Wednesday, 10 December 2008

International Human Rights Day - thoughts from Ireland to Cambodia

Today, 10th December, is International Human Rights Day. And it also marks 60 years since adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

In Ireland, the Equality and Rights Alliance is calling on TDs and Senators to ‘stand up for human rights and equality. Amnesty International Ireland made the point as it launches its report Human Rights: The Sustainable Future that this meant not only speaking out against human rights abuses abroad, but also at home. The message is an important one. Ireland, like many developed nations, does little to mark International Human Rights Day, and the role of international human rights treaties tends to be limited to a rhetorical one. At the same time, the government encourages and expects developing nations to ‘live up to’ their international human rights obligations.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin writing in the Irish Times today, states that “The 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers us an opportunity to renew our commitment to securing the declaration's promise of dignity and justice for all.” In practice this renewal of commitment must include both human rights protection at home and abroad. For the Universal Declaration provides the promise of dignity and justice for everyone. And in the current financial climate, the impact of budget cuts on key human rights bodies in Ireland - Equality Authority facing a 43% cut and the Irish Human Rights Commission a 24% cut – are significant. At the very least such cutbacks send out a message that domestic human rights bodies are a luxury – something the government would not suggest to the developing nations they provide development aid to.

International Human Rights Day does however, provide me with an opportunity to highlight significant concerns regarding human rights violations that are being systematically carried out in a country I know well – Cambodia. The country has dropped off the international news agenda in recent times, even as it is gearing up to begin trials of people accused of crimes against humanity arising for atrocities committed during the Pol Pot era. However, whilst Cambodia has been consolidating its rebuilding process following those terrible years of violence and occupation and although its economy has grown dramatically, human rights abuses are widespread. Ironically many of the abuses arise out of years of strong economic growth as the rich consolidate their power and wealth.

Land theft and community evictions are at record levels and represent one of the most significant areas of human rights abuses in the country. According to Amnesty International in 2008 some 150,000 Cambodians were estimated to live at risk of forced eviction and tens of thousands have already been forcibly evicted in recent years: Cambodia: A Risky Business –Defending the Right to Housing. These actions leave people homeless or relocated to inadequate resettlement sites with poor infrastructure and limited access to work opportunities. The Cambodian authorities fail to protect the population against forced evictions and in fact many with political and/or economic power are allowed to act with impunity in arbitrarily expropriating land – Cambodia: Rights razed: Forced Evictions in Cambodia. The basic rights to land and housing, access to sanitation, amenities and the possibility of work, are crucial in a country where so many of the population are simply struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis. It is not surprising therefore that many of the countries civil society organisations took to the streets today to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Monday, 30 June 2008

Keynote Address: Mr Micheál Martin, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs

Mr Micheál Martin opened the Conference by highlighting recent International and national developments in relation to sexual violence. He began by welcoming the important development at the heart of the conference - that sexual violence was now recognised as a human rights violation. Indeed he emphasised that Ireland supported the fact that sexual violence was now being prosecuted as a crime against humanity and a war crime.
Mr Martin informed the conference that Ireland has recently taken over as chair of the Human Security Network (a group of like-minded countries from all regions of the world that, at the level of Foreign Ministers, maintains dialogue on questions pertaining to human security); the conference is the first event of Ireland’s chair of the network. The Minister stressed that Ireland was committed to making Gender Based Violence a focus of its time as Chair of the Network in order to ensure that the eyes of the International Community remained focussed on the issue.
Domestically, Mr Martin noted that gender based violence was also a high priority for the government. He informed the Conference of recent developments nationally which included the establishment in 2007 of Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence. The initiative created a dedicated office at Government level which has the key responsibility to ensure the delivery of a co-ordinated "whole of Government" response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Cosc will launch the first phase of consultation on a National strategic Action Plan on Domestic and Sexual Violence in autumn 2008. Legislation reforming the whole area of sexual offences to ensure a workable, updated and simpler approach to the area would also be introduced in the future.
The Minister noted that conference was very relevant to the work of the government both internationally and nationally. He welcomed delegates and speakers and the contribution they would make to the overall debates that were necessary to ensure ongoing reform to the law on Sexual Violence at all levels.

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