europe.

The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and the Protection of Human Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Commission spoke.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Lesbian and Gay Association, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Action Canada for Population and Development, International Service for Human Rights, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Press Emblem Campaign, British Humanist Association, International Humanist and Ethical Union, World Barua Organization, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Amnesty International, Liberation, Agence Internationale pour le Developpement, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, Comite Internationale pour le Respect et l’Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples, France Libertes: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, World Muslim Congress, Mothers Legacy Project, Indian Council of South America and Il Cenacolo.

Cuba, China and Egypt spoke in a right of reply.

During its midday meeting, the Council will hear the presentation of the annual report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, including on its missions to Panama and the United Kingdom, followed by an interactive dialogue.  The Council will then hold a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.

General Debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Lithuania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed support for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration.  The protection of civil society and non-governmental organizations was key to the furtherance of the human rights agenda and the European Union regretted and condemned some States’ efforts to silence human rights defenders, intimidate them from working with United Nations bodies, or allow reprisals against them for doing so.

Cuba, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that this group was a regional organization based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as the promotion and protection of human rights.  Its members had reaffirmed their support for democracy based on the rule of law, the right to sustainable development and mutual respect in a holistic and interdependent manner.

Slovenia, speaking on behalf of Austria, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Switzerland, said these States were fully committed to the Declaration of Human Rights’ focus on the right to education and particularly awareness-raising of human rights issues.  In Austria, prison administration employees received compulsory human rights training.  In Lichtenstein the focus was on raising awareness on children’s rights, while Switzerland was involved in human rights education programmes all over the world, as well as in Geneva as the host city of United Nations bodies and intergovernmental organizations.  Slovenia had also been active in human rights training under the “Our Rights” programme.  

Ireland said the integrity of the Council was determined by fidelity to the spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the need to defend the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.  The promotion and protection of civil society space was now more crucial than ever.  Failure by States to promote and protect civil society space undermined not only the Vienna Declaration but also existing commitments and obligations under international human rights law. 

United States said that the Vienna Declaration affirmed that democracy was based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems but clearly individuals could not freely exercise their human rights or fully participate in all aspects of their lives if they were unjustly imprisoned or arbitrarily detained.  One of the most concerning negative trends was the use of these detentions, including against political leaders, lawyers and human rights defenders, and it was condemned by the United States. 

Austria said the Vienna Declaration’s twentieth anniversary gave the international community the opportunity to look at the institutional developments in the field of human rights protection.  States could not ignore the fact that human rights violations continued around the world and that the victims of violations needed continued support.  The tremendous progress of the past was no justification for relenting their efforts in light of the continuing misery.  The persistent implementation gap that divided rhetoric from the realities of human rights protection had to be addressed.

Maldives said that despite numerous efforts, commitments at all levels and millions of dollars spent, basic human rights were still unheard of in parts of the world.  In spite of emerging challenges every day, the Office of the High Commissioner had come a long way, passed many milestones and achieved targets.  It continued to be a beacon of hope for millions of people around the globe.  One of the most important provisions of the Vienna Declaration was its call for equal status and human rights of women.  Maldives encouraged more civil society participation in all sectors of development and integrating a gender perspective into their work.

Thailand said that the integration of the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system was very important.  It encouraged special procedures mandate holders to incorporate a gender perspective when carrying out their respective mandates.  While Thailand called on States to promote gender balance, it stressed the importance of technical cooperation and capacity building to enable States to better protect the human rights of women.

Indonesia said that the commitments made in the Vienna Declaration were more pertinent when the economic condition was still muddling through and the world was still marred with prejudice, suspicion and conflict.  International cooperation based on trust and a genuine dialogue in the field of human rights was essential.  The international community’s endeavours should contribute to stability, not instability; to friendly relations, not suspicion and hostility; and to social and economic development, not fragmented society with stagnated economy.

Venezuela reaffirmed its commitment to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.  The global economic crisis, caused by unbridled capitalism, had resulted in poverty that undermined the human rights agenda which recognised the need for equitable and fair relations between all States.  The world was once again threatened by aggression from the Western powers against sovereign States.  This Council must uphold its remit to advance human rights by peaceful means, recognising their indivisible and universal nature.

Guatemala said the right to food was an inalienable right of human beings. The President of Guatemala had made this a priority under a set of agreements aimed at eradicating hunger.  The Government had chosen the path of empowering farmers and also the nation’s youth in an effort to help them to take charge of their own food production needs under an internationally-recognised roadmap plan.

Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action were recognised by Arab States and this had been formalised through the Doha Declaration issued by the Arab League in 2013.  It proposed the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms under independent Arab mechanisms within the framework of the Arab League, including mechanisms addressing transitional justice and establishing an Arab Human Rights Court.   

Algeria said the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration made it possible to look back at the issue of human rights and reaffirm how dearly States held their defence and promotion.  Today, as the world underwent change and reform it was certainly time to wonder about the conditions for the universal realization of economic and social progress for all.  This was a collective responsibility which had to be shouldered.  The importance of technical assistance and regional and international support that may be requested was stressed.

Morocco said the Vienna Declaration was an important point of reference for States that wished for their citizens to enjoy their rights.  Morocco had mainstreamed human rights and was seeing major strategic and structural programmes take place, including the consolidation of the rule of law.  The global approach to reform of the justice system was based on the concept of justice serving the citizens.  The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had allowed Morocco to engage in continued democratization and modernization of the State structure and society.

China said the international community had to make efforts to promote economic, social and cultural rights and developed countries should do more real work to help developing countries.  The different national conditions should be taken into account and the diversity of human civilization should be respected.  The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action emphasized that the promotion and protection of human rights should follow the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law and not be used as a political tool to interfere in internal affairs.

Netherlands said that the Vienna Declaration provided the obligation for all States to promote and protect all human rights, regardless of their political or economic systems, their national particularities, and their historical and cultural backgrounds.  Therefore, traditional values had to be tested against universal human rights before they could be embraced.  No human being should be denied his or her rights solely because of his or her sexual orientation.  Human rights defenders needed support in their relentless efforts to promote human rights.

Egypt said that all human rights were indivisible, universal and interdependent.  The realization of the right to development was a major issue.  The equality of all citizens before the law had to be enforced to establish a true democracy.  Despite the steps taken by many States to implement the provisions of the Durban Declaration and various conventions against discrimination, racism was increasing in several countries.  It was time for the international community to take steps to combat racism and racial discrimination.

Council of Europe said that new challenges had emerged since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration 20 years ago.  The right to privacy was challenged by digital tracking and surveillance technologies.  The respect for the right to private life included the protection from actions by non-State actors.  The Council of Europe recalled the importance of its Convention on Cybercrime and called for the introduction of an appropriate expert control on technology.

International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights said it was an important year for the international community, marking the anniversaries of both the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions.  These bodies were playing an increasing role across the United Nations system in promoting gender equality and combating policies that discriminated against and violated the rights of women.

Canadian Human Rights Commission recognised the need to include an intersectional approach for gender equality and had developed such a framework.  Using this framework enabled a systematic approach in assessing differential impacts of policies, programmes and decisions.  The Canadian Human Rights Commission offered the framework to the Council as an example of best practice.

International Lesbian and Gay Association said the Council had heard many times about the increased human rights violations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  The increase in people being brave enough to “come out” meant that their human rights needs were ever more prominent.  States and human rights mechanisms must work together with civil society to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said it was disturbing to hear, even at the opening of this session, some States critiquing the High Commissioner’s attention to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons on the basis that these were controversial issues which had no legal basis in international human rights law instruments.

Action Canada for Population and Development said traditional values, which had no agreed definition, had been and continued to be used to justify violations of human rights by States and other actors on the basis of sex, gender, sexuality, ability and disability, among others.  The Council was urged to acknowledge the risks that the rhetoric of traditional values posed to the universality of human rights.

International Service for Human Rights welcomed the affirmation in a draft resolution on civil society space at the Council session of the important role of civil society.  It was however seriously concerned that, at the same time, attacks, harassment, intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders continued around the world and here in Geneva.

Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said that the “Vienna+20 CSO Declaration”, adopted earlier this year, had stressed the primacy of human rights and a deep concern that the primacy of human rights was not yet reflected in the policies of a great number of States.  It expressed concerns that human rights defenders were harassed in parts of the world. 

Press Emblem Campaign expressed its appreciation for the initiatives taken by the Austrian Government to ensure the safety of journalists.  It was concerned about administrative measures taken against journalists and media outlets criticizing policies of the King of Morocco and the increasing number of journalists arrested in Tunisia. 

British Humanist Association said that eight girls died every day as a result child marriage.  One third of Yemeni girls were married under the age of 10.  Child marriage enshrined inequality, denied girls their right to education and development, and subjected them to physical violence.  In developing countries, complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth were the principal cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

International Humanist and Ethical Union said that there had been many gang rapes in Haryana over the past few months, but those incidents did not receive international media attention because the victims were Dalits.  Very few of those cases were properly investigated by the Indian police, and the victims were usually blamed for the rape. 

