Coveney ‘committed’ to collaborating on human rights memorial

Minister seeks ‘reminder of just how core this issue should be in ... Irish foreign policy’

A memorial to human rights defenders is to be erected, possibly close to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has said.

Speaking at an international conference of Front Line Defenders at Dublin Castle on Wednesday, Simon Coveney said he had been approached by Mary Lawlor, founder of the organisation, with a request for a permanent memorial.

“I have committed to work with Front Line to bring forward an initiative in that area,” he said.

“We will try to find a suitable location and to do it in a tasteful and appropriate way.”


Mr Coveney said he hoped the memorial could be in close proximity to the Department of Foreign Affairs “as a reminder of just how core this issue should be in terms of Irish foreign policy today and in the future”.

Practical support

Front Line Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 and provides rapid and practical support to human rights defenders at risk. It was set up with €3 million in financial support from businessman Denis O'Brien, who is the organisation's chairman.

Its headquarters is in Dublin and it has an office in Brussels, with regionally based field staff in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Andrew Anderson, executive director of the organisation, said they are hoping the memorial will be a tribute to those who continue to struggle for human rights all over the world as well as those who died fighting for them.

“The aim of the killers is to remove people, to eliminate them and make them disappear and we wanted to keep their memory alive,” he said. He described Ireland as a safe place where human rights defenders can have a break.

“It is nice to have something symbolic that celebrates that interconnection between, Dublin, Ireland and human rights defenders around the world,” he said.

Plans for the memorial, which is expected to cost in the region of €1 million, are being worked on at present by Grafton Architects, led by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. Ms Lawlor has begun fundraising for the project, Mr Anderson said.

“It could be quite a while before it actually comes to fruition,” he added.

Also addressing delegates from more than 80 countries at the event, Stavros Lambrinidis, EU special representative for human rights, warned it was now "a different world", with some countries "trying to peddle new anti-human rights narratives to others".

He said there were people who tried to convince us that “people are somehow traitors to their countries” if they try to ensure “fighting against terrorists cannot happen if at the same time you violate fundamental rights of the citizens”.

He highlighted the case of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel laureate and democracy campaigner who died in July in a Chinese prison after being denied the right to travel abroad for cancer treatment.

‘Shameful example’

“What a shameful, shameful example for the Chinese government to set for its own people and the world, shame, this will not be forgotten, or the way that he was treated after his death,” Mr Lambrinidis said.

He said human rights was not a battle between different cultures or religions or political systems or geographic regions.

“Some people try to convince us that that is the case, what a lie – human rights is a battle and always has been within different countries, within cultures, within religions,” he said.

“There has always been human rights; the shield of the powerless in any particular country against the relativism of the powerful in that country. Don’t let them perpetuate those lies, enough is enough.”

Mr Lambrinidis asked whether countries could really bring “sustainable security” by imprisoning everyone they disagreed with, politically or religiously.

“Are you not creating the conditions of radicalism that may undermine the society in the future?” he asked.

He said to fight terrorists we must look at what they hate most, and support it.

“When Boko Haram abducts girls from a Nigerian school, are they not telling us that they hate girls’ education, they hate the power of women?” he asked.

“If you want to fight terrorists, educate girls, and boys.”

He also said the attacks on Paris journalists showed terrorists hated freedom of speech.

“If you want to fight terrorists, protect freedom of speech,” he said.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist