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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.

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