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Human Rights Review

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

III. International cooperation and coordination of human rights activities

18. Cooperation is a powerful engine of the international system for the promotion and protection of human rights, and thus it is also one of the most important vehicles for improving the human rights record at the national level. The need for cooperation in the field of human rights was emphasized by the Charter of the United Nations and forcefully reiterated by the World Conference throughout the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The General Assembly called upon Member States, intergovernmental organizations and specialized agencies to continue to carry out constructive dialogue and consultations for the enhancement of understanding and the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and encouraged non-governmental organizations to contribute actively to this endeavour (see General Assembly resolution 52/134 of 12 December 1997). The High Commissioner has been specifically mandated to act with a view to enhancing such cooperation.

19. While speaking about international cooperation in the field of human rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action places emphasis on some tenets which are of relevance in this context, including the following: (a) the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights rests with Governments; (b) the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community; (c) the international community should cooperate towards a better implementation of human rights, prevention of human rights abuses, and eradication of the gravest human rights violations; (d) the international protection and promotion of human rights is effective only if based on the principle of the indivisibility and equal value of all human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social, including the right to development; (e) the interdependence between democracy, development and respect for human rights offers a fundamental framework for progress in the field of human rights; (f) the international and regional systems of human rights protection are complementary, and should support each other; and (g) non-governmental organizations should be fully recognized as partners in international cooperation for human rights.

20. The Vienna Conference's focus on international cooperation has produced positive results. A trend can be noted towards broadening the area of international consensus in human rights matters, also regarding some issues which in the past prompted strong controversies. The fifty-fourth session of the Commission on Human Rights (1998) saw an unprecedented number of decisions outlining action aimed at the realization of economic and social rights. The most noteworthy in this context is the consensus achieved on resolutions concerning the right to development, both in the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights. The international reaction to recent initiatives relating to the review of the human rights machinery gives rise to the hope that constructive solutions are also feasible in this complicated area. It is the determined will of OHCHR to actively facilitate and support these encouraging developments.

21. Comments by Governments to the present review emphasize, inter alia, (a) the important role of close international cooperation as the framework for progress in the field of human rights; (b) the need for greater effectiveness and efficiency of the international system to promote and protect human rights and for the adaptation of the human rights machinery to evolving needs; (c) the necessity to increase resources earmarked for the United Nations human rights programme to enable, inter alia, a prompt response to requests for technical assistance. Critical views on the present status of international cooperation in the field of human rights should also be noted. Some Governments maintain that a biased and politicized attitude to human rights is presented in international forums. The insufficient priority given to various aspects of human rights, resulting in a negative impact, especially on the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development, has also been highlighted.

22. A matter of particular concern are cases of inadequate or missing cooperation on the part of some Governments with the human rights machinery. The unwillingness to cooperate with special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights not only hinders the fulfilment of the respective mandates but also deprives Member States of assistance offered by their holders. The Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly deplore such refusals. Although rare, cases of reprisals against individuals who have cooperated with the United Nations human rights machinery or against holders of United Nations human rights mandates themselves are particularly distressing. The General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights continue to condemn such cases.

23. Regional organizations are crucial partners in international cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights. Possibilities for closer elaboration between the United Nations human rights programme and regional organizations still require further exploration and utilization, including in the areas of technical assistance and advisory services, institution-building and human rights education, as well as in the prevention of and response to conflicts. By working together in the framework of specific country projects, international and regional organizations could better utilize resources and more swiftly respond to the needs of Governments and societies. This was also the conclusion of the last periodical meeting of the Secretary-General with the Heads of the regional organizations (27 and 28 July 1998). Numerous examples mentioned in the High Commissioner's reports to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights illustrate progress in the development of cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations of Africa, the Americas and Europe. They include technical assistance provided by OHCHR (e.g., in the case of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights), as well as situations in which assistance from regional organizations enabled the Office of the High Commissioner to carry out its mandates (e.g., financial support from the European Union for the High Commissioner's operation in Rwanda). The World Conference also reiterated the need to consider the possibility of establishing regional and subregional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights where they do not already exist. Discussions concerning regional or subregional human rights arrangements in Asia, in which the High Commissioner participates, continue.

24. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recognized the important role of non-governmental organizations in the promotion and protection of human rights and in humanitarian activities at national, regional and international levels (sect. I, para. 38). The increased multifaceted participation of civil society, in particular non-governmental organizations and the academic community, in the human rights dialogue, in monitoring human rights developments and mobilizing public opinion, and in initiating projects serving human rights, in particular at the national level, should be viewed as lasting achievements of the Vienna Conference process. The Office of the High Commissioner has established close cooperation with non-governmental organizations, which includes programming human rights activities, country visits, meetings of the United Nations human rights organs, and reaction to human rights violations are now established practice. In the promotion of human rights, including human rights education and human rights institution-building, non-governmental organizations are indispensable partners. Regular contacts are maintained with non-governmental organizations at Headquarters and in the field. Non-governmental organizations are an important source of information for the United Nations human rights machinery. The partnership between the United Nations human rights programme and non-governmental organizations should be further promoted and made more effective, including through participation in the implementation of technical cooperation projects. It is also important that procedures at the national and international levels be reviewed to facilitate the full participation of non-governmental organizations in the work for human rights. Non-governmental organizations, in their comments submitted to the five-year review, welcome the growing recognition by Governments and United Nations bodies of their contribution and urge that civil society organizations and social movements be provided broader access to United Nations policy-making bodies as well as monitoring bodies to enhance the input from civil society to the realization of the interrelated goals of human rights, peace and development. It is pivotal that the United Nations is completing the creation of a framework of principles to protect human rights defenders. Five years after the call by the World Conference for its speedy completion and adoption (Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, sect. II, para. 94), the draft declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms has been submitted for final adoption by the General Assembly.

25. The World Conference underscored the importance of making human rights a priority objective of the United Nations. In its appeal for a system-wide approach to human rights, the Conference encouraged all relevant specialized agencies and bodies of the United Nations system to take into account its recommendations (Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, sect. I, para. 4; and sect. II, para. 3). Better intra-system coordination of relevant activities, consistent with international human rights standards, is one of the fundamental themes of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. In his report to the Economic and Social Council (1998 coordination segment), reflecting the contribution by the United Nations system to the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Secretary-General noted that, five years after the World Conference on Human Rights, the ability of the United Nations system to assist Governments and societies in their efforts to ensure human rights for all people had undoubtedly been enhanced. The United Nations system was currently better prepared to respond positively to continuingly growing needs. It was evident that placing the human being and the protection of his/her rights at the centre of United Nations activities was the unifying factor that could bind the work of the United Nations system together towards meeting the goals set by the World Conference on Human Rights and other United Nations conferences and summits. The signs that the process had already begun were encouraging. However, current realities were more than adequate proof of the fact that the international community had not yet been able to utilize the entire potential of Vienna. That comment can be addressed also to our Organization. Therefore, the work of the United Nations system over the next five years should build on the progress achieved to date, as well as take bold new steps to promote and protect the rights of all people. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action should guide us in our efforts towards making that imperative a reality (see E/1998/60, conclusions). The Economic and Social Council, at its substantive session of 1998, after examining the coordinated follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by the United Nations system, adopted comprehensive agreed conclusions, the implementation of which will be analysed at its substantive session of 1999 (see para. 6 above).

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