"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
The Table Observers and Ireland’s Universal Periodic Review ( UPR ) at the UN Geneva October 20111: Report.
The Table Observers and Ireland’s Universal Periodic Review ( UPR ) at the UN Geneva October 20111: Report.
The United Nations and Human Rights.
Ireland is one of the current 192 member States of the United Nations.It must participate in the UN human rights reporting UPR mechanism as has the other 191 countries. The Universal Periodic Review replaced previous methods of human rights accountability in 2007. Ireland was in the last group of this first cycle of the new exercise, the Twelfth Session, and was one of the final sixteen countries. Each group is facilitated by a troika and in Ireland’s case was Bangladesh, Italy and Moldova. The UPR takes place in February, May and December while the Human Rights Council also meets three times per year.
Slowly The Table Observers introduced themselves to the system and accessed information at the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights through its website www.ohchr.org . Mary Robinson was once the Commissioner. The whole system is built around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights put in place after World War 11.
Engagement with the UN was proposed by legal expert in indigenous rights and the extractive industry, Cathal Doyle, who had attended workshops in Erris. He had proposed three avenues and the UPR was eventually attempted. He also had written useful content and remains a constant supportive presence from outside Ireland over the last three years.
National Awareness of the Universal Periodic Review. National public awareness of the exercise was carried out very sparsely by the Government in 2010-2011. Table members cannot recall the use of the public broadcaster in this awareness but noted registration for a training day on an NGO website.
DFA NGO Forum. The DFA Annual Human Rights Conference was used as a training day for NGOs and civil society groups on 10 December 2010,, in the Convention Centre, Dublin.. It was opened by Dick Roche TD who mentioned that Ireland would be seeking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for 2012 – 2015. Other speakers were from the human rights division of the UK Ministry of Justice, Amnesty International and Ireland’s Permanent Delegation in Geneva who underlined the political nature of the UPR.
Table and Shell to Sea were represented in two of the three workshops. The former pointed out that grassroots communities had poor expectations of such elaborate UN mechanisms even if they were designed to respond to their complaints. This comment was not reflected in the substantial report.
At the same time the Report recorded that “ it was felt that there is a need to reach more groups and to engage them in the UPR process. Human rights should be kept real; some grassroots community organisations may not articulate their needs in terms of human rights, nonetheless they should not be precluded from participating in the UPR process”. This advice was absent in the spread of consultation carried out for the National Report as was evidenced in the lack of consultation in Galway and Mayo, particularly in the latter where the Erris crisis has been ongoing for eleven years and which strongly formulates its complaints in human rights terms.
Making the Table Submission ( www.eccr.org). The third activity was preparation of NGO/civil society/individual submissions which could be directed through the National Report ( 120), through human rights coalitions such as Your Rights Right Now of the The Irish Council of Civil Liberties ( 17 clusters) and/ or directly to the Office of the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva ( 64 ).
The Submission relied on reports of the Table Observers, on a field report on human rights carried out in 2007 and on the Frontline Report 2009. The focus was the weakness of the human rights regime in Ireland with a call to human rights proof all multinational business contracts, the right to life and liberty with attention to the policing of protest and fairness of Courts, attention to cultural rights, and the need for free, prior, informed consent in activities perceived to threaten the sustainability of the community.
The Table Observers’ Submission can be viewed in full on the above website on homepage/ on Members’ News and Views/on list to Human Rights in Ireland. ECCR has been consistently attentive to the Corrib Gas Project over several years as it has been to the Ogoni/Niger Delta issue since 1993.
Stakeholder Report (www.yourrightsrightnow.ie)
The NGO/ civil society/individual submissions were made in March 2011. The ICCL-led coalition of 17 groups held a number of public consultations in preparation. It set up a website which has generously loaded submissions from outside its coalition. (See top of the homepage to the right: Other Submissions). One can read that of AFrI and the lobby questions of The Table Observers. Shell to Sea may forward its submission for inclusion. Three related to the human rights content of the Corrib Gas Project: Table, Shell to Sea and AFrI are among the list of organizations recorded at the end of the Stakeholder Report.
The National Report ( www.upr.ie ) was duly submitted in July 2011 and was preceded by a number of public consultations. There were seven held in May and early June of 2011 two months before the National Report was submitted on 4 July 2011. Two were held in local urban communities of Dublin and others in third level institutions: Limerick, Sligo, Athlone, Cork and Kilkenny with an attendance between 25 and 60. There were none in Galway, Mayo or Kerry. The Government set up a website where all related documents such as the National Report can be found.
