What were the main human rights commitments pledged at the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

by Amalia Ordóñez Vahí, Researcher, URG Human rights institutions and mechanisms

An independent analysis of the Push for Pledges campaign of the Human Rights 75 Initiative

December 2023 marks the 75th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an anniversary that the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights has been commemorating throughout the year, culminating in a two-day high-level event held on 11 and 12 December 2023. In the context of the high-level event, OHCHR held a pledging session in which member States, civil society, NHRIs, local and regional authorities, and businesses were encouraged to propose a series of human rights pledges around specific action to promote and protect human rights. Such pledges might include legal or policy changes, commitment to hold consultations on specific issues or with particular groups of rightsholders, or new financial contributions to OHCHR. As highlighted by the Director of Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division during the pledging event, if the commitments made by States were implemented, ‘they will make a major contribution to fostering human rights, not only in individual countries, but throughout the world.’

The Universal Rights Group (URG) has analysed the content of 130 statements made by State representatives and 26 statements made by non-State representatives, to identify the main clusters of pledges. The results of this analysis are presented below in a series of word clouds depicting the most recurring terms, where the size of the word reflects the total number of mentions of the relevant topic/situation, as well as graphs representing the most commonly mentioned issues across different categories. URG’s analysis identified a total of 105 thematic topics covered by the almost 300 pledges made by States, the top 20 of which are presented in the word cloud below.

Key findings from URG’s analysis of State pledges include:

  • During the pledging event, States placed considerable emphasis on the drafting of national human rights policies and plans, and on the creation and strengthening of national human rights institutions, thereby showing a strong commitment to the national implementation of human rights obligations. Along these lines, a frequent pledge was the establishment and strengthening of National Mechanisms for Implementation, Reporting and Follow-Up (NMIRFs), which was among the top 20 most referenced issues and mentioned by States across all regional groups (except for Asia-Pacific States). Around 15% of the pledges dealt with these issues.
  • States also made renewed pledges to reinforce their cooperation with OHCHR, albeit with strong regional variations. 19% of intervening States made references to strengthening cooperation with OHCHR, while an additional 3% referred to cooperation with the UN more broadly. Five States pledged to make specific financial contributions to the work of OHCHR and the implementation of human rights on the ground, including through the deployment of human rights advisors. Around 10% of the pledges involved cooperation with OHCHR.
  • Women’s rights and gender equality, as well as commitments to end violence and discrimination against women and girls were also among the most recurring themes raised by States in their pledges. Several States committed to develop mechanisms to reinforce women’s participation in politics and electoral processes, including their participation in climate decision-making. States made pledges to ensure gender equality in the workforce, and to safeguard women’s rights in the digital sphere. While references solely to gender equality represented around 10% of the pledges, combined with references to ending violence against women, these made up about 16% of the pledges.
  • Children and youth rights also featured prominently in countries’ statements, with some representatives alluding to the importance of the rights of future generations and of ensuring youth participation and involvement in decision-making, to ensure that no child is left behind. These also made up approximately 10% of the pledges.
  • States also placed a significant emphasis on climate change, with many pledging to adopt policies to implement the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, and to strengthen environmental protection. Some States made specific pledges regarding the development of clean energies. References to environmental commitments made up almost 8% of pledges.
  • The rights of persons with disabilities also received significant attention from State pledges, with several States making commitments to adopt the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to establish national dedicated institutions, and to guarantee access to public services, such as education. References to CRPD and the rights of persons with disabilities more broadly constituted over 7% of the total commitments made.

Thematic human rights issues

Main thematic human rights issues raised by States

The main four themes in State pledges were referenced by States across all regional groups. The most recurring theme, the establishment and strengthening of national human rights policies, plans and institutions, was primarily mentioned by African States, followed by Asia-Pacific States. NHRIs and national human rights policies and plans were raised by around 38 States. These were followed by three themes that received around 25 mentions each. The rights of children and youth featured considerably in the pledges of Asia-Pacific States, followed distantly by pledges from African States. Cooperation with OHCHR was a dominant issue in pledges from States in the Western European and Others Group, followed by commitments from Asia-Pacific States. Issues pertaining to women’s rights and gender equality were brought up consistently throughout the session, mostly by Western European and Others and by Asia-Pacific States.

Around 12 commitments were made to reinforce international cooperation and multilateralism. Many of these pledges revolved around the ratification of international human rights instruments and their Optional Protocols. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance were the most cited instruments. Several States also committed to ratifying the Convention Against Torture, while many others made pledges to strengthen the prevention of torture through the creation of national preventive mechanisms and the enactment of legislation. Pledges related to torture were particularly frequent among African States, with 7 out of the total 12 mentions coming from the region.

In the context of pledges related to the international human rights system, several States committed to enhance their reporting to the Treaty Bodies and to engage more proactively with the Special Procedures. African States were once again leading in their reporting commitments, making seven out of the total 14 pledges. Fourteen mentions were also made by States, primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean, to the creation of national mechanisms for implementation, reporting, and follow-up (NMIRFs), while others pledged to increase dialogue with civil society and other stakeholders in their existing mechanisms and to build their institutional capacities.  

