Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern T.D. at Front Line’s Fourth Platform for Human Rights Defenders,
High Commissioner, Your Excellencies, distinguished human rights defenders, ladies and gentlemen:
On behalf of the Irish Government, I am delighted to have the honour of welcoming you to this Fourth Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders. I know that for some of you the journey here was not easy but your presence is hugely important. It bears testimony to your great courage and determination. It is a privilege for Ireland to have this opportunity, once again, to host such a special group of men and women. Your work is invaluable. Its impact is felt not only by those whose rights you tirelessly seek to vindicate but also by all those to whom you are an inspiration.
I am delighted that Ms Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is with us today, and I look forward to her address.
She is noted for her personal commitment to the work of human rights defenders. Ireland is glad to be one of the strongest supporters of her Office, both politically, and financially as the eighth largest donor.
I would also, of course, pay tribute to Front Line - to Mary Lawlor, its Director, Denis O’Brien, its Chairperson, and all of the team. Since its foundation in 2001, Front Line has made huge progress in highlighting the plight of human rights defenders and in working on their behalf and has rightly won international recognition.
I am very pleased that my Department has developed a close working relationship with Front Line, both on individual cases and on broader human rights policy.
The promotion of human rights, and specifically the protection of the role of human rights defenders, occupies a central place in Ireland’s foreign policy.
At UN level, we have consistently stressed that civil society must be enabled to participate actively in the work of the Human Rights Council. Negotiations on this aspect of the Council’s future work – and on other aspects – have not been easy. And implementing what has been agreed will be a continuing challenge. But I am glad that it is now accepted that civil society organisations will continue to have the opportunity to make submissions to the sessions of the Human Rights Council. Furthermore, the importance of contributions by civil society to the new mechanism of Universal Periodic Review of all UN member states has been expressly highlighted in the rules agreed earlier this year.
Ireland has also strongly supported the transfer of the special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights to the new Human Rights Council. We were particularly concerned that the mandate of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, a post currently held by Ms Hina Jilani, should be maintained.
Given the importance of the role and the progress achieved by Ms Jilani, Ireland fully supports the renewal of this mandate. In her reports, Ms Jilani has fearlessly highlighted the challenges and obstacles faced by human rights defenders around the world.
Ms Jilani has a special connection with Ireland, having addressed conferences here in 2004 and 2005. It is with great concern, then, that we learned that an arrest warrant has been issued in respect of her in her native Pakistan. I call on Pakistan immediately to cancel the arrest warrants issued against human rights defenders and release forthwith those human rights defenders already detained. This will be a vital element in the resolution of the current crisis in that country and in its return to the democratic path.
The treatment of human rights defenders in other countries around the world continues to demand international concern and action. Ireland will continue to actively engage in initiatives at the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly, and to work with our EU partners in particular.
Ireland again this year cosponsored the resolution on human rights defenders, tabled by Norway, in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.
In the EU arena, Ireland has also played a key role in supporting the work of human rights defenders. During Ireland’s EU Presidency in 2004, the EU adopted Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. Our commitment to these Guidelines did not stop, however, with their compilation. Ireland remains engaged to ensure that these Guidelines are implemented.
Nationally, Ireland ensures that briefing on their implementation is part of the training of all our diplomatic staff and that key missions remain actively engaged in practice.
Ireland has also spearheaded attempts to achieve greater focus on human rights defenders by institutions of the Council of Europe.
I will be meeting the Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, next week, and will be welcoming moves by his office to make a more concerted effort on human rights defenders.
2008, which marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, will present a special opportunity to highlight the importance of human rights, with a particular focus on ensuring that the universality of these rights is respected.
Around the world, the links between insecurity, conflict and the abuse of human rights remain glaringly apparent. Armed conflict and lawlessness create a situation in which atrocious human rights abuses, killings and rapes, can continue with impunity and where they are indeed used as an instrument of policy.
The EU, through the development of its security and defence policy, is playing an increased role in responding to such situations of insecurity and grave humanitarian crisis.
The Government decided earlier this week that Ireland will make a major contribution to the EUFOR mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, which is being deployed at the request of the United Nations and will play a crucial humanitarian peace support role in helping to improve security for those displaced by the Darfur crisis and by unrest within Chad and the Central African Republic.
