I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 74 together.
Ireland’s membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) presents an opportunity to enhance our reputation internationally and to make a meaningful contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. During Ireland’s three year membership of the HRC, which runs from 2013-2015, we are actively working to add value to the work of the Council and strengthen the institution itself.
Ireland’s approach to membership of the HRC is guided by the pledges and commitments made during our campaign to secure election which reflect our well-established human rights priorities. These include the following: Defending the universality of human rights; Freedom of expression (particularly on the internet); Freedom of religion or belief; LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) rights; Peace building and conflict resolution; The human rights situation in the Middle East; Strengthening the UN Human Rights Treaty Body System; The promotion and protection of human rights defenders; The promotion and protection of an enabling environment for civil society; Women’s rights, combating discrimination and Gender-Based Violence. We are also highlighting the importance of ensuring that human rights considerations underpin all areas of development – with a particular focus on health, education and combating hunger.
Ireland held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first six months of this year, which encompassed the March and June sessions of the Human Rights Council. As Presidency, Ireland played an active role in the HRC as part of the Joint EU Team, together with the EU Delegation (EEAS). In the March session, I personally delivered the general statement on behalf of the EU on a number of country situations and thematic priorities. Over both sessions, the joint EU Team, which included the Irish delegation, led in the preparation of drafts and the conduct of negotiations on the EU-led initiatives including DPRK, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, Freedom of Religion or Belief and Rights of the Child. Ireland worked in tandem with the EEAS on resolutions relating to Sri Lanka, Mali, Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Middle East, human rights defenders, combating religious intolerance and illicit funds. Ireland also negotiated four further resolutions on behalf of the European Union on national human rights institutions, discrimination against women, cultural rights and foreign debt.
Ireland led on two important initiatives during the September session, which concluded last Friday. As part of our commitment to ensuring that our human rights priorities and development programme are mutually reinforcing, Ireland led on a resolution on preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five which was adopted by consensus on 26 September. Some 6.6 million children under the age of five die each year, mainly from preventable and treatable causes. This resolution focuses on how the HRC can act in elaborating a human rights based approach to this issue and support the much needed engagement of the human rights community in the ongoing efforts to strengthening accountability for children’s health. As a result of the adoption of this resolution, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will elaborate technical guidance, in close consultation with the World Health Organisation drawing on the particular expertise of that agency, and with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including Governments. This technical guidance, grounded in human rights principles, can help national Ministries and other actors to design policies and programmes to reduce and eliminate under-five mortality.
Ireland also led on a resolution on creating and maintaining a safe and enabling environment for civil society which was adopted on 27 September. Civil society actors have come under increasing pressure in many parts of the world in recent years. In some countries, dialogue with civil society remains limited and the space for civil society engagement is narrow or shrinking. Restrictive legislation and repressive practices in some countries have led to stigmatisation, harassment, and even criminalisation of civil society actors engaged in promoting and protecting human rights. The resolution adopted last Friday underlines the important contribution of civil society and calls on States to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate effectively. It also provides for a panel discussion to be held during the next session of the Human Rights Council in March 2014 on the challenges facing States in their efforts to ensure space for civil society, and lessons learnt and good practices in this regard.
Ireland has also made national statements at the most recent session of the HRC on human rights situations in a number of countries, including Egypt, Syria, Sri Lanka, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Sudan, and Somalia. We have also raised important issues such as the safety of journalists, children affected by armed conflict, and the role of civil society in integrating gender perspectives in the work of the HRC.
Ireland will continue to respond proactively to emerging human rights situations and themes, including emergency situations, and to play an active role in the Council’s three yearly sessions (March, June and September) and in the sessions of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examinations, during which countries’ human rights records are examined. Ireland will continue to promote and defend the work and independence of the human rights treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council special procedures and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva is responsible for the management of day-to-day activity on the Human Rights Council. A team of three diplomats and two interns work in support of the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN in Geneva to deliver on our priorities for our membership term. My Department is in close daily contact with the Permanent Mission in Geneva in this regard, with input from other government departments within their areas of responsibility. Officials in my Department would be prepared to provide regular briefings to members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on our engagement with the Human Rights Council as appropriate.