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Minister makes speech on Middle East Peace Process

On Friday the 16th April the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Micheál Martin T.D. made a speech to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the Middle East Peace Process. This follows his trip to Gaza in February which was discussed here and which was characterised as a humanitarian trip to highlight the crisis created by the blockade of Gaza which he also referred to.

In his speech to the ICTU the Minister acknowledged the work undertaken by the Trade Union movement and other civil society groups in Ireland in highlighting the situation within the Middle East. He also drew attention to the importance of having an informed debate on this topic.

Interestingly the Minister also stressed the importance of a resolution based upon a two-state solution and ‘the central importance of achieving progress towards a comprehensive settlement, based on a two-State solution.’ In doing so he lay emphasis upon the apparent acceptance of such a solution by Prime Minister Netanyahu in  June 2009 where he stated that:

In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbors security and existence.

The Minister further emphasised the Irish Government’s support for the US efforts led by Senator George Mitchell, who was heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process as well, in reaching a settlement.  The strongest language in the speech was left to the issue current blockade of Gaza, where the Minister stated that,

Most of all, we need to end the completely unjust, unacceptable and counter-productive blockade of Gaza.

The Minister had previously condemned the building of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, joining other EU countries in doing so. In that statement the Minister called into question Israel’s commitment in achieving any progress within the talks.

The Minister also referenced the relationship between the EU and the countries of the Middle East, particularly Israel, and asserted that it was the Government’s position that such relations should be based upon the EU-Israel Association Agreement. This aim of this Agreement is to strengthen EU-Israeli ties and to eventually integrate Israel into EU policies.  The EU’s language with regard to the Middle East conflict tends to be quite tame, a recent Declaration by HR Catherine Ashton stated that, ‘[t]he EU calls upon all parties to avoid any provocation and move towards lasting peace.’

Interestingly the Minister did not make any mention of the use of Irish passports in the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhhouh which we blogged about here. Indeed the Department of Foreign Affairs appears to have gone silent on the matter. This may be contrasted with the UK which expelled a Israeli diplomat in late March in response to state sponsored identity theft. This perhaps better reflects the Government’s largely guarded tone when discussing issues related to the Middle East.

FCO Releases its Annual Human Rights Report

Following on from the US State Department Human Rights Report which was discussed here, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office released its Annual Report on Human Rights. This Report, unlike the US version, is thematic and covers a number of areas such as the rule of law, supporting democracy, human rights in conflict, counter-terrorism, and the promotion of human rights. It does however single certain countries out as being ‘of concern’ including Iran, Cuba, Syria, Burma, China, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan among others.  The UK began publishing this Report in 1997.

In the foreword the Foreign Secretary David Miliband states that

When we talk about human rights we talk about a body of law, but we also talk about the inherent sense that we are entitled to certain freedoms and protections. It is this sense of inalienable right to self expression and equality that defined the landscape of 2009.
The clear linkage between law and human rights is significant as it is asserting the position that states are bound by human rights law and that the sense of entitlement is borne out by these legal rights.  The difference in character between the UK and US Annual Reports does seem to reflect alternate approaches to both the promotion and protection of human rights, although both should be welcomed as at the very least highlighting some major areas of concern which often fall beneath the radar.

Human Rights Lexicon: Sovereignty and Human Rights

March 17, 2010 5 comments

In this, the fourth contribution to our Human Rigths Lexicon, Aoife O’Donoghue–a regular contributor here on HRinI–considers sovereignty and human rights.

The Irish use of sovereignty, as with most invocations, developed as part of the system of law between nation states which evolved in Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia and alongside the move away from the monarch as sovereign to the modern constitutional state. However both as a legal concept and as a general tool of politics sovereignty is a very difficult idea to define; though it is an oft used word.  It can be described as a system of power allocation, where the level of governance is decided by the state. The state through a system of consent makes horizontal agreements with other similar sovereign bodies as well as vertically either as a federal system, a system of devolution or local government scheme within the domestic state. In this description however the power allocation always emanates from the state at the core. As such sovereignty is considered by many to be the backbone of international law and more specifically of international human rights treaties where state consent underlies all law which is made. Read more…

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US State Department Releases its Annual Report on Human Rights

March 12, 2010 1 comment

Yesterday the United States’ State Department released its Annual Report on Human Rights for 2009. The text of the Reports can be found here. At the launch of the Reports Secretary of State Clinton remarked that:

Human rights may be timeless, but our efforts to protect them must be grounded in the here and now. We find ourselves in a moment when an increasing number of governments are imposing new and crippling restrictions on the nongovernmental organizations working to protect rights and enhance accountability.