When I visited an IDP camp in Eastern Chad I heard directly myself from some of those affected how urgently they need our help. I know well how great the challenges will be – and I am conscious of how slow progress is in Darfur, not to mention elsewhere in Africa, including in Somalia and the DRC – but I believe that Ireland can in its own way make a positive difference through engagement in Chad.
The complex situation in the Middle East remains the greatest single threat to world peace. Over the coming days, international attention will focus again on an opportunity for lasting peace, as political leaders from across the region prepare for the important meeting in Annapolis.
We support those Israeli and Palestinian leaders with the courage to make the difficult and often dangerous compromises needed for peace.
Today, I want also to express our support for the dedicated work of brave men and women across the Middle East working individually and as members of NGOs in defence of basic human rights. We know the threats and personal risks they face every day. Their work is rarely appreciated by political leaders. And yet it is essential for the building of lasting peace, security and justice in the Middle East.
There are no military or unilateral solutions available to the interlocking problems of the Middle East. To put it bluntly, there is no State in the region which needs a nuclear weapon – or more tanks, rockets and cluster munitions. And there is no State in the Middle East which can afford to ignore the inalienable human rights of the people of the region, or to consign human rights concerns to the policy margins in favour of supposedly superior geostrategic goals. The truth is that human rights issues are security issues.
At inter-Governmental level, we and our partners in the EU seek to engage on the human rights agenda through political dialogue and in the spirit of mutual respect which must underpin all aspects of relations between Europe and the Middle East. Our aim is to encourage States to meet the standards to which they have committed themselves as Members of the United Nations. But I have to say that I share the concern about the deterioration in the human rights situation across the region.
The EU makes detailed representations regularly in response to executions, extrajudicial killings, arrests of human rights activists and restrictions on freedom of expression. We are appalled also by terrorism, torture, kidnappings and sectarian attacks by self-appointed armed groups.
The challenge to Governments is to address both the complex underlying structural causes of tension in the Middle East, as well as the immediate and devastating effect on individuals and communities. There is no escape from the complexity of this situation.
We will not succeed by labelling people and communities into simple, broad opposing camps: Arab versus Israeli, Sunni versus Shia, moderate versus extremist. The Middle East, through history, has always been a rich and varied mix of ethnic, cultural and religious communities, the source of so much of our own European heritage. There is a culture of diversity in the region which we need to sustain as the basis for the resolution of its problems.
The question of Palestine is not the primary cause of those problems, but it affects nearly all of them to a greater or lesser extent. Its resolution would transform the prospects for the whole region. The time has come to restore real credibility to the peace process.
The meeting in Annapolis next week represents a crucial moment. The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians know in their hearts that the only possible solution is the creation of a viable, independent, democratic Palestinian State. After decades of negotiation and crisis they know the contours of a peaceful settlement.
Annapolis will give them hope if it launches a meaningful, and urgent, process for the negotiation of the most difficult final status issues – borders, settlements, refugees, security, water and the status of Jerusalem. If this happens, there will be a new opportunity for a regional settlement, building on the historic Arab Peace Initiative.
We and our EU partners have been strong in our support for Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas and their colleagues, and we will continue to demonstrate that support in word and deed. But to be credible, a renewed political process must not only address the core issues of the conflict, it must be bolstered by action to improve the daily lives of the people most affected. That means, for a start, a clear end to settlement building, the lifting of checkpoints and the release of prisoners. In my view, it also means an end to policies aimed at isolating the ordinary people of Gaza and the re-opening of crossing points for people and goods.
A political settlement will not be built on Palestinian divisions. I hope that following the Annapolis meeting the conditions will be in place to enable the Palestinians to rebuild a basic consensus around the concept of a two-State solution – and to move together towards its achievement, in full partnership with Israel. The only alternative is further chaos and suffering across a region from Iraq to the Mediterranean which has been marked by too many blighted hopes.
It is all too clear that, in the Middle East as elsewhere in the world, the steady and determined heroism of human rights defenders will remain essential in calling the powerful to account, in offering a voice to the vulnerable, and in reminding us all of the high standards by which we should be judged. Morally, politically and practically Ireland will continue to stand with you in your work.
I greatly hope that this Platform will prove helpful to you in sharing experience and in re-gathering your strength for the struggles ahead.