Statement by Minister Cowen at the 59th Session of the Commission on Human Rights
I would like first of all to congratulate you on assuming the Chair of the 59th session of the Commission on Human Rights. I wish you and the members of the Bureau every success in the challenging task before you.
I would also like to extend my best wishes to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello. I am well aware of his commitment and am certain that he will make a decisive contribution to the Office and to promoting and protecting human rights.
I would like to associate Ireland with the address by Alternate Foreign Minister Giannitsis of Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union.
In his address to this Commission last week, the High Commissioner asked how we might improve the world's security. He answered the question by calling for “true security to be based on the proven principles of human rights”.
I believe we require a new concept of security, centred on human beings, as distinguished from the more traditional approach of state security. This concept is central to the Human Security Network, of which Ireland is a member. As such, Ireland is committed to moving this people-centred approach to the forefront of debate in the international arena.
The elements that make up the concept of human security - the promotion of human rights, the advancement of human safety, the protection of human lives - are also among the guiding principles that should inform all of us in our work at this Commission.
Human security begins with human rights. Advancing the human security agenda is essential both because of the moral imperative to uphold fundamental values and also because it enables us to make a practical and effective contribution to peace and justice throughout the world.
To be effective in advancing the cause of human rights we must also be effective in other areas - conflict prevention and crisis management, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, and economic reconstruction. The coherent and consistent implementation of policies in all these areas will help to ensure the maximum effectiveness of our approach to human security.
Recent events have shown that it is more important than ever that we aim at creating a more humane world where people can live in security and dignity, free from want and fear, and with equal opportunities to fully develop their human potential.
Threats to, and violations of, human rights are the greatest source of insecurity in the world today. The primary responsibility for the protection of human rights rests with individual States. Where a State threatens human rights, it threatens not only the security of its own people but also the security of the international community. Therefore the whole international community is legitimately and rightly concerned at situations where human rights and human security are threatened or violated.
Membership of this Commission brings with it special responsibilities which all members must live up to. We must make sure that this Commission addresses, impartially and on their merits, the many human rights situations that it will have before it at this session. Too often in the past, this Commission has allowed political considerations to dictate its actions and has therefore failed to address effectively situations where serious human rights violations were a daily occurrence. All states must co-operate with the Special Rapporteurs and other human rights mechanisms and procedures to enable them to carry out their mandates.
A country which is not prepared to embrace a strong domestic human rights policy is unlikely to be a credible advocate for the promotion and protection of human rights in its external relations. By establishing our own national structure, such as we have done in Ireland with the Irish Human Rights Commission, we acknowledge that States must continually strive to meet the universal standards which were laid down in the International Bill of Human Rights and re-affirmed by the World Conference in Vienna.
There is no part of the globe which is absolutely free from human rights abuses. None of us is without fault.
Violations of the human rights of individuals happen every day. With this in mind, with the sense of direct and recent experience of conflict resolution on our own island, and our understanding that good human rights practices do not happen by themselves, my delegation will associate itself with the statement to be delivered by the Presidency of the European Union under item 9 of the agenda, dealing with violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world.
Honest dialogue and cooperation are needed if we are ever to progress towards our stated goal of universal observance of all human rights for all. The international community cannot ignore gross human rights abuses wherever they occur - such as extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest or detention. Neither can we turn our eyes away from suffering, want, fear and hunger.
The world looks on in deep concern at the situation in Iraq. Lives have been lost, including those of innocent civilians. The Iraqi people have suffered enormously over the years and we must hope that this suffering will soon end. All parties to the conflict must do their utmost to spare the civilian population. International humanitarian law, and human rights norms and standards, set clear limits to the actions of the belligerents and must be fully respected.
I would like to turn to an issue which is of deep concern to us all - in both our domestic and foreign policies. Racism is an issue which requires continuing action. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are clearly set out in the United Nations Charter, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenants and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. And yet, in all regions of the world, human beings suffer discrimination from governments and individuals because of their skin colour, their ethnicity, their country or region of origin.
