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.
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.
While searching through the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website it occurred to me that it gave an interesting guide to the Irish Government’s attitude towards international law. While the Constitution does not give much guidance beyond a ‘devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation’ under Article 29.1, to pacific settlement of disputes under Article 29.2 and the acceptance of ‘the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct’ with other states under Article 29.3 there is little firm guidance given on any body of international law beyond the EU under Article 29.4 or the International Criminal Court under Article 29.9. In contrast to this the DFA website goes into some detail on Ireland and international law. As an example it lists the treaties that Ireland is party to and details on international law in Irish courts’ case law . Though this is a paltry list that includes very few of the international human rights law cases that have gone before the courts, including those cases that have made their way to the European Court of Human Rights such as the Norris case, this would seem to indicate that the DFA does not consider any human rights cases to be an aspect of international law. It also has some detail on the sources of international law.
Quoting Article 38.1 of the International Court of Justice Statute, the DFA website goes on to describe treaties and custom ( which it states is relevant in the absence of a treaty, asserting firstly that there is a hierarchy of sources, which is far from a settled argument and secondly that custom cannot be complementary or some instances surpass treaties as a source of law as is the instance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which is utilised by the DFA as an example of a classic treaty. It has far surpassed its original text )in some detail. This suggests that the DFA does not have much regard for Articles 38.1. (c) or (d) of the ICJ Statute that deals with general principles of international law, judical decisions and writings of academics. It also gives its own interpretation on what the ICJ specifically may do with the decisions of national courts:
Apart from decisions of international judicial bodies, decisions of a national court may amount to a statement of what that court considers to be international law on a particular matter. Such a decision would only carry weight as evidence of international law where the court is of very high standing and where the international law issue is central to the case and receives careful consideration. So, for example, important decisions of the United States Supreme Court (such as 1900 case, The Paquete Habana), the House of Lords (such as the Pinochet Case) and the Irish Supreme Court (such as The Government of Canada v The Employment Appeals Tribunal) have influenced the development or interpretation of international law.
Where exactly the DFA have found this interpretation of ICJ practice is unclear. It is a very limited understanding of how the ICJ can and does use domestic case-law in its reasoning. The DFA also appears to ignore many of the other judical bodies such as the WTOs Dispute Settlement Body, or the European Court of Human Rights or any of the other myriad of bodies which interpret international law on a regular basis actually operate. The nature of the guidance on this website is very limited, in fact it could be disregarded as misleading as an accurate guide to the sources of international law. It is my intention to have a good rummage among the webpages of the DFA for similar assertions about international law, I will report back with any other findings of misdescription.