Defence of rights to be priority of presidency


THE Government is determined to step up the human rights dimension of its foreign policy and will make it a particular feature of the Irish presidency of the EU, the White Papers chapter on human rights says.

That role will be coordinated by a previously announced and newly funded human rights unit being established in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the establishment of both an interdepartmental committee on the issue and a permanent Standing Committee on Human Rights.

The latter will involve diplomats as well as representatives of NGOs and experts in the field and is intended to supplement the already extensive contacts with NGOs.

The Government is committed to enhancing its international profile on the issue by seeking election to the UN Commission on Human Rights on which Irish representatives have served twice previously.

It will also back moves to strengthen the financing and staffing of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose six poky offices in Geneva testify eloquently to the agency's Cinderella status. An early warning system should also be developed, the report says, based on the commissioner and able to draw on a standing team of human rights observers.

Other international mechanisms, like the human dimension of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, also need strengthening, and the Government will continue to press for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court "to ensure that human rights violators are made to answer for their crimes against the dignity of the human person".

The Government pledges financial support for the work of human rights NGOs and work in human rights training, whether of police, judiciary or journalists.

The paper emphasises the key role of the Council.

Europe and Court of Human Rights in standard selling, particularly in the newly emerging democracies of eastern Europe.

The philosophy of the policy is based on a strong affirmation of the Vienna declaration of 1993 on the universality of human rights a rejection of the idea popular in developing countries and the Islamic world that human rights should be seen as culturally specific.

And, while there is an acceptance that the definition of human rights should be broadened to include issues like toxic dumping in the Third World, there is concern about the concept of the "right to development".

The latter has been a source of friction between the developed and developing world, the paper says, because of a failure to agree a definition. The dispute has hindered the case for greater funding of the UN's human rights work.

The paper rejects the idea of strict conditionality on human rights for aid or trade agreements, preferring "constructive dialogue" with developing countries. It does accept that there are times when firm action is necessary and that the aid programme should contain a strong human rights element.

It also emphasises the need to bring a gender perspective into the Department's development programmes.