AFTERNOON - Human Rights Council Starts General Debate on Follow-Up To and Implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Meeting Summaries

The Human Rights Council this afternoon started a general debate on its agenda item eight on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

In the general debate, many speakers said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action signified the collective aspiration to promote universal respect for human rights and human dignity, without any distinction.  It touched on all aspects of the Council’s human rights work, from strengthening the United Nations machinery to the rights of migrants, indigenous peoples, children, freedom from torture, and racial and religious discrimination.  Thirty years after its adoption, much progress had been made in advancing universal respect for human rights.  At the same time, the world was far from meaningful fulfilment of the Vienna spirit.

The rising inequalities within and among nations, especially in the backdrop of multifaceted crises facing the globe today, was one such challenge.  While much progress had been made in the past 30 years, the world was confronted with new and persistent challenges that were intricately interconnected, demanding unwavering dedication to the principles outlined in the landmark document that was the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  For instance, there was erosion of human rights in various parts of the world, with growing restrictions, both online and offline, on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence against marginalised and vulnerable groups persisted, and authoritarian regimes continued to silence dissenting voices.  Global poverty had risen for the first time in 20 years, and COVID-19 had reversed gains in the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.  New technologies encompassed both opportunities and threats to human rights.  In the face of these challenges, it was crucial that the international community recognise the unifying force of human rights.

Despite being unanimously recognised as a separate human right in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by all States, a speaker noted the existence of highly divisive international discourse and attempts to misinterpret the concept of the right to development.  There was a need to reinvigorate the implementation of the right to development as an inalienable human right.  In order to effectively implement the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the international community should redouble its efforts to resolve longstanding international conflicts and disputes and address related human rights and humanitarian crises around the world.

Some speakers remained concerned over the alarming rise in incidents of religious hatred and, particularly, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.  The denial of the right to self-determination was also a violation of human rights.  Today's global challenges necessitated global solutions, and the genuine commitment to human rights would serve as a common foundation upon which to construct these solutions.

In many parts of the world, violence against women and girls persisted, and gender-based violence was committed with full impunity, some speakers said.  Thirty years after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, pushback against gender equality and women’s empowerment continued globally.  All Governments should protect and promote the rights of women and girls.  This was not only beneficial to half of humanity, but to humanity as a whole.

The responsible use of government surveillance technologies should aim to respect human rights law, and mitigate obverse human rights impacts.  Such tools should not be used in an arbitrary or unlawful manner to curb freedoms of expression, privacy and association.  Governments should take steps to make the use of these technologies lawful, and establish safeguards that applied to the handling and disclosure of information obtained using these technologies in respect of human rights law.  Other safeguards included fostering transparency, oversight and accountability; and mitigating unintended bias in the use of these tools, a speaker said. 

The world today faced a mounting climate crisis that knew no boundaries or borders, with the devastating effects of rising sea levels, devastating droughts, and unprecedented heat waves.  The urgent need for climate cooperation had never been more apparent or more important.  This was a global challenge that demanded global unity, solidarity and inclusivity; collaboration must be at the heart of the collective response.  Multilateral cooperation was more important than ever, and the international community must continue to collaborate, contribute and compromise to tackle its greatest shared challenges.  Climate change was a common threat, and all must unite to combat it, a speaker urged.

As populations aged around the world, the unsustainability of social protection policies and age-based discrimination had become crucial and pressing issues that required addressing by all countries, a speaker said, adding it was time to address the difficulties faced by older persons in accessing social protection, ensuring that no one was left behind.  There must be full coverage and multi-tiered systems that were equitable and sustainable, meeting the growing and diverse needs of older persons for high quality care and support.  There must be care and support systems that were accessible for all, and these must be diversified to give older persons a greater sense of contentment, fulfilment and satisfaction.  Age-friendly policies and measures needed to be improved continuously, enabling older persons to have fulfilling lives in their later years.

Since 1993, 45 United Nations Member States had decriminalised consensual same-sex acts between adults, a speaker said, noting that in 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council took a decisive step by establishing the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Over the last seven years, the work of this mandate, together with many other Special Procedures, had been crucial to helping Member States in combatting violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  However, all around the world, there was still not equal rights for all, with a rise in hateful rhetoric and acts against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  There was also a rise in attempts to roll back or undermine the human rights and protections of this group as well as measures aimed at shrinking the space for their organizations to function.

On this anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, speakers reaffirmed their commitment to the universality of human rights, which could only be fully realised in a world free from violence and discrimination of any kind.

Speaking in the general debate were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, United States on behalf of a group of countries, Ukraine on behalf of a group of countries, United States on behalf of a group of countries, Morocco on behalf of a group of countries, Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Spain on behalf of the European Union, Venezuela on behalf of a group of countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Libya on behalf of the Arab Group, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, Finland on behalf of a group of countries, South Africa of behalf of a group of countries, Canada on behalf of a group of countries, Cuba on behalf of a group of countries, Qatar, Malawi, United States, Lithuania, Georgia, Luxembourg, China, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Cuba, Algeria, Gambia, India, Bolivia, Sudan, Germany, Ukraine, Iraq, International Development Law Organization, Bahrain, Israel, Armenia, Austria, Colombia, Egypt, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Venezuela and Afghanistan.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-fourth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 5 October, when it will continue with the general debate on its agenda item eight on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on the various drivers, root causes and human rights impacts of religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.


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