Deputy Secretary-General, at Vienna Declaration Commemoration, Stresses Need to Link Human Rights with Other ‘Pillars’ of United Nations

25 September 2013

Deputy Secretary-General, at Vienna Declaration Commemoration, Stresses Need to Link Human Rights with Other ‘Pillars’ of United Nations

25 September 2013
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General, at Vienna Declaration Commemoration, Stresses Need


To Link Human Rights with Other ‘Pillars’ of United Nations


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s closing remarks, as prepared for delivery, at “ Vienna+20:  Human Rights Achievements, Shortcomings and the Way Forward”, in New York on 25 September:

My warm thanks to President [Heinz] Fischer of Austria and High Commissioner [Navi] Pillay for co-hosting and being standard bearers for human rights.  Let me also take this opportunity to greet no less than three High Commissioners for Human Rights — gathered together on the same podium.

I would like to address three broad issues that have been raised today.  First, human rights in the post 2015-development agenda. Second, human rights in peace and security. Third, strengthening human rights, the third pillar of the United Nations.

On the development agenda, we know there has been progress.  But, poverty and inequality persist for much of humanity.  A woman living on the outskirts of a big city can spend four hours a day commuting to and from work.  She may receive little pay for working long hours in hazardous conditions.  At the end of the day, she will return home to inadequate housing with poor access to water and electricity.  Schools for her children are distant and the cost stretches her finances to a breaking point.

Every day, her family’s experiences are proof that their rights to education, housing, employment and health are not realized.  This is reality for billions of people.  We are far from meeting the human rights challenges of today.  And we are insufficiently prepared for the human rights challenges of tomorrow.  We must do all we can to ensure that human rights are embedded in our development efforts.

The second issue raised today is human rights in peace and security.  After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the UN made efforts to improve action on human rights.  Security Council resolutions now regularly include protection of human rights and protection of civilians.  Most peacekeeping operations now have a human rights component.

Despite these efforts, millions have been killed and tens of millions more displaced as a result of conflict.  In 2009, there were allegations of large-scale violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka.  A human tragedy on an immeasurable scale is unfolding in Syria.

We should feel both outrage and shame.  The Secretary-General established an Internal Review Panel to assess UN action in Sri Lanka.  The Panel’s 2012 report described a “systemic failure” by Member States and the UN Secretariat, funds and programmes.  I am implementing recommendations stemming from the internal review process to ensure that the UN system can better uphold its responsibilities under the Charter.

We need to reaffirm our commitment to respond to human rights violations.  We need to improve our engagement with Member States.  We need to manage crisis response earlier and more effectively.  And we need to strengthen UN human rights capacity and information reach.  The result should be better prevention.  We need to act when we first see smoke or, better yet, when the arsonist reaches for the match.

The third issue spoken of today is strengthening human rights, the third pillar of the United Nations.  The UN is built on three mandated, conceptual and institutional pillars:  peace and security, development and human rights.

Member States used the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action to link human rights, the rule of law and democracy.  We now need to link more clearly the human rights pillar with the peace and security and the development pillars.  This will strengthen all three pillars and better respond to the realities and the challenges of today’s world.  It will help our efforts to assist States protect their populations and secure their well-being and safety.

The conceptual and institutional strengthening of the third pillar is a challenge for all of us.  To this end, I wish to reinforce the Secretary-General’s appeal to Member States to increase budget allocations for human rights and the High Commissioner’s Office.

The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna was an important milestone in humanity’s quest for universal human rights.  But, we still have a long way to go to translate principles into practice.  In too many places, for too many people, human rights and the rule of law are but a distant dream.  Only when the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family are truly respected, can we expect lasting freedom, justice and peace.

As we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, let us intensify our efforts to fulfil our collective responsibility to promote and protect the rights of all people in the world.  They all deserve a l ife of dignity.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.