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Human Rights Review

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Follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights, New York 1998

I. Introduction

1. On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. The Declaration's fiftieth anniversary presents an ideal occasion to place its message again at the centre of the international and national agendas, and to make new commitments aimed at fulfilling its promise for all people. 1998 also marks the anniversary of another watershed in the international promotion and protection of human rights. Five years ago, 171 United Nations Member States participating in the World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna unanimously adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. Four sessions of the Preparatory Committee, as well as three regional meetings and hundreds of other pre-Conference meetings had preceded the Conference. In addition, thousands of preparatory documents and position papers, contributions by 95 international organizations, expert bodies, national human rights institutions and approximately 900 non-governmental organizations were considered as part of the World Conference process. The developments of the past five years confirm the overall guidance which the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action has provided to worldwide efforts for human rights.

2. The World Conference on Human Rights requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations to invite, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all States and all organs and agencies of the United Nations system related to human rights to report to him on the progress made in the implementation of the present Declaration, and to submit a report to the General Assembly at its fifty-third session, through the Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council. In addition, regional and, as appropriate, national human rights institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations, were invited to present their views to the Secretary-General on the progress made in the implementation of the Declaration (sect. II, para. 100). The General Assembly, in its resolution 52/148, requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to present the final report on the progress made in the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action to the General Assembly at its fifty-third session.

3. The five-year review of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action is an important part of the follow-up mechanism to the World Conference on Human Rights, which includes:

(a) Consideration by the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights and other organs and agencies of the United Nations system related to human rights, of appropriate measures to fully implement recommendations contained in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action;

(b) The annual review by the Commission on Human Rights of progress made to that end;

(c) Establishment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as the official with principal responsibility for United Nations human rights activities under the direction and authority of the Secretary-General (see Assembly resolution 48/141 of 20 December 1993). The overall mandate of the High Commissioner includes the coordination of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by the United Nations system;

(d) Participation by the High Commissioner in the process of coordinated follow-up to world conferences and summits established by the Economic and Social Council (see Council resolution 1997/61) and the Administrative Committee on Coordination.

4. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) requested all interested parties to submit their contributions to the review process. Reports have been received from the following Governments: Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Peru, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela and Viet Nam. China and Cuba sent their views concerning the review process. The following United Nations bodies have submitted their reports: the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Department of Public Information (DPI), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), the United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention (UNCICP), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Volunteers (UNV), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Contributions have been received from the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States and the national human rights commissions of Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines and Zambia. The 1998 Global Non-Governmental Organization Forum on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Ottawa, 25 and 26 June 1998) submitted its final document as an input to the five-year review. Also, the Dutch section of the International Court of Justice, the Organizing Committee for the International Conference on Human Rights Education in the Asia-Pacific Region (to be held at Osaka, 25-27 November 1998), and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union of Philadelphia sent their comments. All contributions will be available during the fifty-third session of the General Assembly.

5. The reports submitted by Governments in the framework of the present review addressed all aspects of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and reflected both national and international dimensions of human rights. The substance dealt with in the reports can be categorized as follows:

(a) Views of Governments concerning the role of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action: while stressing the need for a balanced approach, the reports usually attach particular importance to some specific aspects of the document;

(b) The presentation of steps undertaken to implement the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action at both the national and international levels;

(c) Overall comments of Governments regarding the international promotion and protection of human rights.

In the light of the available reports, the following positive developments can be highlighted: human rights-oriented changes in national legislation; enlargement of national human rights capacities, including the establishment or strengthening of national human rights institutions; special protection extended to women, children and vulnerable groups; development of human rights education programmes; and adoption of national plans of action.

6. The initial evaluation of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was undertaken by the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-fourth session, on the basis of the interim report entitled "Five-year review of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action" (E/CN.4/1998/104) submitted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Economic and Social Council devoted the coordination segment of its substantive session of 1998 to the coordinated follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (see Council decision 1998/208). The Secretary-General's report (E/1998/60), which was prepared within the framework of inter-agency consultations organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1997 and 1998, provided the basis for discussion. The agreed conclusions of the Council reflect examination of: (a) methods of achieving a system-wide approach to human rights; (b) inter-agency cooperation and coordination to achieve better results in the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action; (c) examples of best practices by the United Nations system in the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action; and (d) areas of responsibility in which efforts should be made to implement fully the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The review carried out by the Council indicates a growing involvement on the part of agencies and programmes in activities relevant to human rights (see also para. 25 below).

7. The World Conference on Human Rights focused specific attention on recommendations intended to strengthen the structural capacities of the United Nations human rights system. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action makes particular reference to the necessity for a continuing adaptation of the United Nations human rights machinery to the current and future needs in the promotion and protection of human rights (sect. II, para. 17). Several steps have been undertaken to follow this recommendation, including the restructuring of the relevant part of the Secretariat. With a view to enhancing their effectiveness, the Commission on Human Rights, in its decision 1998/112, decided to appoint the Bureau to undertake a review of its mechanisms. The Bureau will make its recommendations to the Commission at its fifty-fifth session. A special task force responsible for the analysis of the human rights machinery established within the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) cooperates closely with the Bureau of the Commission. Taking into account these recent developments, the present report will not address this issue comprehensively.

8. Also with reference to the reform of the human rights machinery, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action called for consideration of the establishment of the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights (sect. II, para. 18). On 20 December 1993, the General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution 48/141, in which it created this post. Mr. José Ayala Lasso, the Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations in New York, was appointed as the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. On 12 September 1997, Mrs. Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland, began her tenure as the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Contributions to the five-year review have suggested that the decision of the General Assembly to create the post of High Commissioner could justifiably be considered as one of the most important results of the Vienna Conference.

9. The present report, together with contributions submitted by States, components of the United Nations system, regional organizations, national institutions and non-governmental organizations, presents a general overview of relevant activities, and should facilitate the analysis of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by the General Assembly. In order to obtain more detailed information, the reports of the Secretary-General and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as reports of treaty bodies and special procedures established by the Commission on Human Rights, which as a rule are submitted annually to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, should be consulted. Since the Secretary-General's report to the Economic and Social Council and agreed conclusions of the Council dealing with the United Nations system contribution have been made available to the General Assembly, the present report attaches greater emphasis to other aspects of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, in particular to measures undertaken at the national level.

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