Ireland’s Human Rights Obligation: overseas aid
It’s official now: Ireland is looking to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package for the State, running into tens of billions of euro. It is clear that there will be significant changes needed in the way Ireland is run.
For most people in Ireland, the key concern is now what this will mean. Will it be a case, as argued by Social Justice Ireland, that the corporate sector will be protected while services for the poor, the elderly and the weak get slashed? Will the difficulties the country is in mean that “we simply cannot afford” many of the things we thought Ireland was truly committed to?
We won’t know until 7 December, the day the Government is set to announce Budget 2011.
That same week, the Government is launching the formal consultation process for the Universal Periodic Review of its Human Rights performance. (Like with so many Human Rights instruments, the true importance of this event is well hidden behind an awful and uninspiring name!) On 10 December, the Government will host the 11th NGO Forum on Human Rights (see here for last year’s Forum), which will kick off a public consultation process where members of the public and civil society organisations can comment on Ireland’s performance in Human Rights terms.
Human rights know no borders
Obviously, most of the discussion will focus on the ability of the Irish State to fulfil its duties towards its citizens. And we will be arguing that human rights are universal, belonging to every human being, no matter where in the world, and that human rights obligations know no borders. The State has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of people in Ireland, and elsewhere.
Traditionally, human rights activists and lawyers would have focused on a State’s obligation to look after the rights of their own citizens. But international cooperation, and international assistance, for the the fulfilment of human rights is an obligation for all states..
While states contest the existence of a legal obligation to provide international financial assistance (as opposed to the moral or political obligation), the status of an obligation to “do no harm” – to respect and protect rights beyond borders – has been consistently reaffirmed.
As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated categorically, “State parties must respect and protect economic, social and cultural rights of children in all countries with no exceptions.” States have human rights obligations not only for what happens “at home” but also for any action [or inaction] that has effect outside the territory of a state, whether in a neighbouring country or a country thousands of miles away.
All states are obliged to cooperate with the aim of not just protecting, but actively ensuring the gradual and full realisation of human rights for everyone, everywhere.
So a civil society groups around Ireland prepare to make their views about Ireland’s human rights track record known, we will be advocating for our national obligation to the wider community of peoples.
(see also this blog post about Ireland’s overseas aid)
The Government knows that the Universal Periodic Review is a very important mechanism for holding UN member states to account. Ireland needs to take the process seriously, and NGOs must seize the opportunity to bring their issues to the attention of the UN.
Our contribution to the process will be very simple: Ireland’s overseas aid programme is not just of very high quality, it is also a way for Ireland to live up to its obligations to the international community.