Minister of State Costello’s address to the 12th NGO Forum on Human Rights, 17 February 2012
Twelfth DFAT-NGO Forum on Human Rights, February 17th 2012
Address by Minister of State for Trade and Development, Joe Costello T.D
Let me begin by saying how delighted I am to be present here today for this the twelfth DFAT-NGO Forum on Human Rights, and to see such a large attendance from a whole range of groups and organisations – both national and international.
I am also glad that you have chosen the theme for today’s Forum to be the Review of the White Paper on Irish Aid. This morning, I want to briefly outline the objective of this Review and how this Forum fits into it.
The Review of the White Paper on Irish Aid
As Minister of State for Trade and Development I am leading the Review of the 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid. The aim of the Review, as mentioned by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in his opening remarks, is to look at where we have come from, where we are today, and where we would like to go over the coming years in our efforts to eradicate global poverty, hunger and inequality.
This Reviews affords us an opportunity to take stock of the achievements and challenges to date, to learn from what works best, to look at the fast changing context, and to chart out the future priorities for our aid programme. A Review Report will be published later this year.
We know that our aid effort is delivering results. Poverty levels in Uganda have halved since the early ‘90s. In Tanzania, land under irrigation has increased by 40% since 2006. The number of children attending school in Mozambique has grown from 400,000 in 1992 to almost 7 million today.
But we also know that many challenges remain, including climate change, food and energy insecurity, persistent gender inequality, state fragility and poor governance. We need to look carefully at how our aid can contribute further to addressing these challenges.
And we need to think and act beyond aid, ensuring that poorer countries have better access to trade, can raise more of their own revenue, and are able to drive their own development.
At the beginning of this month, I launched a three-month public consultation exercise. I did this because we want to hear the views of the general public on the aid programme; because this is their programme, carried out in their name, and built on our values as a nation.
Today’s Forum is ideally situated within that public consultation period, and will feed into our deliberations in a very meaningful way. I also encourage you and your organisations to participate in the ways that are outlined in the Summary Consultation Papers that are available here today.
The Importance of Human Rights
Let me now turn to the importance of human rights in our work, and in the Review that we have commenced.
The White Paper on Irish Aid placed our aid programme at the heart of our foreign policy, and elaborated on its role in the advancement of human rights.
The White Paper explicitly states that international human rights standards apply to both donor and recipient countries. Under these international obligations, governments are primarily responsible both for creating the conditions in which rights can be realised, and for ensuring that rights are not violated.
Through Irish Aid, we have a firm commitment to support state institutions, the United Nations, and international, national and local organisations that promote human rights in some of the poorest countries in the world.
This is based on the strong belief that without a strong culture of human rights, including gender equality, long-term sustainable development is not possible.
In other words, if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at eradicating extreme poverty are to be met, then human rights need to be paramount.
For example, it is clear that hunger is a violation of human rights. And a human rights approach to tackling hunger will contribute to making solutions more durable and more equitable.
Human rights are realized when development programmes deliver real and lasting results for poor people, especially women, children and the marginalised. That is why results-based planning and management has become more central in our partnerships with Governments, UN bodies and civil society organisations.
The MDGs do have limitations with regards to human rights, however. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said recently, “attention to the MDGs provided only a very narrow set of economic and social indicators, none of them rights-based, all of them with low quantitative thresholds, none guaranteeing participatory processes, and none accompanied by legal accountability… (They also) leave out a full half of the development equation, that is, all civil and political rights considerations.”
These issues need to be considered carefully as we begin to work towards a new framework for global development that will take us beyond the MDG deadline of 2015.
The recent High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan placed human rights at the core of all that we do. Here, donor and partner governments, civil society and private sector actors agreed that it is now necessary to rethink what aid should be spent on. And to rethink how in ways that are consistent with agreed international rights, norms and standards, aid can catalyse development.
This rethinking is what the Review of the White Paper on Irish Aid should be about. And that is why we are interested in involving and hearing from you.
We need to ask - how can our efforts be targeted at building democratic ownership of human rights standards and principles of meaningful participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination? This applies across all of our work.
In cases where Irish Aid provides funding directly through partner government systems, the underlying principles of human rights and the respect for the rule of law are of central importance.
This is critical. It provides the basis for dialogue with partner governments on human rights, especially when issues arise where those rights are being threatened.
It is equally important for us to emphasise existing national, regional and international accountability processes, including parliaments, national human rights commissions, civil society, UN monitoring mechanisms and regional human rights courts.
We recognise the central role that is being played by civil society in development. Ireland channels a higher proportion of its development assistance through civil society organisations than any other international donor.
And in our specific human rights support for civil society, we focus on three main priorities: the protection of human rights defenders, the prevention of gender-based violence, and the participation of poor and marginalised people in the UN human rights system.
We also support national human rights institutions in carrying out their mandate in an impartial and effective manner, free from hindrance or interference. In recent years, Irish Aid has collaborated closely with the Irish Human Rights Commission in their role of strengthening their counterpart commissions in Africa – and I am glad to see the President of the Irish Human Rights Commission here present and active in today’s proceedings.
Today we will touch upon some of the more critical issues that we will be considering in the White Paper Review. We are keen to learn how to ensure the centrality of human rights in our programme; how to better protect the space for civil society, human rights defenders and human rights institutions, and; how to build on the central place of human rights in our foreign policy
I wish you every success in your deliberations. Thank you.Top