Vienna Human Rights Conference: reflecting on the past and forging the future

Leading human rights experts from around the world came to the Vienna City Hall, along with the UN family in Vienna for a two-day international conference to celebrate milestones and discuss challenges to human rights. The event was followed by an award ceremony of the youth short film competition on human rights involving students from Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia.

VIENNA, 13 December 2023 – The UN family in Vienna joined festivities on 10 and 11 December to mark three landmark anniversaries on human rights: the 10th anniversary of Vienna’s process towards being a Human Rights City, the 30th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights, and the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The two-day event was organized by the City of Vienna in partnership with the Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs and Urban Innovation Vienna GmbH and was attended by numerous representatives from civil society, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), local government, and international organizations.

“75 years ago, something remarkable happened on the global stage – the world united to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”, said Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a video message to the audience to commemorate Human Rights Day. In her keynote speech and on a special visit for the occasion, Melissa Fleming, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, emphasized the Declaration as a milestone achievement: “Human rights have made huge leaps forward since 1948. The Universal Declaration now forms the foundation of countless international, national, and local laws and policies.”

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Being home to numerous UN and international organizations, Vienna took the lead in 1993 when it hosted the World Conference on Human Rights, highlighting the need for further commitment to the values expressed in the UN Charter and the 1948 Declaration. The successful discussions back then led to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which specified, among others, the need for a designated department within the UN Secretariat to advise and ensure compliance on human rights questions: the now UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights based in Geneva.

Thirty years later, many who originally attended the World Conference were featured in panel discussions during the Vienna Human Rights conference to reflect on what the event meant back then and to discuss the current challenges to human rights at the national and international levels. Women activists such as Alda Facio, Rosa Logar and Indai Sajor - who all contributed to the event in 1993 – recall it as an important happening in recognizing women’s rights as human rights, which later in that year culminated in the creation of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women by the UN General Assembly.

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An integral part of this year's commemoration was the Human Rights Fair, held on the sidelines of the conference. The fair featured an array of exhibitions by various local NGOs, civil society groups, and international organizations, all dedicated to human rights advocacy and education. Among the displays was the info stand of the UN Information Service (UNIS) Vienna which provided visitors with engaging insights into the work of the UN family in Vienna in the field of human rights. The fair offered a unique opportunity for participants to network, share ideas, and learn about the diverse range of activities and initiatives being undertaken locally and worldwide to promote and protect human rights.

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Following the two-day international conference, an award ceremony of the Students Short Film Competition on Human Rights took place on 12 December, featuring the creative work of young filmmakers from Austria, Hungary, Kenya, Slovakia and Slovenia. The annual competition is organized by the film festival This Human World and held under the auspices and with the support of UNIS Vienna, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR and the City of Vienna. The 2023 competition invited students aged 10 to 20 years to submit a short film on the theme: 75 Years of Human Rights - What do they mean for you and your/our future?

The winning short films as well as the best submissions can be seen here.

Photos: Karin Gruber