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Statement by Minister Costello at UN Human Rights Council

Human rights, United Nations, Minister Joe Costello, Speech, Ireland, 2014

 

Address by Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, TD, to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva

 

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Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

The agenda of the Council has always been ambitious, and this session is no exception. In my address today, I would propose to identify a number of the priorities for my delegation at this session and during our term of membership of the Council.

DPRK      

The Commission of Inquiry for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will present its final report to the Council on 17th March. This is the first time that the full accounts of atrocities have been presented to the international community in such detail. The Commission’s conclusions and recommendations must be taken very seriously. 

The international community has an obligation to the people of the DPRK, who have suffered so grievously. Ireland will strongly support efforts to ensure follow-up to the recommendations, including those on accountability for human rights violations.

Ukraine

We have witnessed in recent weeks some very disturbing violations of basic human rights in Ukraine, including repressive legislation, intimidation, violence, cases of missing persons and torture. I have been particularly appalled at the many deaths and injuries in Kiev just last month. While I am relieved that the violence and bloodshed has been brought to an end, Ireland, together with our EU partners, has called for an urgent, transparent and impartial investigation into all acts of violence and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. There should be no atmosphere or culture of impunity. We very much hope that the International Advisory Panel set up by the Council of Europe can start its work soon and will receive the cooperation necessary to bring its investigations to a successful conclusion.

The situation in Ukraine remains a very volatile and fragile one and we are deeply concerned about developments over the weekend.  It is imperative that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is fully respected in accordance with international law.   All parties must work to ensure that, through dialogue, all legitimate concerns are addressed.   

We would encourage the new Government in Ukraine to work together with all stakeholders in an inclusive and transparent way to prepare for the elections that have been scheduled for May.

Syria

The people of Syria have endured ceaseless atrocities and crimes in recent years, in the course of a conflict characterised by mass violations of basic human rights.

Ireland has played its part in helping alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and is one of the more generous contributors to the humanitarian response on a per capita basis. Ireland’s overall funding commitment over the period 2011 to 2014 is more than €26 million. We have called for all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and to refrain from the targeting of civilians.  We welcome the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 which calls on all parties to the conflict to facilitate the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance.  It is now critical that its terms are fully implemented by all sides and especially the Syrian authorities.

Human Rights and Development

Ireland’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of our development cooperation programme – Irish Aid.  Coordinated efforts centred on the Millennium Development Goals framework have helped to deliver significant progress in reducing poverty.

 In recent months Ireland, together with Denmark and Norway, has been actively engaged in the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

We have highlighted the need for the next development framework to stay true to the spirit of the Millennium Declaration and the indivisible nature of human rights. The internationally agreed human rights framework can help identify priorities and set standards for the next generation of goals.  Doing so will ensure that the post 2015 global development efforts target those who do not currently enjoy the fruits of economic growth, those who are discriminated against and especially those who are in greatest need. The Post 2015 framework should be aligned with international human rights standards and mechanisms, be attached to meaningful accountability mechanisms and measure both means and outcome. 

We believe that Human Rights principles such as equality and non-discrimination, particularly as they relate to gender, participation, transparency and accountability should be mainstreamed across all goals in a post-2015 framework. It will also be important to address the legitimate rights of citizens to participate in decision-making, to seek and receive information, to enjoy personal security and freedom from violence. We believe that the protection of the space for civil society is integral to the realisation of many of these rights.

Irish National Initiatives

Ireland has worked to translate the dual vision of “freedom from fear and freedom from want” in our two national initiatives; the first on preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five and the second on the protection of civil society space.

Preventable Under-5 Morbidity and Mortality

Each year, some 6.6 million children under the age of five die mainly from preventable and treatable causes. At the Human Rights Council in September 2013, Ireland, along with Austria, Botswana, Mongolia and Uruguay, presented a resolution on preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five as a human rights concern.  The resolution focused on how the Human Rights Council can support the articulation and adoption of a human rights based approach to this issue and support the much needed engagement of the human rights community in strengthening accountability for children’s health. 