The Report on Ireland may be found here. It highlights several issues regarding the care of persons in Garda custody, domestic violence, discrimination against racial minorities, travellers and migrants as well as child trafficking as major human rights issues facing Ireland.   Some of the observations should make uncomfortable reading for the Government, particularly following the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission Report into the death of Terence Wheelock discussed by Yvonne and Vicky.  While it may be argued that one state passing judgement on all others is somewhat patronising these Reports are a useful tool which highlight some of the gravest human rights issues globally.

Minister for Foreign Affairs addresses UN Disarmament Conference

On Tuesday the Minister for Foreign Affairs addressed the UN Conference on Disarmament. This Geneva based body is the main forum for the discussion of disarmament of weapons and was established in 1979. Ireland has been at the forefront of some of the recent efforts to bring about the restriction on the use of Cluster Munitions with the 2008 Dublin Conference succeeding in agreeing the text to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It prohibits the stockpiling, production and transfer  of cluster munitions that come within the Convention. It will enter into force on August 1st 2010.

In his speech at the Conference Minister Martin stressed the need to ensure compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty on nuclear weapons which has been in force since 1970. The Minister also  spoke of Ireland’s long-held position as regard to non-proliferation.

This week marks the anniversary of another proud moment in Irish and international history, with the fortieth anniversary next Friday, the 5th of March, of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  In 1958, one of my distinguished predecessors, Frank Aiken, introduced the first of a series of UN resolutions which called for prevention of the further dissemination of nuclear weapons. He worked tirelessly for a treaty on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  The lasting achievement of the NPT has been to diminish the spectre of a nuclear war. The nuclear-weapon States made binding commitments to nuclear disarmament and other States undertook not to acquire nuclear weapons.  This commitment to nuclear disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States was transformed into practical steps at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, at which the seven-member New Agenda Coalition, including Ireland, played a central role.

While the Minister did not mention Iran specifically his reference to renewed US leadership in the area, in the guise of its negotiations with Russia for the reduction in the number of nuclear weapons held, and his call for a nuclear weapon free Middle East could be read as support for action to be taken within the UN to prevent powers in the Middle East such as Iran from attaining nuclear arms. While negotiations have continued with Iran, it has been reported that Russia is now willing to support more sanctions against Iran if it continues to prevent full inspection of its nuclear facilities. The cause of nuclear disarmament is still very much alive and while Ireland will probably have little impact upon any action that is taken against Iran, showing support for the enforcement of international law remains important.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Visits Gaza

February 25, 2010 1 comment

Today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin T.D. visited Gaza. The trip was announced yesterday by the Department of Foreign Affairs.  In the press release the Minister stated that

My purpose in visiting Gaza is humanitarian, in order to assess for myself the conditions obtaining for Gaza’s population in light of the completely unacceptable blockade imposed on the Strip for some two-and-a-half years now.

I have repeatedly expressed my serious concerns over the situation in Gaza and called for an end to the unjust blockade imposed against its population 

The Director of Operations of UNRAW (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is Irish born John Ging. John Ging was born in Portlaoise and is a former Irish Army officer who has served in Rwanda and Kosovo. He has also obtained a law degree from NUI, Galway and is a qualified barrister. He has been Director since 2006 and has been very vocal in bringing attention to the many problems in Gaza.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been involved in Gaza for many years through Irish Aid . Since 2006 there has been a Representative Office in Ramallah. The attention that the visit of Minister Martin will bring to Gaza is important as it keeps front and centre the plight of the ordinary residents whose conditions have worsened since the introduction of the Isreali blockade following last winter’s war.

