Vienna—The Vienna+20 Civil Society (CSO) Conference, 25–26 June 2013, adopted a joint Declaration in its final session, calling for a World Conference on Human Rights in 2018, 25 years after the Second World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna, in 1993. The proposal called for the Third World Conference on Human Rights to include full participation of civil society addressing current and emerging issues of worldwide concern, including those raised in the Vienna+20 CSO Declaration.

The Vienna+20 CSO Conference gathered more than 140 persons from various CSOs around the world, including representatives of Habitat International Coalition’s Housing and Land Rights Network, gathered at Vienna on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and its Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) that attending states adopted on 25 June 1993. The VDPA is a landmark document for the promotion and protection of human rights. The conference of states then affirmed, among others, the universality of all human rights, the indivisibility of civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights; the realization of human rights as a priority objective of the United Nations and a legitimate concern of the international community, the significance of the human rights of women. As a result, the conference created the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office (OHCHR) and initiated the practice of national human rights plans and the establishment of National Human Rights Institutions within states.

This conference of civil society organizations reflected on, and evaluated the implementation of the VDPA and projected the priorities and challenges for the future. The Conference discussed and adopted a forward-looking Declaration based on months of prior consultation in preparatory groups contributing the thematic parts. The participants adopted Declaration with broad support.

The Vienna+20 CSO Declaration stresses the primacy of human rights, particularly the respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights as the first responsibilities of states. Its preamble raised alarm at the continuing violations of individual and collective human rights, including those of people living in situations of conflict, occupation, population transfer, displacement and war. The Declaration addresses the detrimental effects of corruption on human rights, and the impunity with which these and other violations persist. With a view to remedies for violations, the Conference recalled the “responsibility of states to ensure full reparations for the victims of violations of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law.”

Despite progress made in human rights protection and the proliferation of human rights instruments and mechanisms over the past 20 years, the CSOs gathered in Vienna identified that vested interests, in particular corporate interests, tend to prevail, even in multilateral forums and agreements, to the detriment of human rights. Especially economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) still lack adequate forms of legal sanctions as compared to other legal regimes such as international commercial law, and the Declaration places a particular emphasis on implementation and enforcement of ESCR. Among the persist violations cited in the Declaration are those affecting indigenous peoples, disabled persons, refugees, migrants and victims of forced eviction and displacement, as well as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Vienna+20 CSO Conference also expressed deep concern over the increasing criminalization of, and assaults upon human rights defenders, and the increasing exploitation of women, in the context of global capitalism and neoliberal economic policies.

The Declaration cited substantial gaps in human rights protection arising from the fact that, despite the universality of human rights, while many states still interpret their obligations as being applicable only, or primarily, within their own borders. 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.

The Vienn+20 CSO Conference Declaration dedicated a large section to the primacy of human rights in the post-2015 global development agenda, currently under deliberation. As the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights signified a major advancement in the human rights agenda 25 years after the First World Conference on Human Rights at Tehran in 1968, the gathered CSOs look forward to needed specificity and advancement of enforcement of human rights for current and future generations.

Full Declaration Vienna+20 CSO Declaration