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National Statement to the General Assembly of the United Nations

United Nations, Speech, Middle East and North Africa, 2012

Mr President

The primary mission of this United Nations is to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which …. has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’  These are the words of the UN Charter, the legacy of our predecessors.

Our history tells us, Mr President, that conflict grows in the spaces where human rights are denied;

That, where deprivation, inequality and injustice erode human dignity and potential, conflict is the consequence.

That war follows hunger, and hunger follows war.

That is why the UN Charter expresses in simple and clear terms our commitment to fundamental human rights. It reaffirms our “faith in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.

Words sometimes can become too familiar.  So familiar that their force and impact fades with time.  We, who gather here each year, must remind ourselves what we stand for.  Reflect honestly on what we have achieved and what we have not achieved, and rededicate ourselves to the ideals set out in our Charter.  We must make these lofty words relevant again to the peoples for whom we speak here.

The struggle for human rights is being fought every day in every region of the world.  There are too many forgotten places, and forgotten causes.  We must not turn away from the dark corners where the media spotlight does not shine, or from which the media spotlight has long departed.

We must speak here for the five year old child, without a family, struggling to survive in a refugee camp.

For the hungry mother cradling a dying infant at a feeding station.

For those who cannot speak publically in their own lands.  Who look here to us for the vindication of their basic rights, who believe in the words of our Charter, and expect us to act on them.


Mr President, what is happening in Syria is an affront to humanity.  

Syrian children, Syrian women and Syrian men, young and old, are being slaughtered by their own Government. 

A national army -  the army of a sovereign state – a member of this Organisation - shelling their own people as they queue for bread, and launching airstrikes on their own cities.

Compelling evidence of wholesale massacres in towns such as Houla

Syrian children trying to make sense of their shattered lives in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

The violence is indiscriminate, and on an appalling scale. And not confined to one side.

The people of Syria deserve the full support of the international community for the efforts to bring about an end to this suffering and to achieve an early political transition.  Ireland backs the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, in his difficult task. The priority must be to achieve an immediate ceasefire and to get a political process underway that will facilitate the transition.

What is needed, above all, is a strong Security Council resolution which will authorise targeted sanctions.  This must include a comprehensive arms embargo, against all those who are responsible for violating the human rights of the Syrian people.  That is what the Syrian people want from us, and what they have a right to expect.

There must also be full accountability for human rights abuses. To prevent further atrocities now, and to save lives now, we must make it clear now, that atrocities will not go unpunished. That is why Ireland supports the call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, by Switzerland and others, for the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. We are working to build up strong cross-regional support for such a referral.  

If the events in the Arab world over the past two years have taught us anything, it is that leaders who deny legitimate demands for greater political and economic freedom, and who instead resort to waging war on their own people, will inevitably lose the right to rule.

The systematic denial of human rights and suppression of democratic liberties has fuelled a profound desire for change. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and elsewhere, Ireland has supported the will of the people, peacefully expressed, to bring about long overdue democratic reforms.  


As world attention focuses on Syria, peace and justice remain elusive elsewhere in the Middle East.

The need for a lasting resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is as urgent as ever – and yet a depressing stalemate persists, with no progress towards a comprehensive settlement.  

Ireland has said on many occasions that the establishment of a Palestinian State, within borders based on those of 1967, is long overdue. We have made clear our hope that Palestine will be formally admitted to the UN as a full member.  While that hope remains to be fulfilled, we welcome the announcement by President Abbas of his plans to consult with the membership of the General Assembly on a resolution which – as an interim step towards the achievement of that goal – would accord Palestine non-member observer status.  Ireland will be proud to support a fair and balanced Resolution to this end and we look forward to the forthcoming consultations.

We know of course that such steps will not alter the situation on the ground. 

Israel must stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which only impede the prospect of achieving Israel’s own stated desire of a viable Palestinian state.  The peace and security of the people of Israel, to which they are entitled, gains nothing from denial of the basic rights of the people of Gaza, who are subjected to an unjust and counter-productive blockade.  

There is no alternative to serious negotiations between the two sides aimed at a comprehensive settlement.  I would like to see President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu committing themselves to achieving a comprehensive peace agreement within a specified timescale.  This will not be easy and will require painful compromises on both sides. But, if both leaders are willing to embark on this path, they will have the unstinting support of the entire international community, including Ireland.

International Development

Peace and security are inextricably linked to development, and development is at the heart of Ireland’s foreign policy.  We have maintained our ODA above 0.5% of GNP – an important achievement in the face of major economic difficulties – and we remain committed to reaching the 0.7% UN target as soon as we possibly can.

Ireland’s aid programme represents a genuine investment by the Irish people in the world we share with the people of developing countries.  We focus in particular on the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.  We have prioritised investments in education, in health, in good governance, in the lives and the rights of girls and women, and of those living with HIV and AIDS.  We have seen remarkable economic progress made in African countries as a result of such investments. But great inequalities still persist. 

It is in all our interests, as global citizens, that we stay the course in relation to the Millennium Development Goals.  And that we continue to work together for a sustainable and just world, where states operate on the basis of the rights of all people to participate in and contribute to society and inclusive economies.

