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.
The Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway will host two major events this month.
International and Comparative Perspectives on Employment and Disability Law: 24 April 2010
This conference will take place Saturday 24 April 2010 in Aras Moyola MY129, North Campus, NUI Galway. The conference programme is available here and information on registration is available here. The conference is aimed at legal practitioners, academics, NGOs, and those involved in disability issues and practice. The Conference will examine issues concerning disability and employment from a national and international perspective with speakers who are all key experts in the area. The Conference will examine issues such as genetic testing, disability and employment, genuine occupational requirements and disability, UK and EU developments in the area of employment and disability and key issues in this jurisdiction. Case law from relevant jurisdictions will be highlighted and discussed. It will also focus on lessons from disability employment law in developing countries.
Global PhD & Researchers Colloquium on Disability Law & Policy: 26 -27 April 2010
This is a two-day Colloquium on disability law and policy, which will take place 26-27 April 2010 at the Carlton Hotel Galway. A full Colloquium programme is available here and a booklet of abstracts is available here. A limited number of places to attend the Colloquium are available – for information on registration see here.
The Colloquium is organised in conjunction with the Burton Blatt Institute (Syracuse University, New York) and the University of Haifa (Israel). The Colloquium will run on an annual basis rotating between the different Universities.
This is the first event of its kind bringing together disability researchers from all around the world, who will deliver over 60 papers. This is a very timely event as research on disability law and policy reform has never been more urgent given the imperative of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This two-day event will play a significant part in bringing together an emerging community of scholars in the disability field whose ideas will shape the reform agenda for years to come. The themes of the Colloquium include:
- The Right to Legal Capacity
- The Right to Independent Living
- Towards Effective National Strategies for the Implementation of the UNCRPD
- Definitions of Disability
- Civil Society – Nothing About Us Without Us
- Intersectionality of Disability: Gender, Indigenous Peoples, Age
- Employment Law & Policy
- Mental Health Law & Disability
- The Right to Inclusive Education
- Regional & Comparative Disability Law
- Development Aid, Humanitarian Intervention & Disability
- The Right to Accessibility
MDAC announces project on effective monitoring of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC) today announces a yearlong project that seeks to provide direction to governments and civil society on the effective implementation of Article 33 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 33 deals with domestic implementation of the Convention. Practical guidelines and checklists will be developed that will assist governments and NGOs in understanding the obligations of States Parties under Article 33. The project will also apply these guidelines in order to determine whether State Parties to the Convention are meeting their obligations under Article 33. A summary report will be submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to assist the Committee in holding States Parties to account.
The UNCRPD is one of only two international human rights treaties to contain a specific provision on the role and structure of domestic implementation and monitoring mechanisms of the Convention (Article 33). (The only other similar provision is the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture). The outcomes of this project will be hugely useful to civil society groups, policy makers and researchers here in Ireland. It will also be very useful in benchmarking the implementation of the Convention here.
The Irish cabinet reshuffle (see here, here, here and here) has resulted in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform , being divested of issues relating to equality, disability, integration and human rights. These important areas will be subsumed into the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. The comments below are some initial reactions to this news.
Justice, Equality and Human Rights-Why?
I do not believe in making structural changes for their own sake. Too often, changes in structures can be pursued to disguise a lack of clear priorities or the determination to implement them. This Government has a clear agenda which I am determined will be driven forward with energy and commitment. There is no time to be wasted on extensive restructuring at the expense of action to implement our policies.
An Taoiseach Brian Cowen T.D. 23 March 2010
From 1992 until 1997, there was Minister for Equality and Law Reform, however post the 1997 general election, this was subsumed into the Department of Justice (to become the Dept. of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR).This was a time of enormous economic growth within the Republic of Ireland and a number of months before the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The thrust of today’s speech by An Taoiseach’s recognised the need for a re-invigorated economy based on job creation and innovation. For reasons highlighted by the statement of An Taoiseach above, structural changes were made to a number of departments.
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.
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.
To mark the tenth anniversary of the direct provision and dispersal system, FLAC launched its report One Size Doesn’t Fit All. The report updates the 2003 FLAC report Direct Discrimination? which looked at the way in which asylum seekers and persons seeking other forms of protection were accommodated in Ireland, set apart from other destitute individuals. The title of the report refers to the way in which the direct provision and dispersal system is operated: Residents are not treated as human beings but rather as a collective group without individual needs or personal circumstances.
Direct provision and dispersal was introduced as a nationwide policy in April 2000. It was introduced initially to alleviate the housing shortage faced by the Eastern Health Board due to the high numbers of people coming to seek asylum in Ireland. Ireland is a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and it is important to understand that anyone who comes to Ireland “to seek and to enjoy… asylum from persecution” is entitled to enter and remain here until a final determination is reached on their protection status. Despite the dramatic decrease in the number of asylum seekers, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR) continues to operate the policy of accommodating persons seeking protection in centres where they are given three meals a day at set times and a weekly allowance of €19.10 for an adult and €9.60 for a child. This is the only social welfare payment never to have increased.
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.
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.