Thursday, 24 June 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
6. Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the newly approved European Union guidelines on human rights defenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18861/04]
23. Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the guidelines to support human rights defenders agreed recently in Luxembourg; if organisations working in the field of human rights are content with the guidelines; if the guidelines go far enough to protect those working in the field of human rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18841/04]
On 14 June last, the General Affairs and External Relations Council adopted European Union guidelines on human rights defenders. The adoption of the guidelines was welcomed by the European Council at its meeting of 17 and 18 June. The development of guidelines marks the achievement of one of the targeted priorities in the Presidency’s programme. Ireland, along with our EU partners, has recognised that human rights defenders have increasingly become targets of attacks and that their rights are violated in many countries. The Government therefore believes it to be important to ensure that they are protected in every way possible. This is the primary purpose of the guidelines.
In this regard, the guidelines provide for interventions by the Union in support of human rights defenders at risk and suggest practical means to provide support and assistance to them. They will also help shape the activities of embassies and consulates of EU member states and European Commission delegations which, in many countries, are the primary interface with human rights defenders located there. An important element of the guidelines is support for the special procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights, including the UN special representative on human rights defenders, and appropriate regional mechanisms to protect human rights defenders.
In the development of the guidelines we have worked closely with members of the international human rights community, including the UN special representative for human rights defenders, leading non-governmental organisations in the field of human rights and members of the academic community. My Department conducted a consultation process with civil society and received wide-ranging submissions with suggestions as to how the Union could best assist human rights defenders in their work. As part of the consultation process, I hosted a seminar in Dublin on 12 May last which was attended by the UN special representative and was designed to ensure that the views of civil society were fully taken into account in developing the guidelines. The success of our consultation process is clearly demonstrated by the welcome extended to the adoption of the guidelines by leading international human rights NGOs.
Mr. Gormley: Amnesty International is pleased that the EU Presidency got these guidelines approved. However, I am sure the Minister of State will understand it is worried about how they will be implemented. Will he agree EU guidelines are already in existence on, for example, children and armed conflict and torture, but these have not been followed through? Does he understand why Amnesty is anxious that the guidelines will not be followed through, particularly in regard to torture? Regulations on the trade in torture equipment still must be approved by the Council of Ministers. When does he expect these regulations to be approved?
Mr. Gormley: Recently we saw the example of Rachel Corry defending human rights in Palestine for which she paid with her life. Will the passage of these new guidelines have an impact on the association agreement with Israel in the European Union? Does the Minister of State agree that those of us who will march this weekend against the visit of President Bush and human rights abuses could be regarded as human rights defenders?
Mr. Kitt: This is a very important development. I am sure Deputy Gormley will appreciate that Frontline, headed by Mary Lawlor, has promoted this idea for some time. We identified this area as a priority of our Presidency and I am pleased my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, was able to bring the issue forward at the General Affairs Council. While there were general policies in place, we now have agreed guidelines.
EU missions will now monitor, report and assess the situation of human rights defenders in third countries as part of their overall assessment of the human rights situation. They will maintain contact with human rights defenders, provide visible recognition to them through the use of appropriate publicity, visits or invitations and will attend and observe, where appropriate, trials of human rights defenders. They will visit third countries and, where appropriate, will include meetings with and raise individual cases of human rights defenders and the human rights components of political dialogue between EU and third countries and regional organisations and, where relevant, include the situation of human rights defenders. The bilateral human rights and democratisation programmes of the European Union and member states are urged to take further account of the need to assist the development of democratic process and institutions and the promotion and protection of human rights in development countries by, inter alia, supporting human rights defenders. This is a significant development which we prioritised as part of our Presidency.
On the question of temporary protection visas, as Presidency, we originally proposed that EU member states should give favourable consideration to the granting of temporary visas to recognise human rights defenders who are at risk for entry to member states. Ultimately, support for the proposal was not forthcoming within the Union. However, my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is currently considering introducing such a temporary protection programme. Officials from the two Departments are currently considering the possible outline for such a scheme.
The Deputy referred to a particular association agreement on which I will have to revert to him. I know from my experience with human rights in third countries that we have made use of particular ambassadors in those cases. For example, I recently met NGOs and opposition from Belerus, who are trying to defend human rights in a very tyrannical situation. Before meeting the various opposition members in Brussels, I met the French ambassador, who is acting on our behalf in many of these countries. There are measures and procedures in place to deal with third countries. As near neighbours, it is important to promote human rights in places like Belerus where there are serious human rights abuses. I will revert to the Deputy in regard to his question.
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