Passports and assassinations

February 19, 2010 1 comment

The revelation at the start of this week that assassins had made use of Irish, British, German and French passports to perpetuate a murder in Dubai has shocked many. However this is far from the first time this has been done and rarely if ever is anyone held accountable for it.  The repercussions are often more political than legal. During the 1980s Margarete Thatcher ordered the closing down of Mossad’s base in London and an assurance that British passports would not be used again by Israeli forces after a similar event. However, if it is proved to once again that there are  Mossad agents involved it will only reinforce the notion that certain states can continue to act unlawfully even in situations where there are clear breaches of international and domestic law.

At the request of Dubai, Interpol have issued a ‘red notice’ to help in the idenficiation of the assassins of Hamas cammader Mahmoud al-Mabhhouh(who incidently also entered Dubai using a false passport). While most suspicision has fallen upon Israel, there is as yet no evidence to directly link Mossad to the assassination, though it is possible that more evidence will emerge.

Micheál Martin T.D., the Minister for Foreign Affairs, invited the Israeli ambassador to discuss the issue with him this morning. The tone of the press release was not as strident as the statements from the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband M.P. The Department of Foreign Affairs stated that:

It was stressed that, regardless of who was responsible, the Government takes grave exception to the forgery and misuse of Irish passports which could devalue the standing of the passports and potentially put at risk the safety of Irish citizens travelling abroad.

An important question is what action could the Irish Government take if it is proved that Israel or any other state was behind the assassination. The most obvious place to start is the law surrounding state responsibility. The International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on State Responsibility provide in article 1 that every state is responsible for its international wrongful acts and certainly the forging or otherwise of passports, which generally remain the property of the issuing government would be considered such. International wrongful acts can be bilateral or as the International Court of Justice averred in the Barcelona Traction Case international. It would also have to be under Article 2 (a) an act attributable to the state and therefore there would have to be proof that it was Mossad agents involved in the assassination. If it were for instance Hamas that ordered the assassination it would be very difficult to assert that any state had direct or indirect control of Hamas. The Nicaragua case before the ICJ has set a very high standard for elements of direct or indirect control of armed bands. Israel has not made a declaration of acceptance of the permanent jurisdiction of the ICJ and therefore if Ireland wished to take a case against Israel it would have to rely on a treaty that granted jurisdiction to the ICJ or some other court or tribunal. Countermeasures cannot be taken by one state against another punitively and therefore it would be difficult for Ireland to take an action unless there is an ongoing breach of international law.Indeed according to the ICJ in the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project countermeasures must be proportional and non-punitive.

Of course if it was proved to be Israel that is involved, Ireland may be willing to accept an apology for the use of Irish passports, however this does not resolve the more disturbing broader issue of extra-judicial killings.

Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

The White House has confirmed that President Obama will go ahead with his meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 18th. This followed the postponement of the meeting prior to President Obama’s trip to China in November where in a joint statement with President Hu it was stated that;

We did note that while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have.

The announcment of the visit has not been welcomed in Beijing. This has followed on from a number of recent disputes between China and the United States about the US’s continued support for Taiwan and the confirmation that it intends to continue with an agreed sale of arms to it that was negotiated under the Bush administration. This has followed on from disputes on trade relations, sanctions against Iran and the criticism of President Obama’s failure to discuss in-depth human rights concerns during his state visit in November.

A recent Economist article stated that there needed to be recognition that making room for China as a new superpower does not necessarily mean giving in to it. Indeed this has been a problem for a number of countries such as Ireland. This is probably best demonstrated by the critisism of President Mary Robinson when she met the Dalai Lama, over the objections, though not outright prohibition, of the Government in 1991. While Ireland has given financial aid to the Tibetan community in India, the need to keep up good relations with China for economic and geopolitical reasons while also maintaining a forthright approach to human rights issues can often be difficult. The riots in Lhasa in 2008 and the stifling of information coming out of Tibet since does raise concerns and it may thus indeed be proper for President Obama to meet with the spiritual leader and keep the issue of the people of Tibet in the public arena.