While informed by consultations it was defensive about its record using an intensity of commitment and a large number of intentions for the future rather then actualities of the present. It listed 21 human rights mechanisms as evidence of seriousness about human rights. These include, Table notes, the Garda Ombudsman. It emphasises State services to the already adversely impacted rather than an openness to an overall quality of life less dependent on such services. It narrowly interprets work as paid employment rather than self-employment, urban rather than rural. It avoids concepts of ‘community’ and ‘sustainability’. It limits health and safety. It seems to interpret rights only in a remedial sense.
In relation to Table concerns about the human rights content of the Corrib Gas Project, the National Report acknowledges the nomination of judges by the Government but omits to mention that a Garda Superintendent is also a Government appointee and so very much under direct political control. These matters were not examined in the peer-review.
While listing specified rights in the Constitution the National Report does not comment about issues of infringement. These rights would include the right to life, to bodily integrity, to the protection of one’s person and good name, property rights and the inviolability of the dwelling along with family rights. It acknowledges related non specified rights such as the right not to have health endangered by the State, to be free form torture and degrading treatment and to have access to fair procedure. The Table Report focused seriously on these rights in relation to the Corrib Gas Project and multinational business in general. Its concerns were largely absent in the other 61 stakeholder submissions but were central to those of Shell to Sea and AfrI. The UPR peer-review did not move into these areas.
Part of the National Report dealt with the State’s obligations to European human rights institutions. It acknowledged judgements resulting in “the payment of just satisfaction to applicants as ordered by the Courts”. It did not mention that these were mainly for environmental breaches. The National Report reiterated its intention to complete the outstanding ratification of the Aarhus Convention in the current Programme for Government while arguing that the State is “largely compliant with its provisions”. Table was encouraged by this mention of an issue from its own Submission and a mention in the public consultations held in Dublin and Sligo. The peer-review did not attend to obligations in the European cohort.
UN Compilation Report (www.ohchr.org/en/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/Documentation).
Meanwhile the Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council was compiling a report on the history of Ireland’s compliance with its Treaty obligations. Ireland has ratified a number of Human Rights Conventions and is bound by a Treaty to each. These are listed at the start of the Compilation Report and are periodically examined by the matching Treaty Committee. Those outstanding are noted.The preparation documents were: the National Report, the Stakeholder Summary Report, the Treaties’ Compilation Report. All are easily accessible on the above website.
The Universal Periodic Review ( www.yourrightsrightnow.ie) is recorded ( vision and sound) on this homepage in full. It followed a strict format. The Minister of Justice and other civil servants from selected departments presented themselves to the Working Group. They received comments, queries and recommendations from over 60 country representatives in a three hour period. As pointed out already, other than a very strong recommendation on establishing a much more effective human rights regime there was little or no mention of Table concerns. The focus remained on those issues which surfaced at the DFA NGO Forum in 2010.
Table Questions ( www.yourrightsrightnow.ie ) were prepared over a month in the group and with the help of a number of people who offered advice. These were for the lobby phase.
They were initially sent to 20 selected embassies in Dublin. Ackowledgements were few. The German Embassy asked for a meeting and three Table members attended.
Enquiries started on the possibility of a Side Event in Geneva. Richie O’ Donnell was very willing to participate with THE PIPE and was kept waiting for an opportunity. In the end this did not happen.
Getting to Geneva Two members of Table travelled to Geneva on Monday 4 October for two days. This was made possible by their personal generosity, time and expense-wise. Part of the costs was borne by other members of the small group. Making contact with Geneva seemed insurmountable during the vacation months of July and August. Letters and emails not responded to and yet it was all proposed as being simple. One member had to forego her hopes of attending the six-day training workshop preceding the UPR because she could not get information on travel, accommodation and training expenses having been assured that three places had been secured for Irish persons: only two availed. She was to find out later that the allowance for the course was generous.
At the DFA NGO Forum of December 2010, a Trocaire representative showed a film about Trocaire’s support of a UPR Submission from Cambodia at a previous session. He was contacted and suggested linking up with Franciscans International ( FI) a permanent lobby presence in Geneva. A phone call at the end of July was not followed up. Then in September the great news that FI had approached the Edmund Rice International ( ERI) Office in the same building and together agreed that ERI would offer accommodation and facilitate accreditation. This latter was very complex since to reach the UPR one had to be a member or be sponsored by an ECOSOC member. Table was to discover a veritable absence of the latter in Ireland. These are international human rights groups mostly based in Geneva with branches in various countries.