World Barua Organization said that according to the report of the United Nations Population Fund, two thirds of married Indian women were victims of domestic violence and 70 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 were subjected to rape, beating, and forced or coerced marriage.  India should take all necessary measures to tackle domestic violence.   

Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development expressed concern about the obstacles to development in Sudan caused by unilateral coercive measures taken by the United States against the country in violation of international law.  Plane crashes in Sudan and the inability of the country to deal with recent floods had been due to the situation created by the United States’ unilateral measures.   

Amnesty International said revelations about the nature and extent of communications surveillance by the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries raised serious concerns regarding respect for the right to privacy and other human rights.  Amnesty International urged the Council to undertake discussion about the appropriate balance between privacy and security. 

Liberation said the Vienna Declaration emphasized that one of the most atrocious violations against human dignity was the act of torture.  Liberation was deeply concerned over the persistent use of torture in India by law enforcing agencies, where torture remained endemic, institutionalized and central to the administration of justice and counter-terrorism measures.

Agence Internationale pour le developpement said that Algeria fell short of meeting its international obligations as the Sahrawis held in the polisario-run camps in the Algerian territory continued to be victims of grave human rights violations.  It was a tragedy that thousands of innocent civilians had been held hostage in the Polisario Algerian run camps and that this had been taking place for more than three decades.

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy said that Dalit people in India faced discrimination in access to decent work and health services in India.  The law had recognized the right to own property for women but women could not be land owners in Indian society. 

Comite Internationale pour le Respect et l’Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples said that the Vienna Declaration underscored that all human rights were equal.  The non-involvement of the international community in zones of non-law involved great risks for human rights.  The Council should condemn any misuse of the right to self-determination.

France Libertes: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand said that the Vienna Declaration highlighted the importance of the right to self-determination, especially for people living under colonial occupation.  The right to self-determination was at the heart of the realization of all other collective rights and the Council should support all those who were fighting for their right to self-determination.

World Muslim Congress said that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had been promised their right to self-determination by United Nations Security Council resolutions adopted in 1948 and 1949.  Nevertheless, half a million Indian soldiers and paramilitary forces engaged in systematic human rights violations in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.   

Mothers Legacy Project said that 35 years ago the international community had made a call for human rights in a document emphasizing the right to health.  States had not respected their international obligations in that regard, so it was imperative that the international community cooperate to ensure that people everywhere had access to adequate health. 

Indian Council of South America said that Leonard Peltier, who had been a political prisoner for more than 30 years, was incarcerated without due process or proper evidence.  The Indian Council of South America also protested against the illegal occupation of Alaska, Hawaii and other areas with indigenous peoples, who continued to be subjugated, dominated and exploited.  

Il cenacolo said that thousands of people were held in the camps of Tindouf in Algeria with no real prospect for the future.  As a result, thousands of families had been separated for more than 40 years.  The Polisario separatist movement posed a major obstacle to resolving the problem.   

Right of Reply

Cuba, speaking in a right of reply, referring to the United States, asked what commitment there could be against arbitrary detention by a country that created secret prisons to torture people.  What moral authority did a State have which, despite worldwide criticism, kept the concentration camp in Guantanamo?  How could the United States advocate for liberties and rights recognized in the Vienna Declaration if it did not, among others, declare drones illegal?  Why was it keeping the Cuban Five under detention, held unjustly and in an environment of hatred and revenge?  An end had to be put to these notorious violations of human rights.

China, speaking in a right of reply, said that false allegations were made with regard to China during the general debate under item 8.  China encouraged civil society organizations to operate freely within its legal framework.  Everyone was equal before the law.  The judiciary would deal with whoever had violated the law in conformity with the law.  The United States and others should not interfere into the judicial sovereignty of China.

Egypt, speaking in a right of reply, said that references to Egypt made by one delegation during the general debate were inaccurate.  Egypt had nothing to hide and a side event was recently organized in an attempt to establish an open forum for exchange.  Egypt was particularly disturbed by the baseless allegation of arbitrarily detentions.  It had occurred in the past, but it was not anymore the case.  The interim Egyptian Government was fully committed to a clear road map put in place last July in order to restore constitutional democracy.  Egypt wanted to avoid the mistakes of the past.  An independent fact-finding mission had been established to investigate all allegations of human rights violations.  Egypt remained committed to promote and protect all human rights.  The Egyptian people and the interim Government were committed not to repeat errors of the past.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC13/120E