Marking anniversary of historic conference, UN urges stronger implementation of human rights

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. UN Photo/Sarah Fretwell

25 September 2013 – Twenty years after countries agreed to boost efforts to protect and promote human rights, an international framework is now in place and progress has been made, but implementation in many countries is still lacking, United Nations officials said today.

“In almost every area from development to conflict, we see evidence that UN action on human rights is falling short,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a high-level event held at UN Headquarters on the margins of the annual debate of the General Assembly.

Ms. Pillay pointed to political obstacles as one of the major reasons for weak implementation. “Member States are responsible for implementing human rights. The UN success or failure to promote and protect human rights hinges above all on the political commitment of Member States,” she said.

“There is a tremendous gap. Even UN efforts that are fundamental to protecting human rights in development or to protecting lives in conflict may only receive very late or insufficient political support.”

Ms. Pillay noted that the human rights situation in Syria for example, will not improve without sustained political consensus among Member States on human rights.

“With much strengthened engagement between the UN and Member States and with greater institutional coherence, we can achieve the implementation that still escapes us,” she added.

Today’s event is part of a series of programmes being held this year to mark the 20th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights, held in the Austrian capital in 1993. The Conference resulted in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which marked the beginning of a renewed effort in the protection and promotion of human rights. It was also at the Conference that Member States agreed to create the post of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

During the event, which was co-hosted by Ms. Pillay and Austrian President Heinz Fischer, former High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson noted that the eight anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not adequately reflect human rights, and stressed that the new set of development goals “must be rooted on human rights and the rule of law and governance issues to ensure progress.”

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the link between development, peace and human rights.

“There’s no peace without development. There is no development without peace. But there is no development or peace without human rights,” Mr. Eliasson said. “If one of these pillars is weak, the whole structure is weak.”

Louise Arbour, also a former High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined that progress on human rights has been “pretty modest” compared to advances in other fields such as science and technology.

“The progress that we have made in the past 20 years has been largely normative and institutional,” she said, adding that while this should not be dismissed, much more work needs to be done to make the promise of equality of all men and women a reality.


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