Address by Brian Cowen, T.D. at the launch of Front Line
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The adoption, by consensus, of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by the UN General Assembly in1998 was a victory for human rights activists everywhere. It was more than that. It was a victory for all of us, as it sent a signal that the people who do the dangerous and difficult things we all imagine we could do - in other words, "the people who have the courage of our convictions", were no longer alone..
We all have to face difficult situations at some time or other in our lives. But few of us are ever called upon, or even more rarely, volunteer, to put our lives on the line. Human rights defenders put their lives on the line, on our behalf, every day of the year. In doing so, they enhance the dignity of us all. When they are struck down, we are all diminished.
We have a proud history in this country of numbering among our people many human rights defenders. Down through the years, missionaries, doctors, aid workers and soldiers have given themselves to the service of humanity. All too many have paid the ultimate price. On our own island, human rights defenders are not immune from those who fear the light they shine into the dark corners which haunt our history to the present day. Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson paid the price. However, both my colleague Minister of State Liz O'Donnell, who has special responsibility in the area of human rights, and I myself can assure their families that they are not alone in their search for justice for the loss of their loved ones.
I have had a personal involvement in the case of another courageous human rights defender, Fr Brendan Forde. Last year, Fr Forde, in the course of his work with the peace communities in La Union, Colombia, witnessed the aftermath of two massacres. Rather than flee, Fr Forde opted to remain with his community, and personally bore witness to the suffering inflicted. We made known to the Colombian authorities our concern that everything possible should be done to ensure the safety of Fr. Forde and the people of La Union. Political pressure exerted by the Government served to help protect the communities from further action by the paramilitaries, and, I am in no doubt, our efforts brought a measure of protection to Fr Forde too.
Building on the legacy that these Irish human rights defenders have bequeathed, successive governments have given human rights a priority place in the formulation of policy. Ireland's profile in the area of human rights have been enhanced by the appointment and work of the former President, Mary Robinson, as UN Commissioner for Human Rights. We are proud of her achievements.
In my area of foreign policy, we have now taken our seat as a member of the UN Security Council. In that forum, we will be bringing our perspective to bear on the many problems that have to be dealt with there. Our history and our maturity as a democratic, sovereign state has equipped us with much that we hope, in turn, to contribute to the Security Council. I do not say this lightly. Much is expected of us both at home and abroad. However, that we have a significant role to play was recognised by the 130 countries which supported us in the election to SECCO.
The UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders. Ms. Hina Jilani, cannot be with us here today. I know I can speak for everyone here when I wish her well in her work. My understanding is that she views her mandate as having a wide scope. Nor is she working on any tight definition of human rights defenders. She has said that she regards the term as including individuals who promote, protect and strive for the protection of human rights- covering also those who support their activities. Surely we can all number ourselves among those included in that description.
So I am proud today to mark another milestone in the history of Irish involvement in the protection and promotion of human rights. The establishment of Frontline is the best possible of all responses to the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to the appointment of the UN Special Representative. It demonstrates that here in Ireland we are prepared to do something and not just talk about it. I want to pay tribute to Denis O'Brien whose generosity made this initiative possible. I know he too is proud to be listed among our distinguished human rights defenders.
I congratulate Mary Lawlor on her part in making the Foundation a reality. She will now take the lead in doing the hard work that Frontline is all about. Many of us in government have been made keenly aware of her displeasure when, over the years with Amnesty International, she pursued with us issues where she did not agree with what we were doing. However, Mary is not just a persuasive advocate, she gets things done. I wish her well. With her experience in Amnesty, I know that she will be working closely with NGOs here and elsewhere to achieve the goals Frontline has set. I am confident that this will be a fruitful partnership.
I want to assure everyone here today that Frontline has my full support in its endeavours. Let me also assure you that this support will go beyond words. We expect the Foundation to establish close cooperation with this Department to our mutual benefit. In addition, I am looking at means in which to help with the practical assistance in getting the organisation up and running.
This is a day when we celebrate some good news. Unfortunately, in the field of human rights, such days are all too rare. Let us all work to ensure that there will be more of them.
Thank you Top