Call for committee to enforce UN recommendations on human rights

UK says State should ‘consider overarching committee on human rights and equality’

A number of NGOs have questioned how seriously some civil servants take United Nations recommendations, given the lack of progress on several repeatedly-raised issues

A number of NGOs have questioned how seriously some civil servants take United Nations recommendations, given the lack of progress on several repeatedly-raised issues


Mechanisms to ensure human rights recommendations from international bodies such as the United Nations are actually implemented are urgently needed, a number of Irish NGOs have said.

The call, being led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, was echoed by the United Kingdom in its questioning of the Irish Government during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session in Geneva on Wednesday.

The UK mission said that while it “recognises the importance Ireland attaches to the promotion and protection of human rights”, it recommended the government “consider creating a dedicated overarching parliamentary committee on human rights and equality”.

Stephen O’Hare, senior researcher and policy programme manager with the ICCL said Ireland’s “serious participation” in review process was “welcome”.

However, it was “regrettable” that Ireland was failing to “commit, with actionable timelines” to implementing recommendations from UN treaty bodies.

“We really need to see accountability and oversight at departmental and Government level, on the recommendations that come from these hearings.”

He called for a body, “such as an Oireachtas committee on human rights” which would ensure UN recommendations were taken seriously and implemented by Government.

“We see the same issues coming up over and over and over again at these bodies, the government delegation saying they take them seriously and then a lack of accountability and oversight once they get home.”

A number of NGOs have questioned how seriously some civil servants take United Nations recommendations, given the lack of progress on several repeatedly-raised issues.

Among these, raised again on the day, is the Government’s continued failure to recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority. This has been raised on numerous occasions, including in the 2011 UPR, in 2014 by the UN Human Rights Committee, in 2015 by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in January this year by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It has also been recommended by the UN Committee to Eliminate Racism and Discrimination.

Also raised year after year at these committees is discrimination against non-Christian children’s access to State-funded schools, the need to increase women’s participation in public office and decision-making, access to abortion services, the treatment of asylum seekers and prisoners’ rights.

Domestic concern

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said “This process by which the international community holds each UN Member State to account in relation to its individual human rights record is a real and practical expression of the fact that human rights are not solely of domestic concern, but rather a legitimate and important concern of the international community.”

Noting the UK’s recommendation, she said the question of an Oireachtas committee on human rights was “an issue to be considered by the Oireachtas itself now that a new Government is in place”.

NGOs, some of who were at the session, took the opportunity to press their demands for progress.

Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, however, expressed its disappointment that the government appeared to, again, kick to touch the question of Traveller ethnicity. Deaglán Ó Briain, head of the equality division in the Department of Justice, said recognition of Traveller ethnicity would be “addressed” in the forthcoming Traveller and Roma Strategy.

The pro-choice group, the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, said the UPR session should act as a “wake-up call” to Government.

Convenor, Ailbhe Smyth said: “The message from the UPR is crystal clear – substantial constitutional and legislative change is required for Ireland to become compliant with minimum international human rights standards.”

However, the Pro Life Campaign has said it is not at all surprised by the countries that pressed Ireland at the hearings on abortion and repeal of the 8th Amendment.

Speaking in Geneva after the hearings, Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said: “Far from being embarrassed, we should be challenging some of these countries over their appalling record when it comes to defending human life.

“Among the countries attacking Ireland’s life-saving 8th Amendment today were Canada and Denmark. In Canada, their own official figures show that over a 10-year period starting in 2000, 491 babies who survived botched abortions were abandoned by medical staff and left to die alone in the corners of hospitals. Denmark, who also attacked Ireland’s abortion laws today, has set a goal to create a Down Syndrome free Denmark by 2030. So I think it is reasonable to say that countries like these are in no position to be lecturing Ireland on human rights or how best to protect human life.”

Meanwhile, Education Equality, which campaigns for non-Christian children’s equal access to state schools hoped the UPR would “prompt our new government to take concrete steps to pro-actively address the concerns that have been consistently raised by a wide range of international treaty bodies.”