Address by Ms Lucinda Creighton, T.D.
Minister for European Affairs of Ireland
UN Human Rights Council
Geneva, 29 February 2012
The Human Rights Council has grown before the eyes of the world over the past year.
The international human rights system remains, as it always will, a work in progress: more than anywhere else, that work belongs in this Chamber.
The forces set loose by the Arab Spring have changed the world. Now, just as we must strongly support the new beginnings in many countries across the region, so we need to also remember that the work of building, and of consolidation of gains made, will not be an easy journey. Peace and security, development and human rights are the pillars of the United Nations: all three are mutually dependent and must shape our agenda.
The agenda of this Council – from country situations to thematic issues, from the work of Special Procedures to the Universal Periodic Review – is an indispensable part of this interlinked mosaic. And this work, here in this Chamber, is not only about condemnation of human rights violations – although that is something the world rightly expects of you – but also about prevention of violations and about constructing a scaffolding that supports and underpins the demand of people everywhere, especially those who suffer violence or marginalisation, for justice and dignity.
The Human Rights situation in Syria is an affront to the world. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Navi Pillay, in her address to the General Assembly on 13 February, said that “the nature and scale of abuses committed by Syrian forces indicate that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed since March 2011.”
The world has witnessed, and it will not easily forget, violent and vicious assaults against innocent people in Syria: attacks on crowded centres of population; the deaths of well over five thousand people last year; the use of hospitals as detention and torture facilities.
It is an atrocious litany.
An atrocious litany highlighted so brutally last week with the killing of the renowned and respected Sunday Times war correspondent on the streets of Homs. Marie Colvin and a French photographer, Rémi Ochlik, died while endeavouring to tell the world the truth about the horror of that besieged city.
The actions of the Assad regime and the Syrian forces against their own people can almost certainly be described as crimes against humanity.
Ireland applauds the courageous leadership role of the Arab League. We honour the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her unflinching voice raised, month after month, in condemning the atrocities against the Syrian people. We regret that the Security Council has been unable to date to take collective action. The Human Rights Council has now held three Special Sessions on Syria and dispatched one fact-finding Mission and one Independent Commission of Inquiry. We very much welcome the leadership shown by this Council on an issue which is an affront to civilised values and to fundamental human rights.
Amid escalating violence in Syria, Ireland is determined to support the redoubling of international efforts to bring these atrocities to an end. Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Eamon Gilmore T.D., attended the first meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People group in Tunis on 24 February. This meeting brought together over 70 states which expressed their condemnation of the increasing violence in Syria, offered additional humanitarian aid to those in need in Syria and put further pressure on the Syrian regime. On Monday, 27 February 2012, the EU agreed further sanctions against Syria and we encourage others to enact measures, especially in relation to Syrian oil sales and arms consumption. Ireland also warmly welcomes the appointment of joint UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan.
Globalisation has brought enormous changes to the world: political, economic and cultural. Much is positive but we have also seen, in the world economic crisis since 2008, the fragilities that can occur.
Ireland has always considered that human rights cannot be viewed only in a one dimensional light. Political rights, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly are foundation stones of human dignity and human well being. But we also, in an interlinked way, have to strengthen economic, social and cultural rights as an indispensable dimension in the full enjoyment of all human rights.
Much of the work of this Council relates to the elaboration of rights at a thematic level, often based on excellent work by mandate holders. Just as Ireland favours active consideration by the Council of country situations posing grave threats to human rights, so we also strongly favour elaboration of all rights, some of these only partially addressed to date by the international community and by the United Nations.
Madam President, let me highlight a few issues of special importance to Ireland, political and thematic.
Visit of the Irish Foreign Minister to Israel and Palestine
Last month, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D., visited Israel and the Palestinian territories where he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and members of civil society.
The search for peace in the Middle East must remain a core objective for the international community. In discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the Minister underlined Ireland’s continuing strong desire to see substantive peace talks begin as soon as possible. He stressed Ireland’s view that there must be genuine efforts to build confidence on both sides and a willingness to desist from any actions which impede the overall prospects for achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace, based on a two-State solution.
Against the backdrop of historic political changes underway in the region, we believe in the hugely transformative and positive effects for the Middle East and North Africa of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace agreement. The festering crisis in the Middle East is a threat to international peace and security: its resolution will bring not only stability to the region but justice to people who have suffered far too much.
Ireland’s history as a colonised nation has made us particularly empathetic to the cause of freedom and human rights. Ireland has long been an advocate for the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. We voted for Palestinian membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation last October.
Our historical experience has also made us profoundly committed to the UN and to peacekeeping. Peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding activities are an important and concrete contribution by the international community to safeguarding human rights and protecting fundamental freedoms. The Irish Defence Forces have contributed to UN peacekeeping for more than 50 years and are currently deployed to UN missions in Lebanon, the Côte d’Ivoire and the DRC and to UN-mandated missions in Europe, Africa and Asia. Ireland has actively supported a central role for peacebuilding at the heart of the UN through our co-facilitation of the 2010 Review of UN Peacebuilding Architecture and our support for the Peacebuilding Commission.
