Human Rights and the United Nations

The Charter of the United Nations places the promotion of human rights alongside the maintenance of international peace and security as central goals. To implement this goal the UN Commission on Human Rights was founded in 1946, to be superseded by the UN Human Rights Council as the main UN human rights policy instrument. The first major task of the Commission on Human Rights was to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly. This Declaration has become the central basis for the development of the international human rights system in existence today.

One of the main tasks of the United Nations in the field of human rights and at the same time its most outstanding achievement is the development of international human rights standards. Building on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. the UN has established a set of major international human rights conventions, which have been ratified by a large majority of states. Apart from the two international covenants in 1966 – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – a comprehensive set of conventions has been established on specific human rights themes (racism, women, children, torture, disability) together with human rights monitoring mechanisms.

The Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 gave rise to the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and strengthened the status of human rights protection within the UN system. At the same time the personnel and resources for human rights protection were increased. Through country offices the High Commissioner for Human Rights supports states in the implementation of international human rights standards in accordance with local requirements and thus improves human rights protection. The strengthening of national human rights institutions and civil society is an important aspect of this work. Human rights are also increasingly taken into account in the work of UN agencies and programmes and in its peace missions.

Austria is particularly dedicated to this integration of human rights in all UN working areas, programmes and activities (mainstreaming). It actively supports the principles of universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights that were highlighted by the international community at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.

Together with its EU partners, Austria promotes the strengthening of human rights standards and mechanisms within the United Nations and their adaptation to new challenges. This occurs in close cooperation in particular with the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the regular meetings of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. Both of these forums deal with the state of human rights in the world and the development of additional legal instruments and programmes to promote human rights protection.