Minister Flanagan’s address to the UN Human Rights Council04 March 2015
Statement by Mr Charlie Flanagan, TD, Minster for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland to the UN Human Rights Council,
Geneva, 4 March 2015
Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour for me as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland to address the 28th session of the Council.
This is a difficult time for defending human rights. We are confronted by rising threats of terrorism and extremism. Stark humanitarian emergencies are increasing. The injustices suffered by minorities are deepening. The international community must mobilise to address these global challenges.
Our approach must be based on our shared commitment to strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, firmly grounded in pluralism, tolerance, equality, justice and above all, recognition of the universality of human rights. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must be backed by an independent and well resourced Office.
In our recent review of our international policies and engagement, The Global Island, Ireland has renewed its commitment to the creation of a just, fair and sustainable world. We will do so particularly through our five signature foreign policies:
- combating poverty and hunger;
- advancing human rights;
- promoting disarmament;
- a commitment to UN peacekeeping; and
- sharing our experience of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.
Each of these themes has a relevance to the work of this Council.
I have recently returned from the Middle East.
I witnessed firsthand the infrastructural damage and pain of thousands of civilians living in the Gaza Strip. I also visited villages under threat in Israel. The plight of ordinary citizens was distressing to behold.
I met with senior Israeli and Palestinian figures to discuss their perspectives on the prospects for progress towards peace. It is clear to me that the status quo is not sustainable and we need a fresh approach to peace talks. Support for a just and equitable solution in the Middle East has long been a key element of Ireland’s foreign policy and we remain ready to assist in any way possible.
My visit also brought into sharp focus the enormous challenges the region currently faces. The humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria is a human tragedy and a growing threat to regional stability. Ireland has provided almost €30.8 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world has been shocked by the monstrous and systematic human rights abuses being perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State, or ISIL. I am particularly appalled that women and girls have suffered extremely grave violations of their rights. We have seen shocking reports of physical and sexual assault, sexual slavery, trafficking and forced marriage. Ethnic and religious minorities have been effectively wiped out from ISIL controlled territories. In addition to a strong security response, urgent action must be taken to counter ISIL's ideology of violence and death.
Freedom of Religion and Belief
Violence in the name of religion is a disturbing phenomenon and one which is not confined to ISIL. Freedom of Religion and Belief is in peril in many places worldwide, with members of minority religious communities, including those of Christian, Muslim and Baha’i faith, disproportionately affected by violence, discrimination, and harassment.
People of faith have more in common than perhaps they realise. In my own country we have learned to seek the common ground that unites us as members of the global human family.
Two weeks ago I visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, a site which stands as a stark reminder of the horrific consequences of anti-Semitism and unchecked racism and intolerance. The recent Paris and Copenhagen attacks compel us to intensify our efforts to combat terrorism and all forms of discrimination and religious intolerance, which threaten the values of equality and pluralism on which our societies depend.
Ireland notes with deep concern the recent cases of States resuming the application of the death penalty as well as the rise in executions in other countries. There is no compelling evidence to show that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime; conversely, any miscarriage of justice could lead to the intentional killing of an innocent person by state authorities.
Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression has a special place as an enabling force for many other rights. The right of everyone to be speak, be heard, and to participate in political, artistic and social life is integral to the attainment and enjoyment of equality and all rights by all. The line between freedom of expression and hate speech has increasingly come under focus, in particular due to the Internet’s role in providing an open platform for expression. Hate speech is an act of discrimination that can fuel violence and must be tackled both online and offline. It is incumbent on us all to speak out against intolerance and violence, using freedom of expression to empower and transform; to drown out the voices of hatred. It is also however important that we protect the exercise of freedom of expression, including dissenting or difficult voices, which form an intrinsic and important part of the protected realm for speech.
Right to Education
The attacks experienced by girls and women accessing education and those who support them, including the shocking barbarity of the terrorist attacks by Boko Haram and other fundamentalist organisations, are a serious violation of human rights. The attacks undermine the very fabric of our society, hinder development and stifle economic growth.
As Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has stated “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back”.
2015 is a pivotal year for gender equality and women’s empowerment as it marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA).
We are very honoured that the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, has been invited by UN Women to become one of ten Champion World Leaders, as part of the HeForShe campaign. In accepting the invitation, President Higgins outlined our commitment to take further concrete actions to accelerate progress and to encourage men to stand beside women in creating change. As the President remarked, “Gender equality is the prize not the gift.”
I was personally very proud to launch Ireland’s second National Action Plan on UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security on 14 January 2015.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is one of the greatest shames of the modern world that States continue to deny individuals their human rights because of who they are or whom they love.
Our own national experience illustrates the breadth and pace of change that is possible, where there is political will. In 1993, homosexual activity between men was decriminalised in Ireland. In May this year, Ireland will hold a referendum to allow our people the choice of amending the Constitution to provide for the availability of civil marriage to two persons, without distinction as to their sex.
My Government is campaigning strongly for a ‘Yes’ vote in this referendum. Our laws and our Constitution must treat our citizens equally.
Moreover, the Irish Parliament has before it draft legislation to provide for State recognition of the acquired gender of transgender people.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Post 2015 agenda and climate change
As we look towards the future, a life of dignity for everyone remains a central goal. It is a significant honour for Ireland to have been tasked by the UN to co-facilitate, together with Kenya, the international negotiations on a new global development agenda.
Our ambition is to achieve a transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda that will both eradicate extreme poverty and promote sustainable development based on equality and human rights. Equally, addressing climate change in a manner that protects all peoples of the world is key to sustainable development and I welcome that the Human Rights Council will on Friday 6 March have a full-day discussion on human rights and climate change.
Ireland at the HRC
Ireland has sought to advance two national initiatives at the Council; the first on preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five and the second on the protection of civil society space. We sincerely thank all Member States for their engagement in discussions around these issues to date and are pleased that all of our resolutions on these two subjects have been adopted by consensus. We look forward to working with Member States, the Office of the High Commissioner and other UN agencies on their implementation.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
I am delighted to say that on 26 September 2014, I signed and ratified, on behalf of Ireland, the Third Optional Protocol on the Convention of the Rights of the Child. This ratification, one of a range of Government initiatives to strengthen children’s rights, will provide Irish children with a route to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which can hear complaints in relation to violations of their rights.
I began my remarks reflecting on my recent visit to the Middle East. However, there are many other human rights emergencies in many countries around the world which are also having an appalling impact on their people. Just over one year since the Maidan demonstrations, the situation in Ukraine remains of deep concern. Despite intense diplomatic efforts, violence and human rights abuses have escalated.
Ireland calls for full implementation of the Minsk agreements, and for a sustainable and inclusive political solution, based on the respect for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, disarmament of all illegal groups and the withdrawal of foreign fighters.
We should not be discouraged by the challenges we face; instead they should spur us to revive and strengthen our sense of a common humanity and our commitment to international law including international human rights and humanitarian law.
I am reminded of the words of the Irish poet, playwright and Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats, on his 150th anniversary. In his work, ‘A Vision’, he lays before us the promise of our endeavour, namely “......to hold in a single thought reality and justice”.