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The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, also known as VDPA, is a human rights declaration adopted by consensus at the World Conference on Human Rights on 25 June 1993 in Vienna, Austria.

Contents

Content

The VDPA reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter. Its Preamble states "The World Conference on Human Rights, Considering that the promotion and protection of human rights is a matter of priority for the international community, and that the Conference affords a unique opportunity to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the international human rights system and of the machinery for the protection of human rights, in order to enhance and thus promote a fuller observance of those rights, in a just and balanced manner."

The Preamble also states: "Invoking the spirit of our age and the realities of our time which call upon the peoples of the world and all States Members of the United Nations to rededicate themselves to the global task of promoting and protecting all human rights and fundamental freedoms so as to secure full and universal enjoyment of these rights,"

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Looking Back

The VDPA reflects the fact that the World Conference on Human Rights marks a turning point for human rights, as the Cold War has ended. The VDPA looks back, with the Preamble stating: "Recalling also the determination expressed in the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to establish conditions under which justice and respect for obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, to practice tolerance and good neighbourliness, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples."

Human Rights as relevant universal standard

And the VDPA seeks to reaffirm human rights as universal and relevant standard. The Preamble states: "Emphasizing that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which constitutes a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, is the source of inspiration and has been the basis for the United Nations in making advances in standard setting as contained in the existing international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights."

Human Rights as Indivisible, Interdependent and Interrelated

The VDPA emphasises that all human rights are of equal importance, seeking to end the qualitative division between civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, which was pronounced during the Cold War era. Part I, para 5 states that "5. All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Democracy, Development and Human Rights

The VDPA also draws a direct connection between respect for human rights, democracy and international development, stating in Part I, para 8 that "8. Democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. In the context of the above, the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels should be universal and conducted without conditions attached. The international community should support the strengthening and promoting of democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the entire world."

Poverty

The VDPA makes a direct link between poverty and the realisation of human rights. Part I, para 14 states: "The existence of widespread extreme poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights; its immediate alleviation and eventual elimination must remain a high priority for the international community." The VDPA stops short of declaring poverty a human rights violation in itself, but states in Part I, para 25 that: "25. The World Conference on Human Rights affirms that extreme poverty and social exclusion constitute a violation of human dignity and that urgent steps are necessary to achieve better knowledge of extreme poverty and its causes, including those related to the problem of development, in order to promote the human rights of the poorest, and to put an end to extreme poverty and social exclusion and to promote the enjoyment of the fruits of social progress. It is essential for States to foster participation by the poorest people in the decision-making process by the community in which they live, the promotion of human rights and efforts to combat extreme poverty."

The Right to Development

The VDPA reaffirms the right to development, which is regarded as controversial by some human rights scholars and UN member states. Part I, para 10 states: "The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the right to development, as established in the Declaration on the Right to Development, as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights. As stated in the Declaration on the Right to Development, the human person is the central subject of development. While development facilitates the enjoyment of all human rights, the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights. States should cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development. The international community should promote an effective international cooperation for the realization of the right to development and the elimination of obstacles to development. Lasting progress towards the implementation of the right to development requires effective development policies at the national level, as well as equitable economic relations and a favourable economic environment at the international level." Part I, para 11 goes on to state: "The right to development should be fulfilled so as to meet equitably the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations. The World Conference on Human Rights recognizes that illicit dumping of toxic and dangerous substances and waste potentially constitutes a serious threat to the human rights to life and health of everyone. Consequently, the World Conference on Human Rights calls on all States to adopt and vigorously implement existing conventions relating to the dumping of toxic and dangerous products and waste and to cooperate in the prevention of illicit dumping. Everyone has the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications. The World Conference on Human Rights notes that certain advances, notably in the biomedical and life sciences as well as in information technology, may have potentially adverse consequences for the integrity, dignity and human rights of the individual, and calls for international cooperation to ensure that human rights and dignity are fully respected in this area of universal concern."

Womens' Rights and Domestic Violence

The VDPA draws attention to the importance of womens' rights and the rights of the "girl-child", Part I, para 18 stating: "The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community."

The VDPA also explicitly recognising gender-based violence, sexual harassment and exploitation, with Part I, para 18 going on to state: "Gender-based violence and all forms of sexual harassment and exploitation, including those resulting from cultural prejudice and international trafficking, are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated. This can be achieved by legal measures and through national action and international cooperation in such fields as economic and social development, education, safe maternity and health care, and social support."

The VDPA concludes by proclaiming womens' rights and gender-based exploitation as legitimate issues for the international community. Part I, para 19 concluding that: "The human rights of women should form an integral part of the United Nations human rights activities, including the promotion of all human rights instruments relating to women. The World Conference on Human Rights urges Governments, institutions, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to intensify their efforts for the protection and promotion of human rights of women and the girl-child."

Human Rights, the responsibility of the State

Part I, para 1 of the VDPA starts with "The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the solemn commitment of all States to fulfil their obligations to promote universal respect for, and observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, other instruments relating to human rights, and international law. The universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question." The VDPA acknowledges that international cooperation to realise human rights is vital, Part I, para 1 going on to state: "In this framework, enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights is essential for the full achievement of the purposes of the United Nations." However, the VDPA firmly places the ultimate responsibility for realising human rights with the State, or the respective governments, Part I, para 1 concluding that: "Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments." Recognising the rising importance of NGOs, the VDPA states in Part I, para 13: "There is a need for States and international organizations, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, to create favourable conditions at the national, regional and international levels to ensure the full and effective enjoyment of human rights. States should eliminate all violations of human rights and their causes, as well as obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights."

Followup

Unite Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The VDPA considered the adaptation and strengthening of the United Nations machinery for human rights, including the question of the establishment of a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Part II, para 17 states that "The World Conference on Human Rights recognizes the necessity for a continuing adaptation of the United Nations human rights machinery to the current and future needs in the promotion and protection of human rights, as reflected in the present Declaration... In particular, the United Nations human rights organs should improve their coordination, efficiency and effectiveness."

Following this the VDPA states, Part II, para 18, that "The World Conference on Human Rights recommends to the General Assembly that when examining the report of the Conference at its forty-eighth session, it begin, as a matter of priority, consideration of the question of the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights for the promotion and protection of all human rights."

The United Nations General Assembly subsequently created the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 20 December 1993 (resolution 48/141).

Country Action Plans

The World Conference on Human Rights recommended that each State consider the desirability of drawing up a national action plan identifying steps whereby that State would improve the promotion and protection of human rights. VDPA, Part II, paragraph 71

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