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Human Rights Review

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

XIII. Conclusions

101. The Secretary-General, in his 1994 report to the General Assembly on the follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights (A/49/668), stated that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action undoubtedly constituted one of the major events in the United Nations history of human rights. If adequately implemented, it would be a milestone in this history. It is clear that the World Conference has provided an invaluable service by declaring overall principles and formulating detailed recommendations for action in the field of human rights. The international community can justifiably point to significant steps which have been taken over the past five years at both national and international levels to implement the recommendations made by the World Conference on Human Rights.

102. More than at any previous time in history, human rights today articulate the goals of the international community and confirm its commitments to ensuring a life of dignity for all people. As imperatives for the behaviour of governmental and other authorities in all actions that affect people, human rights have become the common measure for the progress of nations and the wider international community. Rooted in the realm of ethics, human rights today serve not only as legal norms but also as the moral underpinnings of international relations, by placing each individual at the heart of national and international concern. On this basis, the international community should continue to develop a global partnership for human rights, an alliance that benefits all people, in particular those in need and those who suffer under oppression. This alliance, which gained significant momentum as a result of the spirit of the Vienna Conference, is indispensable if the hopes for the universal implementation of international human rights standards in the twenty-first century are to be fulfilled. The contributions of all actors are needed in this integrated effort: Governments and international organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, community initiatives and the media, all have vital roles to play.

103. Although the five-year review was primarily intended to assist in the analysis of the practical impact of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action to date, it serves an even more important role by contributing to the identification of the persistent challenges to the full implementation of international human rights standards that remain in all countries of the world. In view of the input received by OHCHR specifically for the purpose of the five-year review, as well as other relevant United Nations documents, the General Assembly may wish to examine, in particular, the response to the following issues, which have direct impact on the full implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action:

(a) Strengthening the implementation of human rights at the national level: progress in this regard, for which primary responsibility lies with Governments, remains the main challenge. Assistance in meeting it should be fortified by a conducive international climate for the promotion and protection of human rights. Addressing matters of concern for different countries and regions in a balanced and cooperative way has proved to be a constructive method for the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide;

(b) Making the system of international human rights instruments more effective: ratification of treaties, withdrawal of reservations, development of indicators and benchmarks for marking progress in the realization of rights and increasing the impact of treaty-based bodies all remain major objectives in this context. The universal ratification of the six core human rights treaties, including the optional protocols thereto, within the next five years, would not only serve as a decisive step towards a shared international legal commitment to the implementation of all human rights but would also symbolize the international community's willingness to work in a true spirit of partnership to reach common goals;

(c) Giving effect to the principle that human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent: the recognition of this principle was one of the critical aspects of the consensus reached by the World Conference. In order to be fully respected and observed, human rights must be understood, promoted and implemented by the international community also from the perspectives of development, peace and security;

(d) Creating a favourable environment for human rights and human development: the eradication of, inter alia, extreme poverty, famine and illiteracy must be pursued as basic goals of the entire international community. Governments and international institutions bear this responsibility towards present and future generations;

(e) Preventing human rights violations: prevention of mass and grave human rights violations is the way to effectively avert large-scale suffering of people and many conflicts that result in new violations of human rights. To that end, a comprehensive approach for preventing human rights violations should be adopted by States and the international community, including both addressing the economic, social, ethnic and other root causes of conflict from a human rights perspective, maintenance of the rule of law and strengthening of democratic institutions. Equally important, the eradication of racism and mass and gross human rights violations, including summary and arbitrary executions, torture and involuntary disappearance, must be the ultimate end of efforts at international and national levels to ensure respect for human dignity;

(f) Enhancing national capacities, including national human rights institutions, to effectively promote and protect human rights: States should consider establishing and/or strengthening national human rights structures and institutions, as well as utilizing existing programmes of technical assistance to support this process. The international community should provide appropriate resources to that end and ensure their optimal use at the national, regional and international levels;

(g) Taking effective action to address the phenomena that render large groups of people vulnerable: States and the international community should address such problems in a comprehensive and coordinated way;

(h) Ensuring the equal status and the implementation of human rights of women: proactive measures at the national and international level are required to that end. Women's human rights have to be mainstreamed into all relevant policies and activities of Governments. This process should be supported by assistance in the field of women's human rights provided by international organizations, including the United Nations system;

(i) Developing a culture of human rights through human rights education: an ultimate breakthrough in the global promotion and protection of human rights, which should be the overall goal of the United Nations human rights programme in the twenty-first century, will depend upon the empowerment of new generations through active knowledge and understanding of their rights. Human rights education must be at the core of educational systems in all countries worldwide;

(j) Strengthening the role of non-governmental organizations and civil society at large: contribution by this sector has been widely recognized as vital for the effective promotion and protection of human rights. Cooperative and innovative approaches should be adopted to fully utilize this unique potential and ensure greater participation of civil society in decision-making;

(k) Implementing the agreed conclusions adopted by the Economic and Social Council in the context of the five-year review of the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action: this will be essential in the process of forging global support for human rights.

104. The international community must conclude that five years after Vienna, a wide gap continues to exist between the promise of human rights and their reality in the lives of people throughout the world. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, making all human rights a reality for all remains not only our fundamental challenge but also our solemn responsibility. The international community must summon the will to adequately respond to current challenges and those that lie ahead. The unanimously adopted Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action has proven its value as a guide for national and international efforts and maintained its role as a central international policy document in the field of human rights. It should continue to chart the course of human rights activities throughout the world in the years to come.

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