Written Answers. - Human Rights Forum.

Michael Ring

Question:

33 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent human rights conference in Dublin in which his Department participated. [8239/98]

The inaugural NGO Forum on Human Rights took place in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, on 7 March last. Hosted by Deputy Liz O'Donnell, the Minister of State with special responsibility for human rights, the forum provided a unique opportunity for all those organisations and individuals actively involved in the field of human rights to share their collective knowledge and concerns with representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and other Government Departments and, indeed, with other members of the non-governmental sector.

Mrs. Mary Robinson, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered the keynote address to the forum in which she spoke of the pressing need to continue the work of promoting and defending human rights throughout the world. She stressed, in particular, the important contribution made in this regard by NGOs. The High Commissioner also noted that human rights had domestic implications for Irish society and that increased wealth went hand in hand with increased responsibilities, particularly with regard to disadvantaged groups such as refugees and asylum seekers and the homeless.

This keynote statement was followed by a series of panel discussions which addressed some of the issues which are central to current domestic and international debate on human rights, development and democratisation. There were six panel discussions in all, which were chaired and addressed by distinguished academics or activists in the field of human rights. One such panel, which was the subject of considerable NGO and media interest, was devoted to the question of refugees and asylum seekers. Following contributions from representatives of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the UN High Commission for Refugees and the Irish Refugee Council, this topic was comprehensively examined during an exchange of views between the panel and speakers from the broad NGO community.

The other panels focused on women's human rights, the question of universality, the rights of the child, the role of NGOs and human rights and democratisation.

Ireland's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva made a presentation to the forum on the likely deliberations of the 54th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, which subsequently convened on 16 March. This presentation was followed by a wide-ranging question and answer session.
The feedback which has been received to date from the many participants at the forum has been very positive. I believe that this inaugural NGO Forum on Human Rights was a very successful initiative and one that has been welcomed by the NGO sector.
The Minister of State, O'Donnell, congratulated Irish NGOs for the continuing support which they give to the affirmation of human rights across a wide range of issues and she noted, furthermore, that "a strong, vibrant and independent-minded NGO community is central to a properly functioning democracy. Modern Governments can only be enhanced by strong links and regular dialogue with the NGO community". It was in recognition of these factors that the forum has been established as an annual event which, it is hoped, will act as a vital link between the Department and the wider non-governmental community.