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Vienna at 20: international forums look to future of human rights

Twenty years ago in the Austrian capital Vienna the international community came to an historic consensus, affirming the economic, social and cultural rights should be considered indivisible from, and of equal status to, civil and political rights. Two decades later, much remains to be done if the balanced vision of social justice embodied in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action is to be realized.

In recent weeks human rights advocates from all over the world have come together to take stock of progress made towards the ‘Vienna agenda’ and tease out strategies for the years ahead.

On May 29 and 30, CESR brought together economic and social rights activists and practitioners from across the globe for the forum Vienna at 20: Renewing Strategies for Economic and Social Justice, held in Geneva in parallel to the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council and organized in collaboration with the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Speaking at the recent 'Vienna+20' meeting in Geneva, the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepulveda, explores the main advances that have been achieved in the field of economic and social rights since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

The ‘Vienna at 20’ meeting explored the particular significance of the declaration for economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, focusing on the challenges of bringing human rights into the sphere of economic and development policy, the implications of shifting global power dynamics, the evolution of equality struggles since Vienna and the progress made in claiming, monitoring and enforcing ESC rights.

CESR also joined forces with FIAN International and ten other partners to organize a series of activities in Vienna between June 24 and 28 to mark this important anniversary. The ‘Vienna+20 Action Week’ included a conference of more than 140 civil society activists which culminated in the Vienna+20 CSO Declaration covering a range of issues from women's rights to the prevention of torture. CESR's Senior Researcher Niko Lusiani convened the conference discussions on Austerity, Macroeconomic Policies and Financial Regulation and on Human Rights in the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, helping to shape a set of recommendations to states on these issues for inclusion in the Declaration. The Declaration was presented to government delegates and others attending the official Vienna+20 conference organized later that week by the Austrian government together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The conference consisted of three working groups to review progress since Vienna in three key areas: strengthening the rule of law, realizing women's human rights and constructing a human rights-based development agenda post-2015.  CESR was invited to contribute to the post-2015 working group, and also spoke at CSO side-events that week on Extraterritorial Obligations and EU Austerity Policies.

Insights and experiences shared at these meetings will feed into a forthcoming report and short documentary video which CESR is producing to mark its own twentieth anniversary, which coincides with that of the Vienna Declaration. These outputs, which will draw on CESR’s two decades as a leading voice for economic and social rights, will serve as a resource for the broader human rights movement to build a renewed strategic vision to achieve economic and social justice through human rights.

To find out more about CESR's 'Vienna+20' activities, please visit www.cesr20.org.