Other prominent thematic issues that were raised by States included commitments to enhance protection of persons with disabilities, with around 18 States pledging to increase accessibility to education opportunities for persons with disabilities. Education in a broader sense was also a recurring theme, with approximately 16 States committing to uphold the right to inclusive, equitable, and quality education for all through increased budgetary allocations, and to bring human rights education to the forefront of their national human rights policies. Commitments to strengthen access to education were part of a wider range of pledges focusing on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, which many States pledged to implement through national human rights plans and initiatives to promote the sustainable use of the environment and natural resources to tackle climate change (19), combat violence against women (15), improve healthcare (11), and to end poverty (8). Championing the civil society space was also a recurring theme in around 11 pledges, with States committing to strengthen civil society participation in decision-making, as well as to foster the inclusion and protection of human rights defenders (9 mentions). Likewise, the strengthening of protection of Indigenous Peoples was a prevailing issue, particularly for Latin America and Caribbean States, which made 5 out of the 8 mentions. Lastly, around 10 States committed to bolstering democracy and creating favourable conditions for holding peaceful and free elections, as well as to reforming justice systems to ensure its accessibility and independence.

These twenty most frequent issues were followed by other themes that, despite being less frequently mentioned in pledges, show many overlapping commitments across regions:  victims redress and reparations; corruption; self-determination; transitional justice/ national reconciliation; ESCR; and social protection (approximately 7 mentions each); labour rights/employment; peace; older persons; refugees/forced displacement; enforced disappearances; rule of law; business and human rights; death penalty; and racism (6 mentions each); and CRC; security; development; CRPD; migration; and LGBTQI+/Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (5 mentions each).

Regional distribution of thematic human rights issues

A breakdown of the main themes referenced in State pledges across different regions shows certain overlapping issues across the priorities of States in each regional group. Most notably, the development and strengthening of existing national human rights policies, plans, and institutions was among the top-10 issues brought up by States in all regional groups. Women’s rights and gender equality was a prominent issue for States in the Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), the Western European and Others (WEOG), and the Asia Pacific Groups (APG). Climate change and environmental policy was among the main issues for States in GRULAC and the APG, while the rights of persons with disabilities cut across the main issues from WEOG and EEG States.

Despite these overlaps, a closer examination of each regional group’s most frequent themes shows that none of them coincide with the main issue:

  • For African States, the main issue was undoubtedly the establishment and reinforcement of national human rights plans and institutions. States pledged to operationalise their national human rights commissions, and to strengthen their NHRIs in accordance with the Paris Principles.
  • For Asia-Pacific States, the main issue was children and youth rights, with many States committing to taking legislative measures to promote the rights of the child, as well as specific measures such as combatting the forced recruitment of children into armed conflict, or launching initiatives for the protection of children online.
  • For Eastern European States, the main emphasis was on international cooperation, solidarity, and multilateralism. States pledged to enhance the international human rights system and multilateral responses to gross human rights violations, and to engage in the restoring and maintaining of the international rules-based order.
  • For Latin America and the Caribbean States, the most recurring theme was NMIRFs, with States committing not only to establish such mechanisms, but also to build their institutional capacity, including through the convening of an international seminar on NMIRFs, following up on the 2022 Marrakesh seminar and Declaration.
  • For Western European and Other States, the main theme was cooperation with OHCHR, in fact, three States in the regional group made specific financial pledges to contribute to the work of the Office, while others committed to stepping up their contributions over the next years.

Main human rights themes raised by States across regional groups

Pledges from non-State actors

During the pledging event, a wide array of non-State actors took the floor to present their pledges, including UN agencies (including IOM, ITU, UNDP, UNESCO, UNODC, UNHCR, and WHO) regional and intergovernmental organisations (including the EU, League of Arab States, OSCE, Council of Europe), international NGOs (including Amnesty International, Article 19, Civicus) and other entities (such as the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency or the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children).

The most recurring themes in their pledges differed slightly from those of States. Non-State actors placed greater emphasis on purely thematic issues, as opposed to States’ leaning towards more institutional and policy-related pledges.

Key findings from URG’s analysis of pledges from non-State actors include:

  • Non-State actors prioritised international cooperation, solidarity and multilateralism, with many pledges highlighting commitments to amplify diverse voices in the multilateral system and to advance human rights through multi-stakeholder approaches grounded on respect for human rights.
  • Digital technologies and artificial intelligence was the main thematic issue raised by several non-State actors, with several representatives pledging to work for human rights principles to be embedded into standards governing new and emerging technologies. Certain pledges involved holding consultations with policymakers to develop guidance on how to regulate new and emerging technologies, and with human rights defenders on the impacts of new and emerging technologies in their work. Others committed to work across a broad spectrum of stakeholders to translate human rights obligations into positive change, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence.
  • Non-State actors also repeatedly raised the cross-cutting issues of freedom of expression, protection of human rights defenders, and While the diversity of entities taking the floor meant that the pledges were also wide-ranging in nature, several representatives pledged to mobilise resources to propel freedom of expression, to step up efforts to fight against the criminalisation and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, and to work across the UN system and with other stakeholders to promote legal accountability for gross human rights violations.
  • Other salient commitments include UNDP’s pledge to operationalise the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment in 100 countries by 2030, UNODC’s commitment to delivering technical assistance to 70 countries in the next five years, and IOM’s pledge to coordinate the finance arrangements under the loss and damage fund agreed at COP27.
  • In the context of the international human rights system, several actors made concrete commitments to reinforce the implementation of recommendations from the UN human rights mechanisms (UNESCO); to provide inputs to countries being examined in the UPR process (UNESCO); to work with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions to implement national-level pledges (UNHCR); to support field staff in the mainstreaming of human rights in their work on the ground (UNHCR); to engage proactively with the Special Procedures and the Treaty Bodies (International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights).


Image credit: UN Web TV

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