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Remarks by Minister Costello at Tipperary Peace Convention

Human rights, Minister Joe Costello, Speech, Asia and Oceania, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, organisers of the Tipperary Peace Award, Malala Yousafzai, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you here this evening.

I shall keep my remarks brief as I know that you, like me, are eager to hear from our special guest Malala.

Last October I, like many in the international community, was shocked by the events which occurred in northern Pakistan.  What a chilling experience it must have been for you, Malala, to see gunmen board your school bus that morning, to single you out for assassination and then to shoot you in the head. It would be a horrendously traumatic experience for any adult to overcome but almost unimaginable for a child of 14 years.

Our shock and repulsion at these actions extends also to the authorities in Pakistan.  My colleague, Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch met with Mr Shaigan Sharif Malik the Federal Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights earlier this year and I understand that the Pakistani Parliament is seeking to act on women’s issues and is considering legal reforms that would tackle such violent actions by militant extremists.

I admire Malala’s courageous efforts to overcome her severe injuries and psychological trauma and to continue to promote the fundamental right to education and her efforts to achieve education for women and girls in Pakistan and other regions worldwide.

As a former teacher I know the importance of education from an early age, for girls and boys alike.  Every girl and boy has a right to a quality education but girls and young women generally receive less education - two thirds of the world’s adults who have no formal education are women.

Moreover, education empowers women and educating women promotes better health and livelihood options for themselves and their children.  A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5 and the children of educated mothers are more likely to be nourished, vaccinated and educated.  The benefits of educating girls therefore have a very positive effect on the person, on the family and on society.

Ireland, through its development programme, focuses on addressing girls’ education in a number of ways.

The recruitment and deployment of female teachers to areas where girls’ attendance is low is a focus area for example.  Women teachers have an important role to play as models for their young female students.

Indeed, in earlier decades, Irish missionaries were pioneers of girls education worldwide, Irish nuns made sure that wherever they went education was a top priority and girls were treated exactly as boys. Irish Aid also provides scholarships for girls to attend secondary school in many of its Key Partner Countries, like Uganda, Zambia and Lesotho.

Ireland, through its development programme also places a strong emphasis on strengthening national education systems to focus more strongly on improving progress with girls’ transition to secondary by mapping, targeting and monitoring and supporting girls who are vulnerable to exclusion from the school system. The transition from primary to secondary level is particularly challenging for girls in many parts of the world as I’m sure Malala knows better than any of us here today.

More broadly, the cause of human rights is one that resonates strongly with the Irish people, and the promotion and protection of these rights has long been a cornerstone of Ireland’s foreign policy.

We strive to reflect these convictions in all aspects of our engagement with the international community. In the past, Ireland was outspoken in its support for the anti-apartheid and anti-colonial movements; today, carrying on that proud tradition, the cause of human rights remains at the forefront of how we engage with the wider world.

It is for this reason that we sought and successfully achieved election to the United Nations Human Rights Council last year. Our membership of the Council provides us with the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the work of the United Nations in advancing the cause of human rights over the coming three years.

I have placed the welfare and human rights of children as one of our priorities during our 3 year term. Specifically the areas of child soldiers, child labour (estimated 325 million worldwide), child trafficking and the fundamental right to education for every child. Indeed, this year in Ireland, the rights of children became enshrined in our own constitution.

In 1948, the United Nations adopted its famous Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to serve as ‘a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’. It was an unprecedented moment in human history when, in the aftermath of the horrors of the Second World War, the international community came together to recognise for the first time a set of rights inherent to each individual person simply by virtue of his or her humanity.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration begins by declaring simply, ‘Everyone has the right to education.’ When Malala began her campaign for girls’ education in Pakistan in 2009, she was articulating a demand which should have been straightforward; such is the level of acceptance it enjoys across the world. Yet, like many other human rights defenders, the fact that she dared to demand her and her sisters’ birthright, led to her being targeted and attacked.

Article 26 goes on to stress the importance of education to understanding, tolerance, friendship among all peoples, and finally, peace.  Malala understands these linkages deeply. In her recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, she appealed for universal education, including for the sons and daughters of the extremists who marked her for death.

‘Let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons,’ you said, Malala, reflecting on the transformative and empowering nature of education.

Finally, at the United Nations and specifically, the Human Rights Council our efforts to advance the human right to education will continue. The Council has now appointed a Special Rapporteur whose role it is to further develop and advance international understanding of the right to education. The Council, at its most recent session in May 2013, also passed a resolution on the right to education. I am pleased that Ireland, as a member of the Council, co-sponsored and supported this resolution.

Malala – We share your passion for the universal right to education. It has been an honour to meet you.  I think I speak for all of those present here this evening when I say we are humbled and inspired by your magnificent courage.

Thank you.