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Nuala Ni Mhuircheartaigh - PMUN Geneva

In 2016 I was posted at Ireland’s Mission to the UN, Geneva, where the UN Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies are a major focus of our work.

Ireland was a member of the Human Rights Council until December 2015 and as observers we continue to play an active role in all negotiations. In 2016 we led a resolution on civil society space, working with our partners Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia, which captures the best practices through which States can create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for civil society. Working in this constructive and cross-regional way has been one of the hallmarks of our role here.

We also contributed to the adoption of important resolutions, including e.g. establishing or renewing Commissions of Inquiry on Syria and Burundi; as well as fact-finding or similar missions in Myanmar, South Sudan and ongoing work on the DPRK. Mechanisms such as these do critical work documenting violations and laying the groundwork for future accountability, but some States reject all country-specific work as politicised.  To counter this, in 2016 we delivered a statement at the Council on behalf of 32 countries setting out criteria by which we can ensure consistent and non-selective consideration of country situations.  What are now known as ‘the Irish principles’ are slowly beginning to bear fruit and may in time help re-shape how we discuss these controversial issues.

Part of my role concerns examinations of Ireland’s record in the UN human rights system. During 2016, Ireland was reviewed in the Universal Periodic Review, a unique process whereby the human rights protection in every State is publicly reviewed on a cyclical basis.  A long process of preparations at home, led by the Department of Justice and Equality, culminated in a formal review at the Council in Geneva during May.  Ireland received 262 recommendations from other States on how to improve our human rights protection, the vast majority of which were accepted. We will now be expected to make good on our commitments and report back to the UN on implementation.

These are testing moments, which is exactly how it is meant to be. The beauty and the challenge of human rights is that the process is never complete - there is always room, for every State, to improve further.  It is a privilege to work every day with the human rights team, led by our Ambassador, in furtherance of the human rights values at the heart of our foreign policy- playing a part in encouraging other States to improve; holding them to account where they fail to meet their obligations; and expecting others to do the same for us. Much of this everyday work is not dramatic or high profile, but walking the halls of the Palais des Nations – the home of the UN and former home of the League of Nations – is a reminder of what can happen when these efforts fail.

And so all in all, 2016 was another busy and memorable year professionally (as well as on a personal level, with the birth of my second child!)