Major international human rights conference in Vienna
30 years after the groundbreaking UN World Conference on Human Rights, leading experts discussed the achievements and current challenges of human rights protection.
At the invitation of the Institute for Constitutional and Administrative Law of the University of Vienna and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights (LBI-GMR), more than 90 international experts from academia, politics and civil society met in Vienna from Wednesday, 27, to Friday, 29 September 2023. They discussed achievements, challenges and solutions for the protection of human rights. The high-profile conference entitled “UN-World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna 1993 – Strengthening Imperatives 30 Years After” was held in cooperation with the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria as well as a number of national and international research institutions and organisations. It took place in the main ceremonial hall of the University of Vienna and in Palais Trautson.
Host Michael Lysander Fremuth drew a partially sobering preliminary conclusion in his opening speech. 30 years after the landmark Vienna Conference, which was rightly regarded as a milestone and reference point, the magic seems to have faded a little, the Professor of Fundamental and Human Rights at the University of Vienna and Scientific Director of the LBI-GMR said. “The entire international order, including human rights, is under severe pressure,” the expert noted. “Accordingly, it is urgent to revitalise the spirit of universal human rights. The current conference is intended to make a small contribution to this with substantive focal points, including in the areas of climate change, women’s rights, minority rights and artificial intelligence, and – as already in 1993 in Vienna – also to involve practitioners and civil society actors,” said Fremuth, who at the same time emphasised that much had been achieved in the last 30 years.
Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed similar views in his video keynote regarding the elaboration and codification of human rights protection: “These texts have inspired real positive change across the globe. […] People have been empowered to claim their rights and to address injustice, including through movements such as Black Lives Matter, the #metoo movement, Fridays for Future, indigenous movements and women’s protests.”
The Secretary General at the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Nikolaus Marschik, made current references to developments in Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine, among others: “More than 19 months ago, Russian forces brutally invaded Ukraine in blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter. We all want to see peace returning to Ukraine as soon as possible but we have learned from experience that there can be no lasting peace without justice. The human rights family is united by our common cause. And I want to thank every single one of you for your personal contribution.”
The event took place on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights. Held in 1993, it had resulted in the Vienna Declaration and its Programme of Action, a joint plan to strengthen human rights practice worldwide. For example, the position of High Commissioner for Human Rights had been created in the aftermath of the conference. Furthermore, the World Conference had set a new course for the protection of the rights of children, women and indigenous peoples.