Conference reaffirms principle of universal human rights

June 26, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

VIENNA -- After 11 days of intense diplomatic maneuvering, representatives from more than 170 nations buried their differences yesterday and adopted a far-reaching declaration intended to strengthen human rights everywhere.

The 32-page document, produced by the first United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in a quarter of a century, rejects the contention of a group of countries, mostly Asian, that cultural differences affect the definition of human rights. Instead, it reaffirms the principle that "the universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question."

It also endorsed in exceptionally firm language the concepts of equal rights for women, children and minorities; raised the prospect of creating a powerful U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights; and called for "a substantial increase" in funding for existing U.N. human rights efforts.

The declaration, which is certain to shape the debate and actions on the crucial human rights issue over the next several years at least, will be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this year.

Although the document fell short of the hopes of many human rights activists, its sweep and tone, coupled with the absence of any of the major setbacks that were feared at the start of the conference, left Western delegates generally pleased.

"The World Conference on Human Rights has produced a strong, forward-looking document," John Shattuck, U.S. assistant secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, told delegates at the meeting's closing session yesterday. "The conference has broken new ground in showing the profound relationship between human rights, democracy and development."

The head of Amnesty International's official delegation, Helena Cook, also declared the conference result a qualified success. But an Amnesty statement also labeled the conference a "summit of missed opportunities."

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