World Conference on Human Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The World Conference on Human Rights established the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and highlighted the importance of human rights for women, children, the disabled, and people of all races, ethnicities, and religions. It also led to the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, which emphasized the importance of human rights and equality.

Summary of Event

In 1948, fifty-eight United Nations member states authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.N. (1948) which called on member states to promote civil, human, social, and economic rights. The Universal Declaration was the first international attempt to limit states’ behavior, emphasizing each state’s duty to its citizens. In 1968, the International Conference on Human Rights was held in Tehran, Iran, marking the twenty-year anniversary of the Universal Declaration. The conference in Tehran led to the adoption of the Proclamation of Tehran, Proclamation of Tehran (1968) which dealt with the problems of racial discrimination, illiteracy, colonialism, and protection of the family. Along with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) formed what came to be called the International Bill of Rights. International Bill of Rights, U.N. (1966) World Conference on Human Rights, U.N. (1993) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, U.N. (1993) United Nations;human rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.N. [kw]World Conference on Human Rights (June 14-25, 1993) [kw]Conference on Human Rights, World (June 14-25, 1993) [kw]Human Rights, World Conference on (June 14-25, 1993) [kw]Rights, World Conference on Human (June 14-25, 1993) World Conference on Human Rights, U.N. (1993) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, U.N. (1993) United Nations;human rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.N. [g]Europe;June 14-25, 1993: World Conference on Human Rights[08640] [g]Austria;June 14-25, 1993: World Conference on Human Rights[08640] [c]Human rights;June 14-25, 1993: World Conference on Human Rights[08640] [c]Indigenous peoples’ rights;June 14-25, 1993: World Conference on Human Rights[08640] [c]Women’s issues;June 14-25, 1993: World Conference on Human Rights[08640] Boutros-Ghali, Boutros Ayala Lasso, José Fall, Ibrahima

More than seven thousand representatives from more than 171 countries convened from June 14 to June 25, 1993, to adopt legislation that would protect women’s rights, children’s rights, and the rights of indigenous peoples and to ensure the equal treatment of all, regardless of religious affiliation, race, ethnic background, or disability. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, secretary-general of the United Nations, opened the conference by indicating how proud he was of the delegates of the World Conference on Human Rights for focusing on the protection and promotion of human rights.

The conference ended with a call for a number of different actions to be taken, with an emphasis on six specific categories of human rights. First, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, adopted on the final day of the conference, called for better coordination between different parts of the United Nations and a continual adaptation of the United Nations to deal with present and future needs related to human rights violations. Additionally, the declaration called for equality in the following areas: race, nationality, ethnicity, and religious affiliation. The declaration also called for the protection of the rights of migrant workers, women, children, and the disabled. Furthermore, the declaration endorsed the freedom from torture for all.

The declaration indicated an increased need for national and international cooperation, as well as a need for human rights education and training. The declaration stated the need for enhanced promotion of human rights across the world. The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action called for an annual follow-up to determine if the goals were being met. Finally, the Vienna Declaration established the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. On April 5, 1994, José Ayala Lasso assumed office as the first high commissioner after being nominated for the position by the secretary-general.

The conference took exceptional measures to protect and promote the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and children. With respect to children’s rights, the Vienna Declaration called for ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations in November, 1989, and entered into force in 1990. The Convention on the Rights of the Child Convention on the Rights of the Child, U.N. (1990) contains fifty-four articles that focus on a variety of issues pertaining to juveniles, including the right to be treated fairly under the law and the right to appropriate medical and mental care, when needed. The Convention on the Rights of the Child also called for states to do all they could to educate minors about the dangers of drug use and to attempt to prevent such use. Furthermore, the convention outlined the right of the child to rest and play and to take full part in his or her culture.

Not only children’s rights but also the rights of indigenous peoples and migrant workers were discussed at the World Conference on Human Rights. Five paragraphs of the Vienna Declaration were devoted to indigenous peoples’ rights, which included setting up a fund devoted exclusively to this category and urging all member states to encourage indigenous groups to participate in all aspects of society, particularly those that interested them. Three brief sections were also devoted to migrant workers, asking for greater harmony between migrant workers and the rest of society.

Although not the focus of the conference itself, the idea for centralizing women’s rights arose from some previous events, including the World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet, which took place in Miami, Florida, in 1991, and the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women, which took place in Brussels, Belgium, in 1976. Women’s issues were often subsumed in other categories of official documents; however, nine paragraphs highlighting the rights of women were included in a separate section of the Vienna Declaration. The section on the human rights and equal status of women contained paragraphs devoted to the organization and activities of the United Nations itself, highlighting the reduction of both outward and hidden discrimination against women. The paragraphs also discussed the physical and mental health of women and the elimination of violence against women. A five-year follow-up was submitted at the end of 1997, which indicated either the progress of states or the lack thereof. Overall, significant progress was made, but some discriminatory laws still needed to be altered.

Significance

The World Conference on Human Rights led to the Vienna Declaration, which emphasized enhanced coordination on human rights within the United Nations and a focus on the rights of all. These rights included the freedom from torture and the freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, disability, or one’s status as a juvenile. The World Conference on Human Rights reemphasized the importance of state maintenance of fair and equal treatment of people across the globe. Although more progress remained to be made in regard to equal treatment in the world, this conference was a step in the right direction and was significant in that all members unanimously agreed with the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action. World Conference on Human Rights, U.N. (1993) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, U.N. (1993) United Nations;human rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.N.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beetham, David, ed. Politics and Human Rights. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. Demonstrates how human rights debates help shape politics in different regions of the world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bunch, Charlotte, and Niamh Reilly. Demanding Accountability: The Global Campaign and Vienna Tribunal for Women’s Human Rights. New Brunswick, N.J.: Center for Women’s Global Leadership, 1994. Provides information about events leading up to the World Conference on Human Rights and the struggle to add women’s issues to the discussion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002. Covers numerous aspects of human rights in a multidisciplinary approach, using international relations, international law, political theory, and sociology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Evans, Tony. The Politics of Human Rights: A Global Perspective. 2d ed. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Pluto Press, 2005. Focuses globally on human rights and examines states’ declining role in protecting people due to the political economy and globalization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacobson, Thomas L., and Won Yong Jang. “Rights, Culture, and Cosmopolitan Democracy.” Communication Theory 11, no. 4 (2001): 434-453. Weighs the costs and benefits of democratization and cultural homogenization using Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nowak, Manfred. Introduction to the International Human Rights Regime. Herndon, Va.: Brill Academic, 2003. Contains information about human rights from an interdisciplinary perspective, while defining human rights and providing concrete examples.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Patel, Jayan, ed. Addressing Discrimination in the Vienna Declaration: A Guide for NGO’s and Interested Individuals. Tokyo: International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, 1995. Briefly discusses numerous publications related to various forms of discrimination.

United Nations Declares Rights for the Mentally Retarded

World Conference on Women Sets an International Agenda

United Nations Issues a Declaration Against Torture

World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination

U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women

United Nations Adopts the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Categories: History Content