Department of Foreign Affairs’ Conflict Resolution Unit

February 5, 2010 2 comments

In 2007  the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs opened its Conflict Resolution Unit. The rationale behind the move was based upon

Given Ireland’s proud tradition of UN peacekeeping, our commitment to overseas development aid, our experience of the peace process in Northern Ireland and our commitment to human rights and the international rule of law, we are well placed to offer assistance to other countries on their path to peace and stability. The CRU is based within the Department’s Political Division, and cooperates closely with Development Cooperation and  Anglo-Irish Division.

At the time of  the unit’s creation, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern T.D. was reported as stating that Ireland’s experience in Northern Ireland, its long history of peacekeeping meant that we were particularly suited to take on this role. Though editorials at the time argued that as Ireland is a threat to nobody and unlikely to be suspected of putting its own interests ahead of international peace and securitythis seems to show a rather naïve appreciation of what a western country and a member of the EU can potentially be percieved as internationally.

The creation of this unit has resulted in a number of initiatives in co-operation with the United Nations and NGOs in areas such as Peacebuilding, Peacemaking and Human Rights in Conflict. One of the most interesting areas of focus is in Women Peace and Security . This is the response of the Irish Government to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security which states that:

7. Urges Member States to increase their voluntary financial, technical and logistical support for gender-sensitive training efforts, including those undertaken by relevant funds and programmes, inter alia, the United Nations Fund for Women and United Nations Children’s Fund, and by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant bodies;

8. Calls on all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective, including, inter alia: (a) The special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction; (b) Measures that support local women’s peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution, and that involve women in all of the implementation mechanisms of the peace agreements; (c) Measures that ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary;

Ireland is involved in a scheme which has been put together with Timor Leste, Liberia and Northern Ireland in a cross-learning initiative to aid developing Ireland’s National Action Plan and to facilitate the sharing of experiences of women in conflict situations. This has involved mini-conferences where models, experiences and recommendations were shared among the countries with more planned for 2010. Dame Nuala O’Loan has recently been appointed as Ireland’s Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security and she will now lead this initiative. This is an innovative  move within both this Unit and the Department as a whole which hopefully will result in positive futures for all women who are involved and caught up in conflict.

Tony Blair and the Doctrine of International Community

January 29, 2010 3 comments

One of the interesting discussions today at the Chilcot Inquiry was on Tony Blair’s Doctrine of International Community Speech which he delivered in April 1999. In this speech Mr. Blair asserted

‘[t]oday the impulse towards interdependence is immeasurably greater. We are witnessing the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community. By this I mean the explicit recognition that today more than ever before we are mutually dependent, that national interest is to a significant extent governed by international collaboration and that we need a clear and coherent debate as to the direction this doctrine takes us in each field of international endeavour. Just as within domestic politics, the notion of community – the belief that partnership and co-operation are essential to advance self-interest – is coming into its own; so it needs to find its own international echo. Global financial markets, the global environment, and global security and disarmament issues: none of these can he solved without intense international co-operation.’

This, together with his assertion in his interview before Christmas with Fern Britton – where Mr. Blair asserted that had there were alternative bases other than weapons of mass destruction to bring down Saddam Hussein- alludes to the possibility of humanitarian intervention to bring about regime change as another legal justification for going to war.

The doctrine of humanitarian intervention is a very controversial basis for the use of force  in international law and though the more recently developed doctrine of responsibility to protect has developed since the invasion its remit would not seem to immediately cover the situation in Iraq at the time of the invasion.

One of the more most recent uses of humanitarian intervention as justification for the use of force was in Kosovo in 1999. This was undertaken by NATO to stop the increased abuse by the Serbian Government of Kosovar Albanians.  It resulted in  cases against individual members of NATO at the ICJ and much debate as to whether a right of humanitarian intervention had emerged. Whether or not it did contribute to the establishment of humanitarian intervention it did set a political precedent for action outside of the United Nations where sanctions were not forthcoming. This precedent, which was not argued at the time of the Iraqi invasion, certainly seems to have echoes in claims now made that there were humanitarian reasons for invading Iraq and that these aims have largely been achieved and thus the War was justified even if it was outside the UN and in breach of Article 2(4).  While the lack of weapons of mass destruction have made the self-defence argument less sustainable, the move towards justification on the basis of community values or humanitarian interests is troubling.

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