Against this background, the reality of hunger in our world persists.  The scandal is that we have the tools to tackle this suffering and this terrible waste of human potential.  How can people realise their rights and their potential if they cannot meet the most basic needs for existence? 


No country knows this better than Somalia.  Once Somalia was at the centre of the world’s attention.  But the media spotlight moved on, and the people of Somalia have faced a long struggle to emerge from war, famine and instability. 

Today, more than two million Somalis still need our help.  On the last Sunday of July, I visited Mogadishu, and I saw, amidst the grinding poverty and the misery of insecurity, genuine signs of hope and opportunity.  Schools, homes, shops, businesses are being rebuilt and reopened, and people are returning from exile. 

Increased international engagement has been essential.  Real progress is also being achieved in Somalia’s transition to democracy, with impressive engagement by Somali traditional and political leaders. We must support them.

I pledge today that Ireland will not turn away from Somalia.  Or from humanitarian emergencies elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and across the globe.  We will work with partners to highlight forgotten crises and the needs of fragile states.  And to forge a much more coherent and effective international approach towards humanitarian action and development policy.

Ireland has made the fight against hunger and undernutrition the key priority of its development policy.  We have delivered on our commitment to direct 20% of our aid budget to this priority.  With our partners, we have worked closely with the UN Secretary General to build and support the Scaling Up Nutrition, or SUN, movement.  But we must do more.  Collectively, we must act now to recognise the systemic linkages between recurring food price crises, humanitarian emergencies, chronic undernutrition and the effects of climate change. 

There is nothing that connects us more, across borders, across oceans and across generations, than our mutual dependence on this planet which we share.  Climate change is not something happening in a far off land or in a distant future.  It is happening now, and it is happening fast.  It is not for another generation to solve – it is for us to take responsibility, and to act.

Human Rights

Mr President, a deep attachment to the safeguarding of human rights has been at the heart of Ireland’s foreign policy since the foundation of our State.

Ireland’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights has been shaped by our own history. As a small island nation which has experienced the impact of colonialism, civil war and conflict, we learned the hard way that human rights can never be taken for granted. 

From the earliest days of our UN membership, we pioneered the promotion of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  We also paid close attention to decolonisation and the struggle against apartheid. Today, we make substantial contributions to UN development agencies and funds and are active participants in UN peacekeeping operations.  Thousands of Irishmen and Irishwomen have served in UN peacekeeping forces, and our people are intensely proud of that contribution to the ideals of the United Nations.

Ireland also plays an active role in the work being done in the UN framework to protect and promote human rights. We are proud that our former President, Mary Robinson, served with distinction as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.

When the Human Rights Council was first established in 2006, Ireland declared that it would seek election in 2012. This is the first occasion on which we have sought election to the Council.

We are committed to a robust and effective Human Rights Council. We want to see a principled Council that provides real leadership in this critical area. We also value and support the full participation of small states in the work of the Council.

The Universal Periodic Review process has opened up an important space for national dialogue on human rights.  Ireland engaged constructively and self-critically in its own review.

We are also firmly committed to a strengthened UN Treaty Monitoring Body system and have actively contributed to efforts to reinforce this system.

The threats to human rights worldwide are proliferating steadily: whether from widespread poverty and hunger, from repressive systems of governance, from religious intolerance, from gender-based violence or from other directions.  If Ireland is elected to the Human Rights Council in November, we will serve the cause of international human rights protection as an active and committed member of the Council.

Attacks on Diplomatic Missions

Mr President, the United Nations is founded on the principle that diplomatic engagement and dialogue between nations are essential to peace and human development.   Attacks on diplomatic missions, such as we saw recently in Benghazi, are attacks on that principle.  They are never acceptable and must be condemned by the international community.


Mr President, Ireland is currently Chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  This has enabled us to make a contribution to the search for agreement across the full range of the OSCE’s activities.    We have drawn on our own experience of building peace in Northern Ireland to contribute to the work of the OSCE, which seeks to find peaceful settlements to protracted conflicts.

I am hopeful that, by the end of our term in office, we will have been able to make progress in some key areas, including in the so-called “Human Dimension” of the OSCE and on some conflict issues. 

We have used our Chairmanship to prioritise internet freedom, reflecting the increasing importance of the Internet as a platform for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms. A major conference in Dublin last June focused on how human rights and fundamental freedoms do not change with new technologies, but extend seamlessly into the digital age. 

We look forward to assuming the Presidency of the European Union Council of Ministers in the first half of next year.  We will bring to that role the same energy and commitment that we have devoted to discharging our OSCE responsibilities.


Mr. President

A distinguished Irish politician and lawyer of the late eighteenth century, John Philpot Curran, once remarked that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”.

If we are to live up to the aspirations of the UN Charter, we must also assume the burden of eternal vigilance.  The daily challenges to human rights are painfully obvious.  Our response must be clear and unrelenting.

In the words of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the promotion and protection of human rights is “the first responsibility” of Governments.  We cannot and must not shirk that responsibility.

Thank you