Concluding Statement by Ms. Navi Pillay United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Vienna + 20 Conference

Vienna, 28 June 2013

Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you all for your efforts over these past two days. Your contributions have been thoughtful, meaningful and, thankfully, at times provocative.

I would like once again to express my gratitude – indeed the gratitude of all of us – to the Austrian Government for giving us this chance to take stock of what has happened since the 1993 World Conference here in Vienna. I also thank the Austrian Government for its warm hospitality.

It has been a timely opportunity to ask ourselves if States – and all the other human rights actors represented here – have been faithful to the hopes, the vision and the promises made 20 years ago in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. Also, we have been able to test whether we have been faithful to the specific categories of people singled out for special attention in the VDPA, including women, children and minorities.

It has been immensely valuable to come here and make an effort to revitalize our efforts and ambitions to do more, do better, work harder, in order to fulfil the goals set down in this important document.

We have all agreed that while much more has been achieved than many people realize, there are also considerable gaps and shortfalls in the global effort to implement the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
So during these two days, we have concentrated on looking forward. New and sometimes tumultuous challenges are constantly emerging in our rapidly evolving world: whether it is climate change, or global terrorist movements; issues related to migration in the modern world; threats to freedom of expression and invasion of privacy in cyberspace; or unforeseen economic and financial crises affecting many countries across the planet.

Sometimes the responses to these challenges raise as many, or more, human rights concerns than the problems they set out to address – counter-terrorism and austerity measures being two obvious examples.

It is vital for us to maintain momentum, and stick to the path laid down by the VDPA. We must refuse to compromise on the hard-won fundamental human-rights-compliant laws, standards and institutions that have been built up over the past half century. These need to be consolidated, expanded, strengthened.

I believe this Conference will be seen as having reinvigorated our commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. The civil society conference, the meeting of Special Procedures and the Vienna+20 Working Groups’ discussions have delivered valuable recommendations which will inform our strategies for the coming years.

Colleagues and friends,

There have been many interesting, ambitious and complex ideas raised during these discussions. I do not intend to attempt to evaluate them here. They deserve rigorous reflection and analysis.

The VDPA is far from fully implemented. It either indirectly, or in some cases directly, led to the creation or expansion of key mechanisms and institutions which need our undivided attention. I am talking about the Special Procedures, the human rights treaty bodies, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, and the Universal Periodic Review.

While not perfect, these are remarkable mechanisms, all of which need further support if they are to fulfil their potential. I am convinced that those who play down their importance, or disparage their performance, are being short-sighted.

I hope that a reinvigorated spirit of the VDPA will be injected into a number of other processes that are currently under way: we are, for example, moving closer to the formulation of the post-MDG, post-2015 agenda, where a robust human rights approach is essential.

We also look forward to the High-Level Dialogue on Development and Migration this October. This is an event of great importance to millions of current and future migrants, and the economies of both sending and receiving countries.

There is also the follow-up to Rio +20, where human rights made it onto the agenda very late in the day, thanks to the efforts of many people here, including my staff and the human rights mechanisms. We all know that climate change and its impact on the environment will present massive challenges over the coming decades and centuries. Its impact on some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized communities and nations may be devastating. There needs to be a sustained battle to embed a human rights approach in our collective response to this huge threat to future generations.

The civil society conference which took place here this week, pointed to another major developing area, and one where we need to concentrate our efforts, namely business and human rights, and in particular the role of transnational corporations and financial institutions.

We have seen an encouraging desire, not only in this Conference, but in the wider world, to fight impunity – not for those responsible for abusing civil and political rights only, but also for those responsible for corruption and economic mismanagement which has led to financial disaster for many individuals, groups and in some cases entire nations.

I know there has been much discussion of new accountability courts and new World Conferences. These are certainly possibilities for the future, but they should not be developed at the expense of the existing mechanisms, which have served us well and could serve us better. Rome was not built in a day. Nor was the fulfilment of the promise of Vienna.

Most of the fundamentals are in place. The problems are more to do with implementation, political will, and the deployment of sufficient human and financial resources. There is also the question of how to use what we already have at our disposal in the light of new technologies, continuing globalization, new social behaviours and other rapidly evolving phenomena.

We have to adapt our norms and standards, and our working methods, to a world where changes are occurring in a faster, more complex way than ever before, with consequences that are hard to predict. Human rights can, and should, be the bedrock of moral and legal stability, keeping us firmly rooted in civilized behaviour during this exciting, but also frightening and extremely powerful, whirlwind of change. We must ensure, for example, that the potential of social media to spread human rights values and messages with unprecedented speed and scope is fully exploited.

I welcome the refreshing ideas that have surfaced during the various discussions that have been taking place here this week.

I welcome the emphasis that has been placed on making human rights’ position as one of the three pillars alongside development, and peace and security, a reality.

Above all, I welcome the recognition that the goals set forth in Vienna in 1993 are still valid, and still worth fighting for, in 2013. We leave here knowing we have much to do if we wish to pass on a better world to a next generation that is better educated, more tolerant and less violent than that which finally thrashed out a long-term human rights vision in Vienna 20 years ago.

Thank you.