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Statement by the Tánaiste on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2011

Since 1950, the United Nations has recognised the 10th of December, the anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as Human Rights Day. It is appropriate, therefore, that on this day we reaffirm our commitment to the principles enshrined in the Declaration which sets out a vision of a world where all peoples are free to enjoy the same rights and freedoms without discrimination. This vision remains as relevant today as it was when the Declaration was first proclaimed over 60 years ago.

Ireland’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights has been, and will continue to be, a central component of our foreign policy. Active engagement with civil society is a key aspect of this work, and I would like to pay tribute to the many civil society groups, in particular human rights defenders, who remain at the forefront in promoting human rights around the world.  

This past year has been one of momentous change.  I was delighted to see the adoption of a historic Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in June.   This was the first time that a United Nations Resolution explicitly acknowledged human rights protection as covering sexual orientation.   It demonstrates the increasing commitment across the international community to the promotion and protection of the human rights of all persons, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity.   Ireland co-sponsored the Resolution and I am proud that we are also part of a cross-regional group of states which have been working in support of this and other similar initiatives at the Human Rights Council.

In January 2012, Ireland will assume for the first time the Chairmanship-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  One of the priorities for our Chairmanship will be the issue of internet freedom, in particular as it applies to new digital media. As in other parts of the world, the threat to freedom of expression online is ever-present in the OSCE region, and appears to be growing. Ireland will work to highlight the simple fact that human rights and fundamental freedoms do not change with the advent of new technologies, but extend into the digital age.

Reflecting our commitment to internet freedom, Ireland has joined a number of countries in endorsing a declaration on Freedom Online at a conference which is taking place this week in the Netherlands.  This Declaration reaffirms the need for States, regional and international organisations, technology companies and civil society to work together to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms online.

In 2012, Ireland will also be seeking election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We have long championed the vital role of the United Nations in this regard and are committed to a robust and effective Human Rights Council at the heart of international endeavours.   If elected, we will seek clear and strong action by the Council in addressing human rights violations and in promoting universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Note for Editors:

Ireland is a candidate for the United Nations Human Rights Council for the period 2013 to 2015. This is the first time that Ireland has sought election to the Council. The election will take place in the autumn of 2012. Ireland is competing against the USA, Germany, Sweden and Greece for one of the three seats available to the Western Europe and Others Group.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation in Europe, Central Asia and North America. Comprising fifty-six participating States (including all the members of the EU, the USA, Canada and Russia) and twelve partner countries, the OSCE’s approach to security is comprehensive and co-operative. It deals with a wide range of security issues, including arms control, preventive diplomacy, confidence and security building measures, human rights, election monitoring and economic and environmental security.

It was agreed at the OSCE Ministerial in Athens in December 2009 that Ireland would chair the OSCE in 2012. The present Chair is held by Lithuania. Ireland has been participating in the OSCE Troika with Lithuania and the previous Chair, Kazakhstan, since January this year.