Following on the resolution, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - in close consultation with the World Health Organisation - will develop technical guidance for national Ministries and other actors to design policies and programmes to reduce and eliminate preventable morbidity and mortality of children under five. Ireland is looking forward to continuing work with partners on this vital issue.

Civil Society Space

Just as a resounding call is being heard for a political and economic order that delivers on the promises of “freedom from fear and want”, States must recognise the crucial importance of the active involvement of civil society, particularly in promoting good governance, transparency and accountability, at all levels.  This is indispensable for building peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies.

As the UN Secretary General has stated, “Civil society is crucial for advancing human rights by raising awareness, and ringing the alarm about abuse, inequality, or creeping authoritarianism. Indeed, civil society is central to advancing the work of the United Nations across our agenda, not only for human rights but also for peace and security, as well as development.  Civil society has never been more important or needed.”

In recent years, civil society actors have come under increasing pressure in many parts of the world; in some countries the space for civil society engagement is narrow or shrinking.  Restrictive legislation and repressive practices have led to stigmatisation, harassment, and even criminalisation of civil society actors. 

To address this, Ireland took the lead, together with Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia, on a new resolution entitled ‘Civil society space; creating and maintaining, in law and in practice a safe and enabling environment’ at the September 2013 session of the Human Rights Council. This resolution addresses, for the first time at the Human Rights Council, the issue of civil society space as a human rights concern. It calls on States to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate effectively and free from intimidation and harassment. The first formal debate in the Council on civil society space will take place next week.

We hope that the discussion will stimulate debate and identify strategies and steps for all stakeholders in order to develop and protect civil society space and further promote a constructive interactive partnership between States and civil society.

Reprisals

We deplore the fact that some civil society representatives have been subjected to reprisals because of cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN.  Reprisals, intimidation, threats or harassment against individuals cooperating with the United Nations is unacceptable.

Gender Equality

Gender-based discrimination is the most longstanding and fundamentally discriminatory form of inequality and is pervasive across most societies. It compounds and is reinforced by other inequalities. Achieving gender equality is a key to reducing community poverty and is both a moral and a practical imperative.  It is important that gender equality is a central theme in the post-2015 development agenda.  Gender equality should be a stand-alone goal and also mainstreamed across the other post-2015 goals.

Rights of LGBTI Individuals

Ireland strives to consistently support the promotion and protection of the human rights of all persons, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2011 Ireland was a co-sponsor of the landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. We are particularly concerned about the introduction of draconian legislation in some countries affecting the rights of LGBTI individuals. The Council’s voice needs to be heard louder than ever, as the most basic rights of LGBT persons continue to be violated on a daily basis.

Our own national experience is an illustrative example of the breadth and pace of change that is possible, where there is political will.  In 1993, homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland. Since that time, we have made steps to help ensure towards achieving equality, through the introduction of legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment, the provision of goods and services and many other areas of life. In 2010, civil partnership for same-sex couples was introduced in Ireland, and a referendum to change the Constitution so as to permit same-sex marriage is due to take place in 2015.

Ireland supports the commitment of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to the principle of non-discrimination and considers that the international community must now move beyond the debate on whether all human beings have equal rights, to securing the climate for full implementation of these rights.

Human Rights Monitoring Body Strengthening Process

Ireland is very pleased that the General Assembly recently agreed on the text of a draft resolution on strengthening the human rights treaty body system. This draft resolution is potentially a positive turning point for the UN. Ireland is proud that many of the reforms contained in the resolution originated in the Dublin Consultations and that we played an active role in bringing the process to a successful conclusion. When adopted by the General Assembly, States, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Treaty Bodies themselves must strive to ensure that the system is renewed and re-energised to ensure that it can meet the ever increasing challenges which it faces. 

Conclusion

At this time of enormous challenges it is appropriate to recall Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

As a member of the Human Rights Council, Ireland pledges to consolidate the modest gains we have made and continue our work to promote and protect the innate dignity of the human person in every way we can.

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

ENDS