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Address by Minister for Defence, Mr. Willie O' Dea, T.D., To participants at an international human rights course in the Defence Forces' United Nations Training School

Thursday, November 16th 2006

Secretary General of the Department of Defence, Deputy Chief of Staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address this International Human Rights Course this morning. I understand that there are participants from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Indonesia and Sweden as well as a representative from An Garda Siochána on the course and I would like to welcome you all very warmly to the United Nations Training School here in the Curragh.

Human Rights are universal and indivisible; and unfettered access to all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social, is essential for a nation’s development. The risk of rights violations is greater where political, economic, and administrative systems are weak. So the development of these systems is essential to enable the full enjoyment of those rights. Ireland has made a firm and practical commitment to development by pledging to meet the goal of 0.7% of Gross National Income for foreign aid by 2012 - three years ahead of the EU target. Our assistance is helping to strengthen those systems.

We regard development spending as spending on human rights. In providing access to education, health, services, clean water, housing and better government, Ireland is helping some of the most marginalised people in some of the most marginalised societies in the world to realise their rights every day. We also support specific actions designed to promote human rights, including by strengthening government assistance and in-country human rights institutions, in particular by legal training.

The UN remains the one true global guardian of human rights and it deserves the support of all member states in its quest to promote and protect universal human rights. At the millennium review summit in September 2005, UN members committed themselves to replacing the Commission on Human Rights with a Human Rights Council. Ireland will work to ensure that the Council offers an effective new framework to carry out this task. The Council must develop new ways of working and demonstrate that it can provide strong leadership, particularly in dealing effectively with grave human rights abuses.

The Peace building Commission is another important step in the reorganisation and reform of the United Nations. Established at the end of 2005, it will play an important role in laying the foundation for sustainable development in post conflict societies. Ireland has already committed substantial financial resources to support its operations.

In order to maintain Ireland’s long and honourable history of participation in UN and, latterly, NATO and EU led peace support missions, the Defence Forces preparations must ensure that military planning embraces the totality of the global, political, defence and security climates. Peace Support Operations mandates are increasingly robust and complex and it is in this context that courses such as this are of particular importance and relevance. The military component is every bit as an important a player in the promotion and protection of human rights as any civilian instrument or organisation. Indeed it could be argued that military capabilities demand an even higher awareness of the obligations associated with their use than is the case with other players.

Of course civilian peace support operations are increasingly important in societies where conflict has destroyed the basic civilian infrastructure: police force, the justice system, the civil service and local administration. Ireland has wide experience in civilian support operations and we remain committed to an integrated and comprehensive approach where the civilian and military instruments, as appropriate, can be deployed.

The promotion and protection of human rights will always be an integral part of that required end state. The coordination of this multidimensional and multilateral effort is a challenge particularly in the human rights environment with potentially so many actors involved. It remains the intention therefore to continue to offer this course to civilian and police agencies in addition to the core military target group.

Human rights and humanitarian aid are closely linked. In recent years Ireland has been scaling up its response to humanitarian emergencies. Traditionally our response to such emergencies has been through the funding of, among others, UN agencies, non-governmental humanitarian organisations and the Red Cross family. In this regard Ireland is creating its own specific Rapid Response Initiative. This initiative is a response to the importance the Irish public places on our ability to respond rapidly and effectively to emergencies and disasters.

The Irish Government has also taken the lead in relation to the particular role of human rights defenders. In 2004, during Ireland’s EU Presidency, we achieved agreement on the first EU guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. These Guidelines enhance the Unions role in the protection and support of those on the front line of efforts to promote and protect human rights. Ireland continues to raise the cases of individual human rights defenders at the multilateral level and directly with the countries concerned. We will continue to provide political and financial support to the work of human rights defenders whether in uniform or not.

Finally, I would like to wish you well in your examination and discussions on this important, multi-faceted topic. I hope that your experience on this course in the United Nations Training School will benefit each of you in your valuable and essential work towards the promotion and defence of human rights internationally.

Thank you very much.


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