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Tánaiste’s address to the Forty-Third Session of the Human Rights Council

Tánaiste’s address to the Forty-Third Session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 24 February 2020

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

It is a privilege to be in Geneva again to address the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council.

In these turbulent and unpredictable times, we need a clear and independent voice speaking out in support of fundamental rights. Ireland stands with the High Commissioner, and commends her, and the Office that she leads.

Our commitment to human rights is a central pillar of Irish foreign policy, and it frames our approach to global engagement more generally.
It underpins all agendas: development, humanitarian action, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and disarmament and arms control.

This year, we will be a third of the way along the pathway for the Sustainable Development Goals. But we will not deliver on our commitments under the 2030 Agenda unless we recognise that the protection and promotion of human rights lies at its heart. This must involve prioritising a stronger emphasis on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, where so much work remains to be done.

Madame President,
By any objective measure, the global trends in relation to human rights violations are worrying:

• The use of the death penalty and torture continues;
• Safe and enabling environments for civil society actors are routinely threatened;
• Human rights defenders, their families and associates, endure reprehensible levels of attack. These violations and abuses can be particularly severe for women human rights defenders and those working in defence of LGBTI issues; and
• Acts of intimidation and reprisal against those seeking recourse through the UN system are on the increase.

Many of these trends are in evidence across all regions, including my own, but it is particularly troubling to note the impact of conflict in depriving the most vulnerable of their fundamental human rights.

Just consider the plight of families in Northern Syria. Children are being driven from their homes in sub zero temperatures. Innocent people are being bombed, even as they shelter in makeshift camps. The catastrophe in Idlib is a dark moment for humanity. History will judge all of us harshly for “watching on” and allowing it to happen, with a relatively muted response from the international community.

Tragically, while the fate of those in Idlib is particularly dire, it is not unique.

In Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, the devastating impacts of conflict, crisis and instability continue to be felt by a staggeringly high number of civilians, particularly women and children.

Irish people know from our own experience that the process of achieving and sustaining peace can often seem impossible. But it is precisely in these times that we need to persist, retain our focus and remember our obligation to our children and future generations.

Because we understand the benefits of peace, particularly in relation to the realisation and fulfilment of human rights, Ireland's commitment to the Middle East Peace Process remains steadfast.

The only realistic way to achieve a just and lasting peace for the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples is through a negotiated and agreed two-state solution with an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.

Regrettably, the obstacles to this solution continue to grow, including the continuing construction of illegal settlements, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Most worrying of all are the threats of unilateral annexation. This is clearly prohibited under international law, and cannot and should not be accepted.

A just and durable peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people requires a peace process that supports parity of esteem for both parties, based on established parameters and international law, and we will remain committed to this.

Madame President,
This year, we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of our United Nations. This is an opportunity for us to ask sometimes difficult questions, both of ourselves and of the system that we have developed.

Frankly, is the multilateral architecture forged from the ashes of two world wars working as effectively as it needs to, on behalf of those it is designed to protect?

We recognise the huge progress made in lifting millions out of grinding poverty, and in fighting and eliminating new and previously deadly diseases. But we also must adapt our structures and working methods to recognise the scale of the challenges of the 21st Century, including the existential threat of climate change.

We believe that a properly resourced and dynamic United Nations, including the vital human rights pillar, continues to offer the best platform to unite us as a global community as we seek to provide a better future for all.
I am acutely conscious that there are many seeking to undermine the United Nations and the broader multilateral system. We need to join together to counter such short term approaches and to persevere with hope and determination in “the pushback against the pushback”.

We know that the multilateral system is imperfect. But it is our responsibility to better equip the system – our system - to address the myriad challenges of the 21st century.

Malala, the great champion of girls’ education, has commented that “If people were silent, nothing would change”. We must demonstrate that silence on fundamental human rights cannot be an option.


Here in Geneva, Ireland will continue to be a strong voice championing human rights issues of concern, defending the multilateral system and seeking to hold accountable perpetrators of violations and abuses.

And we hope that next year in New York, we will be given the opportunity by the Member States of the United Nations, to bring our perspective to bear as active members of the Security Council.

Thank you.


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