I am concerned that in recent years, as Ireland has become a land of net immigration, we have experienced racist incidents and racially-motivated abuse. My Government is determined to tackle these incidents and ensure that in Ireland no one will be victimised or abused on account of their race or ethnic origin.
In recent years, we have enacted comprehensive legislation against discrimination and incitement to hatred on racial grounds. A National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism has been established by the Government to provide advice and to tackle racism and promote interculturalism.
Ireland is committed to building on the work that has already been done. This commitment is demonstrated by our ongoing development of a National Action Plan Against Racism. Following on from the outcome to the World Conference Against Racism, the National Action Plan is an opportunity to build upon and enhance existing policies and strategies for combatting racism in Ireland and to identify new priorities, aspirations and areas of work.
Ireland is committed to ensuring that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is adequately resourced to fulfill its tasks. In 2002 Ireland provided €2.2m, making us the 7th largest donor to the Office. We are committed to maintaining this high level of support for the Office and in 2003 we will contribute €2.5m.
At the same time, we regard as unacceptably low the level of financing which the Office receives from the regular UN budget. All states should support an increased allocation of funding to the Office, in particular by instructing their representatives on the Fifth Committee to work actively towards that end.
A world of gross inequality, of massive economic and social deprivation in some regions, of competition to secure the bare necessities of life, will not be a world in which the maintenance of the rule of law and the fostering of democratic values will be enhanced.
The World Conference on Human Rights stated that “the right to development is an inalienable human right and an integral part of fundamental human freedoms”. Sustainable development focussed on poverty eradication is the most powerful instrument which the international community has to address the long-term root causes of conflict and to promote peace.
The international community must give priority to advancing the economic and social progress of those in the developing world, to enable all people to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms in security. Without the basic necessities of life there can be no security.
Ireland has in practical terms re-affirmed the importance it attaches to the right to development by the steady expansion of its overseas development aid programme in recent years. We have made a commitment to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNP on Overseas Development Assistance by 2007.
Turning to Northern Ireland, you will be aware that the Irish Government, along with the British Government and the pro-Good Friday Agreement parties in Northern Ireland, have been working together for some time to achieve the full implementation of all aspects of the Agreement. This work, which has been intensified in recent weeks, is focussed on the need to restore the necessary trust and confidence on all sides to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive to be restored in the very near future.
In our current discussions, we have included outstanding issues related to the Agreement's provisions concerning human rights and equality. These are at the heart of the Agreement reached in 1998 and of the new dispensation which it offered to the people of Northern Ireland. Now, after the creation and operation for a number of years of the new Human Rights Commissions in both parts of the island, we are even more convinced of the centrality of the rights agenda for the new beginning we are seeking to achieve in Northern Ireland. The Irish Government is committed to ensuring the continuing development and entrenchment of the human rights provisions of the Agreement.
In particular, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the work of the joint committee of the two Human Rights Commissions, North and South, and look forward to their consideration, as mandated under the Good Friday Agreement, of a Charter reflecting and endorsing agreed measures for the protections of the fundamental rights of everyone living on the island of Ireland.
The next weeks will be crucial in our efforts to secure the restoration of inclusive government in Northern Ireland, and all sides will be required to commit themselves to restoring the mutual trust which is so necessary to ensuring the full implementation of the Agreement. The two Governments will continue to devote themselves to this task, and with the support of the international community, will work with the political parties to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland, when they go to the polls on 29 May, will have before them the encouraging prospect of restored political institutions and of stable, inclusive and just government going forward into the future.
This session of the Commission takes place under exceptional circumstances. While we face various difficulties, we also have grounds for hope. The inauguration of the International Criminal Court is a clear signal of the determination of the international community to bring to justice those who perpetrate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The perpetrators of human rights violations must be held to account and their impunity ended. The International Criminal Court will play a vital role in this respect.
This is a moment of trial for the world; a moment of challenge for the United Nations system. We must redouble our efforts to achieve a better and safer world for all our people. At this Commission on Human Rights, and at other United Nations fora, we must seek to build a world based on the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal enjoyment of human rights by all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace.
Thank you, Madam ChairpersonTop