The Vienna+20 NGO Conference “Human rights in crisis“

by Claudia Thallmayer

More than 140 persons from various CSOs around the world gathered in Vienna on 2526 June 2013, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and its Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

Main organizers of the NGO conference were FIAN International and its international partners, together with a range of Austrian NGOs, among them WIDE Austria. The CSO event was followed up on 27 and 28 June by a conference hosted by the Austrian government, bringing together highlevel representatives of governments, international organizations, UN special rapporteurs, and (invited) civil society speakers.

The Vienna+20 CSO Declaration: reclaiming the primacy of Human Rights

The conference discussed and adopted a forward looking declaration, based on months of extensive prior consultations in various preparatory groups on the different parts. WIDE Austria was active in the preparation of the women´s rights chapter. The Declaration was adopted with broad support on 26 June, at the end of the NGO conference.

The Vienna+20 CSO Declaration stresses the primacy of human rights. Respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights are the first responsibilities of states. Despite progress made in human rights protection, vested interests, -in particular corporate interests- tend to prevail, even in multilateral fora and agreements. Especially economic, social and cultural rights still lack adequate forms of legal sanctions compared to other legal regimes such as international commercial law.

The CSO conference participants expressed deep concern over the increasing criminalization of and assaults upon human rights defenders – including refugees and migrants. They also expressed deep concern over the increasing exploitation of women in the context of global capitalism.

The conference affirmed that the realization of women’s rights and gender equality, along with the right to live free from discrimination, lays a key foundation for the whole of human rights.

Women´s human rights in the CSO Declaration

For the chapter on women´s rights, main contributions came from international women´s networks  with WIDE Austria. The cooperation among women’s networks was very fruitful. The cooperation was particularly good with  ‘World March of Women’, ‘ESCR Net – Working Group on Women and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ and the ‘Center for Women´s Global Leadership’ who – together with WIDE Austria – acted as lead organizations in this part of the preparatory process.

In the women´s rights chapter, emphasis was put on:

–          the intersection of different forms / multiple discrimination;
–          the necessity to tackle seriously all forms of violence against women, and to end impunity;
–          women´s access to justice;
–          the economic, social and cultural rights of women (workers rights, rights to social protection, etc.) which are undermined by austerity measures and privatization of public services. Those policies increase women´s multiple responsibility and workload in paid and unpaid work. The chapter calls for a “recognition and fair share of unpaid work between men and women” and the demand for a “gender sensitive development cooperation”;
–          the human rights of migrant women;
–          women´s sexual and reproductive rights, which “must be strengthened and fully realized”.

During the preparatory process and at the conference, there was a dispute with Catholic NGOs on the term “sexual and reproductive rights” and regarding the demand for “decriminalization of abortion”. Both terms were at the end accepted by the broad majority. It is important to note that besides the statement in the women´s rights paragraph that “sexual rights include the non-discrimination in regard to one´s sexual orientation and gender identity”, These rights are also mentioned in a separate paragraph on “Sexual orientation” at the end of the NGO Declaration, as both women and men (and transgendered persons) are affected by hate crimes and discriminatory practises.

obligations with  regard to human rightsextraterritorial states´ obligations

The red line throughout the CSO conference was the critique on the substantial gaps in human rights protection, arising from the fact that many states still interpret their obligations as being applicable only, or primarily, within their own borders. Referring to a compilation of international responsibilities already defined in international Human Rights law that can be found in the “Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”, it was pointed out that without the acceptance and implementation of extraterritorial obligations, human rights cannot be universally realized, nor can they play a substantial role in the regulation of globalization.

The Vienna+20 CSO Declaration demands accountability and binding regulation of transnational corporations and intergovernmental organizations and reminds States of their human rights obligations in the context of international cooperation and assistance.

Further concrete demands are:

–          to address trade and investment laws, policies and agreements from the Human Rights perspective (for example as a result, NGOs demand from States to withdraw from ICSID, the World Bank Center for the settlement of investment disputes);
–          to anchor extra-territorial Human Rights obligations in national laws;
–          to establish a World Court on Human Rights.

The NGO conference also called for a World Conference on Human Rights in 2018. 25 years after the Second World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 the time will have come for a Third World Conference on Human Rights,


All materials and events around Vienna+20:
CSO Declaration Vienna+20:

ETO Consortium: “Maastricht Principles”:

Claudia Thallmayer is one of the two coordinators at WIDE Austria. WIDE Austria is a platform member of WIDE+.

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