Response of non-governmental organizations to the Vienna declaration

25 June 1993

Non-governmental organizations attending the World Conference on Human Rights, while welcoming the Vienna Declaration and in particular the commitment it expresses to universality, indivisibility and the inter-dependence of all human rights, nevertheless regret that the Declaration was not bold enough in the areas of promotion, protection and implementation.

In spite of numerous and consistent attempts to sideline NGOs throughout the entire Conference process, nearly 4000 delegates from 1.400 NGOs came together in Vienna to advocate concrete measures in defence of human rights.

This unprecedented gathering demonstrated that human rights are today a vital and essential concern of all peoples. The governments themselves have recognized this.

In their Declaration governments have confirmed that human rights are the legitimate concern of the international community.

Universality, indivisibility and the inter-dependence of human rights can no longer be questioned.

They have acknowledged the essential role of NGOs in the promotion and protection of human rights.

NGOs are pleased that some of our concerns are reflected in the Declaration.

It addresses the rights of women and reflects the hard-fought battle they have waged for their rights.

The Declaration recognizes the rights of children and the necessity of effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The rights of the disabled also have been recognized.

It reaffirms that the right to development is a universal and inalienable human right.

Importantly, the Declaration calls on governments to repeal impunity laws, ensure prosecutions of human rights violators and to effectively redress grievances.

The Declaration also asks that resources for the Human Rights Centre be increased, an essential step in the recognition of the pre-eminence of human rights in the United Nations.

Yet, the Declaration remains a flawed document. It uses weak and vague language and fails to commit goverments individually or jointly to concrete measures for the protection and promotion of human rights.

While the Declaration seems to acknowledge the special place of indigenous peoples by recommending the proclamation of a Decade of Indigenous People, their voice has not been heeded as governments neither recognize their rights as peoples nor countenance their right to self-determination.

Goverments have refused to address the inequality between the north and the south in any meaningful way. They have continued to place the responsibility for debt alleviation on debtor nations without addressing the root cause of inequality and they have failed to take action on the democratization of the development process.

The Vienna Declaration reflects the continuing attempts by governments to shirk their human rights obligations, to always put the state before the people and to avoid the responsibility to account for their past failures to effectively protect human rights. For example:

  • the refusal to commit themselves to universal ratification and the lifting of reservations by an agreed time,
  • the weakening of universality through the reference to historical, cultural and religious backgrounds, and national and regional particularities,
  • the insistence that the primary responsibility for standard setting lies with states,
  • the insistence that the state alone decides the nature of national institutions such as human rights commissions,
  • the refusal to make a positive link between development assistance and human rights,
  • the refusal to allow NGOs access to information related to human rights,
  • the unwillingness to extend adequate protection to human rights defenders,
  • the attempt to restrict the freedom of the media by linking it to national laws used to repress freedom of information,
  • the refusal to provide international protection against "disappearances" including those of children.
  • the lack of progress in the recognition of the right to self-determination of people living under non-democratic regimes engaged in massive systematic and gross
    violations of human rights.

In the field of action, too, governments have demonstrated a lack of vision.

There is no commitment to an enabling mechanism for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The issue of a permanent International Criminal Court is addressed in the weakest possible manner-Governments have failed to agree to establish a High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The proposal to commit 0.5% of overseas development assistance to human rights failed to get any support.

While goverrments have argued behind closed doors, it is NGOs that focussed on the harsh reality of specific violations.

It is NGOs that have put forward concrete proposals.

And it is the NGOs that have pledged themselves to continue their work and that have taken steps to ensure closer cooperation for the strengthening of the global human rights movement.

This position statement has been agreed to by those attending the final plenary of NGOs at the World Conference on Human Rights.

© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version