NUI draft charter on human rights welcomed


AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL has welcomed the drawing up of a draft charter for human rights and code of conduct by the National University of Ireland (NUI) for Irish third-level institutions operating in countries with poor human rights records.

The decision to introduce such guidelines follows the controversy that engulfed the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) last year when it failed to take a public stand against a security crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, during which dozens of medics, some of them RCSI alumni, were arrested.

The RCSI, which is an NUI member, has operated a campus in the Gulf state since 2004.

The document has been drafted in consultation with the Irish Human Rights Commission, whose president, Maurice Manning, is chancellor of the NUI.

“The charter tries to be principled and pragmatic,” said Dr Manning. “The purpose is to provide a framework so that universities know what they are going into and know what their obligations are, and know what the possibilities are for them in promoting human rights.”

Dr Manning declined to discuss the details of the draft charter, which was presented two weeks ago to the NUI senate, the governing body of the NUI.

It will now go through a consultation process involving all NUI member institutions and will come before the NUI senate again in June for adoption.

The draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Irish Times, notes that, “with the intensification of international contacts, there is an inevitability of encounter, both at an individual and an institutional level, with social, cultural, political and religious systems and practices diverging in varying degrees from those accepted in Ireland”.

The code of conduct says NUI institutions must consider “whether their presence in [a country with a poor human rights record] will be interpreted as support for such abuses, or whether their presence will assist in supporting reforms in human rights and academic freedoms”.

The document also states that if such a presence or partnership “can be seen as providing support for the repression of the human rights of citizens in that country or would otherwise support repression, the NUI institution concerned should be prepared not to engage or to withdraw from its academic engagement in the country concerned”.

A spokesman for Amnesty International’s Ireland section described the charter and code of conduct as a “welcome initiative” that could help improve human rights in such countries.

“The NUI’s draft code shows a determination to ensure that human rights principles are a part of their work abroad and partnerships with universities overseas, ” he said.