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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.

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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.

Update of Irish International Law Resource

The Department of Foreign Affairs has recently updated its Documents on Irish Foreign Policy on-line resource. This resource has been developed in association with the Royal Irish Academy and the National Archive. The entire collection, which covers the period from 1919-1941, has been available in print since 1998, each book covering a number of years, but the addition of the on-line collection covering the period 1919-1932 will aid in research into this interesting period of Irish history as Ireland developed its place as an independent country in international relations.  The papers cover the negotiation of the Treaty, the Boundary Commission, the Imperial Conferences during the period, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the League of Nations, the collapse of Weimar Germany, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the development of the Irish policy of neutrality among many other topics.

This is a very interesting project that hopefully will continue with the publication of the rest of the documentation covering the Second World War. Hopefully this too will be made available with the rest of the collection  on-line soon.

Ireland to take over as Chair of the OSCE in 2012

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

At the 17th Ministerial Conference of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) in early December it was agreed by the member states that Ireland would take over as Chair of the Organisation  in 2012.  The OSCE is a regional security body that currently has over 56 participating states including members in Europe, Central Asia and North America such as the United States, the UK, the Holy See, France, Russia and Canada. Ireland joined the organisation as an original member in 1973, though the organisation in its current form emerged in 1994 in the post Cold War era.  Its work covers areas such as arms control, anti-trafficking, combating terrorism, conflict prevention, democratisation, elections, gender equality, minority rights, policing, rule of law, tolerance and non-discrimination.

At the recent ministerial conference Minister Micheál Martin T.D. stated

Ireland attaches great importance to the role and expertise of the OSCE in the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the promotion of the rule of law and democratisation throughout the OSCE area.

Ireland attaches great importance to the role and expertise of the OSCE in the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the promotion of the rule of law and democratisation throughout the OSCE area.

The announcement that Kazakhstan was to take over the Chair from Greece in 2010 led to some controversy, as Kazakhstan’s human rights record was not considered to be good enough to lead  an organisation that seeks to support human rights development and enforcement in its members states.  Indeed Human Rights Watch described the choice of Kazakhstan as ‘undeserved’

“Kazakhstan doesn’t observe OSCE commitments at home,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Entrusting in Kazakhstan the leadership to uphold the organization’s human rights commitments is a singularly bad idea.”

The choice of Lithuania to follow from Kazakhstan has been less controversial.  The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs announced in November that after Ireland had been approached by a number of members the Government had decided to formally make itself available as Chair of the Organisation in 2012.  Ireland’s Chair  was confirmed at the Ministerial Conference.  It was reported in the Irish Examiner that the Minister in welcoming Ireland’s appointment considered Ireland’s experience in the peace process in Northern Ireland would allow Ireland to make a tangible contribution to the work of the organisation.  As we nearer the time for Ireland to take over as Chair of the Organisation it will be interesting to see what human rights priorities for the Organisation that it champions.

WTO Ministerial Conference and Ireland

The Seventh Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in what is known as the  Doha Development Round is currently taking place in Geneva. This is the first round of re-negotiations since the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995.  Ireland is member of the WTO both as a state and as a part of the EC (The EC and not the EU is a signatory, though with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty this may change) which is a signatory to the Marrakesh Agreement. (the institutional charter of the organisation) as well as a signatory to the various agreements such as GATT, GATS (Services) and TRIPS (Intellectual Property). This Round, which is supposed to focus on the needs of Developing and Least Developed States in order to improve their basic economic standards and to realign the system to make is more favourable to them, has dragged on since 2001 and has so far failed to come to any substantial agreement.

Read more…

Debt Relief, Liberia and State Immunity

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

An interesting case came before the High Court of England and Wales yesterday  centred upon debt relief and state sovereignty. In Hamsah Investments Limited & Anr v The Republic of Liberia a $20 million Liberian debt which is currently in the hands of two investment funds located in the Caribbean is being called in. The loan was originally given by the US Chemical Bank for the sum of €6.5 m in 1978 and has since passed hands a number of times. These two firms are suing for the repayment of the debt.

The case originally came before a New York Court, where Liberia was ordered to repay the sum (at the time it was only $18.5 million) and a summary judgement was sought to force Liberia to repay. At the time Liberia was in the middle of its bloody civil war and did not seek to defend the case. Liberia has since its transition to peace come to an agreement with the IMF and the World Bank to restructure its existing debts with these organisations and has received debt relief. Since the transition to peace after years of war, both these organisations have sought to engage Liberia and enable it to develop without being overburdened by repaying its foreign debts.

Liberia sought to argue that it was entitled to state immunity and further that it was too poor to repay the debt. The High Court based its decision of the doctrine of restrictive state immunity. The Court stated that this was a private commercial transaction that Liberia had freely entered into and it was therefore was not entitled to invoke state immunity for this transaction. This is based on a number of previous cases before the English courts such as I Congresso de Partido [1983] 1 AC 244 that have recognised restrictive state immunity. The Court further stated that it had not been given proof that Liberia could not repay the debt and that stating that it simply could not was not enough. It went further and stated that it had not proved that it could not get the money from elsewhere, such as the IMF. While I would agree with the Court’s interpretation of the doctrine of state immunity, its reference to Liberia’s ability to refinance its debt with the IMF does not seem to suggest much cognisance of how the IMF or indeed the World Bank for that matter, actually operate. Labour MP Sally Keeble quoted in the Guardian stated that:

This underlines the need for legislation and I hope that we can get something through this session of parliament either in government time or as a private member’s bill. It’s appalling that we again see the poorest people in the world ripped off by shadowy investment fund.

The UK Government has begun a consultation on this problem of private firms going after states already having difficulties repaying their loans. However the problem of states being unable to repay private debts needs a global solution, as the debts will only be sold on, as in the case, to allow another jurisdiction to enforce it. Indeed, according the BBC, Hamsah have previously enforced a similar loan against Nicaragua.