What a gift! The two members of Table set up their own line of communication with ERI and after much hardship arrived off the early morning flight to the ERI office to collect their accreditation and be taken directly to the UN Headquarters of the Human Rights Council. They were ‘in’ after a long period of uncertainty. They had wonderfully cooked meals and comfortable accomodation in the house of the three Christian Brothers over the Swiss border in France, far cheaper than Geneva itself. These people staff the ERI international lobby office in Geneva, the senior person being from Australia and the other two also non-Irish. ERI is an accredited ECOSOC body as is FI and were busy supporting their stakeholder groups from others of the sixteen States presenting at the Session e.g Uganda and Tanzania.
During the two days Table looked at one Side Event located in a huge hall with a very large number of people attending. It was evident that a lot of planning has to go into such an event. The panel included people from an affected group and looked very much a grassroots presence. This was in sharp contrast to a group from Iran camped for six months opposite the UN building and who thought the Table people who went to greet them was the first visit of recognition by the UN. They were sadly disappointed.
Three Permanent delegations expressed interest in the Table issues: Greece, Swaziland and France. By coincidence the two persons from Ireland on the human rights course managed to link up with Table. One of these had been to the Rossport Solidarity Camp and expressed concern about the issue wherever she could, not least to the Minister of Justice immediately after the UPR. She had also taken The PIPE to Geneva and was able to show it to the participants on the course. So it did have its showing in Geneva after all albeit on a small scale. The feeling of vastness and opulent purposefulness was not lost on Table.
Post- Geneva. After a number of weeks the five Table members met to reflect and make possible this report. The Ireland UPR took place on the 6 October and it was the business of the troika to have a Draft Outcome Report ready for adoption by the Working Group two days later. This is available on www.ohchr.org at the UPR section.
Table has looked at its lobby questions and intends to make further use of them. Already copies have been prepared and the good offices of an Independent TD secured for safe delivery to Dail and Senate members. The Minister of Justice will go back to a meeting of the Human Rights Council in March 2012 where it will formally adopt the Draft Report. This may be the appropriate time to distribute the lobby questions with a strong cover letter reiterating the seriousness of the human rights content of the Corrib Gas Project.
Conclusion. Overall the issues which emerged at the initial DFA NGO FORUM on 10 December survived. The focus was on populations: migrants, travellers, prisoners, women, children and very emphatically on the need for a National Plan of Action on Human Rights. These issues very much relate to the strength of respective lobby groups from the financed NGO sector with the necessary professional expertise supported by general infrastructure. These issues were also reflected in the work of the Irish Commission for Human Rights ( IHRC) which worked both on its own Report on behalf of civil society and on the National Report for the State seemingly unaware of the contradiction inherent in this situation regarding independence and objectivity.
Glaringly absent was input from members of The Irish Environmental Network as was reference to policing and the judiciary. Even if in the Table Submission there was no echo elsewhere. The National Report listed its human rights services, twenty one in all including that of the Garda Ombudsman; however there was still a UN call for improvement in the protection and promotion of human rights so the number of relevant bodies did not altogether blind the peer-review.
The confinement of issues remained evident in a follow-up conference organised by the IHRC held in and with the Law Society, Dublin on 22 October 2011. Two Table members attended. There were five parallel workshops: rights of women, travellers, prisoners, the disabled, those in poverty. Again each had a lengthy introductory contribution by a recognised person from each constituency. Needless to say issues about business and multinationals, security and surveillance, environmental, social and cultural sustainability, the right to life, health and safety, the principle of community consultation and consent at the heart of the Table Submission did not find a hearing at any level of the UPR.
In the State consultations, thanks go to those attending in Sligo, Limerick and in one Dublin group who brought up issues relating to the Shell-impacted communities of Erris. These did not survive in the National Report other than a mention of Government progress on the Aarhus Convention which the Minister of Justice reiterated during the UPR proceedings.
Participation requires response and more heed should have been paid to examining that comment of the DFA NGO Forum expressed thus: “ it was felt that there is a need to reach more groups and to engage them in the UPR process. Human rights should be kept real; some grassroots community organisations may not articulate their needs in terms of human rights, nonetheless they should not be precluded from participating in the UPR process.”
Table articulated and presented the needs of the Shell-impacted communities in Erris and fully engaged in the UPR process where two of its concerns were touched upon: a National Plan for Human Rights and the ratification of the Aarhus Convention.
The Table Observers November 2011.