We will also continue to press for the UN’s disarmament machinery to become more responsive to 21st century imperatives.
We will push for enhanced effort to ensure effective implementation of the agreement reached at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and we will maintain focus on the need for universal implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted in Dublin in 2008.
Furthermore, the recent events across the Middle East and North Africa have reaffirmed the need for a global normative framework controlling the transfer and trade of arms. Ireland will continue to actively participate in negotiations to achieve a robust Arms Trade Treaty.
Freedom of Region and Belief
Ireland is committed to seeing the full realisation of the right to freedom of religion and belief.
We condemn all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who are the victims. We strongly believe that freedom of thought, conscience religion and belief is a fundamental freedom applying equally to all.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion emphasises the indivisibility, interrelatedness and interdependence of all human rights. To deny a person their right to freedom of religion or belief is to deny them an inherent element of their dignity. It effectively says that their vision, source of inspiration and strength is wrong.
The Council has been instrumental in fostering the general conviction that all human rights are constantly evolving as is understanding of the rights of the individual.
The adoption by the Council at its 17th Session of the first ever UN resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons was momentous and deepened our understanding of what the right to non-discrimination involves.
The Council through its resolution, reaffirmed the universality of all human rights and sent a clear message that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is intolerable. Ireland is fully committed to this message.
We will continue to speak out where we see inequality and we will provide continued support in efforts to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
While the traditional concept of civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights remains the backbone of international human rights law and policy, we must also broaden our horizons on what this involves.
One of the greatest challenges which we as global citizens are facing today is climate change.
There is a compelling case for climate justice, linking human rights and development to safeguard the rights of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and to bring developmental fairness to bear on the climate change agenda.
Ireland recognises the valuable role which international human rights mechanisms play in clarifying the human rights implications of climate change and in strengthening the protection of human rights in the face of climate change-related threats. We warmly welcomed the Seminar on these issues held last week pursuant to HRC Resolution 18/22. This event explored how the debate on human rights and climate change can be progressed and deepened at the Human Rights Council and how international human rights law and policies can be better integrated into climate change policy.
Empowerment of Women/Gender Equality
One of the interlinking and overarching themes when addressing peace and security, human rights and development issues is the need to understand the vital role played by women across all of these areas.
Continuing to advance the empowerment and equality of women is a crucial element of achieving sustainable solutions to those challenges which I have outlined here today. Undermining the role which women can play restricts potential for innovation and our ability to act.
Ireland has a strong commitment to the empowerment of women through our foreign policy and development cooperation programme. We were at the forefront in advocating for the establishment of UN Women, a crucial milestone of the United Nations in its efforts to achieve gender equality and to promote the empowerment of women.
We strongly reject all practices which risk the lives, health and well-being of girls and women.
Strengthening the UN
The United Nations has been the solid foundation for States in their efforts to respond to challenges and change.
However, various bodies of the UN are coming under increasing strain, with dwindling resources and increased workloads.
Ireland is a steadfast supporter of the independence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We also support giving the Office the resources it needs to meet its responsibilities. We warmly appreciate the leadership role of the High Commissioner in so many aspects of human rights. It has been work well done for countless individual people, many without a voice, around the world.
Ireland has been active in supporting discussion on strengthening the Treaty Monitoring Bodies. We have hosted two meetings of the Chairs of these bodies, the first meeting having taken place in Dublin in 2009 and the second in November of last year. The Treaty Bodies play an indispensable role: now we must move towards strengthening them.
We profoundly believe that the Human Rights Council has an indispensable role to play in strengthening a culture of full respect for human rights. For this reason, Ireland will be a candidate for election to the Human Rights Council later this year.
Role of Civil Society
Ireland fully recognises the significance of space for civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights. In particular, we recognise the importance of the United Nations support of human rights defenders around the globe. Ireland is proud that one of the leading Non-Governmental Organisations working for the protection of human rights defenders, Front Line Defenders, is based in Ireland.
Despite being a small State, Ireland is also very active regionally on human rights issues.
This year, for the first time, Ireland assumed the Chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). With 56 participating States covering most of the northern hemisphere, the OSCE deals with a range of issues including conflict prevention and arms control, democratisation and human rights.
During our Chairmanship we will address new and emerging issues which impact upon the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In particular, we will seek to promote digital media freedom, a subject which is becoming increasingly relevant and that will be discussed here later this morning.
At this 19th Session of the Human Rights Council we will address many of the great challenges of our time. These challenges are hugely diverse. They require imagination, determination and concerted effort on all of our parts to find collective solutions. This Council has shown it can meet this task.
Thank you Madam President.