I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.
The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia*, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro* and Iceland**, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action was adopted in 1993, in a spirit of cooperation and trust in a better future for humanity. Now, almost twenty years later, it still guides decision makers and practitioners in their efforts to respond to today’s global human rights challenges.
2011 has been a year marked by change, notably in the Arab World, bringing more countries toward democracy than ever. History teaches us that the transition to democracy is often difficult, since it means also dealing with a country’s past, and the often daunting task to provide justice for those whose human rights had been violated. The VDPA is firm about the importance of fighting impunity in expressing its concern about the issue and in calling on states to, I quote, “abrogate legislation leading to impunity for those responsible for grave violations of human rights such as torture and prosecute such violations, thereby providing a firm basis for the rule of law.” The fight against impunity for gross violations of human rights is therefore a prerequisite for achieving truth, justice and effective remedies for victims and non-recurrence for future violations.
The European Union commends the efforts of all countries, particular those faced with a transition, that support the call of the VDPA to address impunity. At the same time, we are concerned about countries that do not persecute perpetrators, failing to hold them accountable. Consistently, the European Union has underlined the importance of independent investigations into grave human rights violations. In this respect, the European Union fully supported the recent action of this Council to appoint Special Procedures and dispatch Commissions of Inquiry when governments were unwilling to investigate human rights violations. It is this Council’s duty to use the instruments at its disposal to protect human right whenever they are blatantly violated.
The Vienna Declaration and Program for Action recommended to the General Assembly to establish the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Today the OHCHR has grown into a structure that employs a staff of more than 1000, with a presence in many countries across the globe. Its mission includes supporting treaty bodies, HRC special procedures along with human rights mainstreaming, research and analysis as well as advisory services and technical cooperation. The European Union reaffirms that the Office is part of the UN Secretariat and must enjoy full independence from States. The European Union attaches great importance to OHCHR’s independence as the High Commissioner’s effectiveness in fulfilling her mandate to promote and protect human rights for all, requires that she be independent and politically impartial. The EU cannot support any attempt to interfere with established program and budget oversight mechanisms that operate in New York and with the letter and the spirit of GA Resolution 60/251.
The VDPA reminds us that – I quote – Special emphasis should be given to (…) strengthening of a pluralistic civil society. In addition, the General Assembly underscored that the VDPA had to be translated into action inter alia by non-governmental organizations. The European Union fully endorses the VDPA’s emphasis on the important and indispensible role played by NGOs to remind governments of their human rights obligations and to support them in their implementation. Civil society reflects the plurality of voices that is the bedrock for any democratic society. States have the responsibility to ensure that those that speak up for human rights are protected. The European Union is concerned about persistent cases of persecution of human rights defenders and condemns all acts of intimidation and violence against them. The European Union also refutes any attempts to endanger journalists in their profession or to censor the internet or the media. The promotion of the freedom of expression, of assembly and association as well as the protection of human rights defenders will continue to be a priority for the European Union.
I thank you.
*Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
**Iceland continues to be a member of the EFTA and of the European Economic Area.