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CESR and Vienna: 20 years of economic and social rights advocacy

Twenty years have passed since leaders from 171 countries gathered together in the Austrian capital Vienna and affirmed that all human rights were interdependent, indivisible and of equal importance. Insodoing, those who were in attendance for the World Conference on Human Rights sought to bring down the divide between civil and political rights, on one hand, and economic and social rights, on the other, and thereby bring human rights into the socio-economic and developments spheres.

2013 also marks the Center for Economic and Social Rights’ 20th anniversary. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action has to a large extent inspired CESR’s mission to make economic and social rights a reality, over a period marked by geopolitical changes, new socio-economic challenges, and widening inequality. For this reason, the twin anniversaries of the Vienna process and of CESR’s founding provide an excellent opportunity for strategic reflection on the progress made in implementing the landmark commitments on economic and social rights made in the Vienna Declaration. 

CESR's recent panel event can be viewed here. The
discussion begins after a short introductory clip
The strategic objective of CESR’s anniversary events, in collaboration with key partners from the social justice movement, the academic community and other important sectors in the economic and social rights field, is to facilitate a broader reflection about progress made in implementing these commitments and to identify future pathways for advancing economic and social justice through the transformative power of human rights. This process will take into account the significant changes in the global context that have unfolded since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration.

In the first of a series of activities to mark this important milestone, CESR recently staged a panel event (Twenty Years of Economic and Social Rights Advocacy) in collaboration with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University’s Faculty of Law. At the February 4 meeting leading figures from the human rights community who have been associated with CESR over the course of its history offered their perspectives on progress made in advancing the economic and social rights agenda over the past 20 years. Panelists discussed the significance of the recognition of economic and social rights in advancing a human rights-based development agenda, the changes judicial advocacy and litigation have made in transforming policy and advancing social change, and the shifting balance of actors and powers in the economic and social rights field.

These and other key themes will be explored in greater detail at an international meeting in Geneva this summer, which CESR is co-organizing with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and the office of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty to take stock of progress in implementing the ‘Vienna Agenda’ and to consider strategies to reinvigorate the vision of social justice it embodies. The meeting entitled ‘Vienna at 20: Renewing strategies for economic and social justice’ will bring together leading advocates, activists and academics from all over the world, particularly the Global South, to analyze potential avenues to bring the Vienna promise to fruition in today’s rapidly changing world. The meeting is staged to coincide with the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council.

CESR has also launched a new dedicated website to facilitate dialogue in the lead-up to the meeting and to share the papers and case studies presented when the event takes place this summer.

The Vienna Declaration marked a crucial milestone for the human rights movement, as the international community explicitly recognized the links between poverty, development and human rights. In the years since, CESR has become a leading voice on the importance of incorporating human rights norms and standards into a new framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015.  As the international community works to set the parameters of a new framework at the MDG Review Summit in September, dialogue over the future of the economic and social rights agenda could not be more timely.