Our International Engagement
Our international engagement on human rights discussions enables us to reaffirm our commitment to the universality, indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights, to accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and to the protection of those who are most vulnerable and marginalised.
Ireland encourages respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights obligations on the international stage. Our work is underpinned by:
- our firm belief in the community of nations working together to advance the values of the UN Charter.
- assisting vulnerable communities to realise their rights through the Irish Aid programme
- contributing to international peacekeeping
Our Human Rights Unit (HRU) is responsible for:
- overseeing Ireland’s approach to international human rights policy
- informing other government departments of Ireland’s international human rights obligations
- facilitating the ratification of international human rights instruments
- liaising with NGOs on international matters of concern.
- coordinating Ireland’s active participation in international human rights bodies, including the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. Ireland served on the Council for the first time during the period from 2013-2015.
International Human Rights bodies
Human Rights at the United Nations
We have long championed the vital role of the United Nations in the promotion and protection of human rights. Ireland has sought to promote effective international action on global human rights issues since becoming a Member State of the United Nations in 1955.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) represents all 193 Member States and holds regular sessions to discuss international issues. All Member States have one vote and decisions on important questions require a two-thirds majority. There are six main committees within the UNGA, each responsible for a different thematic area of interest. UNGA’s Third Committee (see below) focuses on human rights issues.
UN General Assembly Social, Humanitarian & Cultural "Third" Committee
The Third Committee of UNGA, based in New York, is concerned with social, cultural and humanitarian issues that affect people globally and focuses a large part of its work on human rights questions. Ireland plays an active role at the Third Committee, through the negotiation of resolutions and the delivery of statements and interventions.
Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of women's rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission meets annually in March. During this session member states, with significant input from civil society, evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide.
Ireland was elected to serve as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women for the first time on 5 April 2016, and our term of office ran from 2017 to 2021. Ireland chaired the Commission for the annual sessions in 2018 and 2019.
As a member Ireland worked to strengthen the voice and functioning of the Commission, support its contribution to the wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and promote the participation of civil society in its work.
The 65th session of the CSW 65 took place from 15-26 March 2021. The priority theme was: “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achievement gender equality and the employment of women and girls”. The review theme was: “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development”.
The main outcome of this session was the adoption of agreed conclusions on this theme, adopted after a lengthy and often difficult negotiation process. This year’s CSW was held in a hybrid format. The opening and closing sessions were held in person in the General Assembly but all other meetings and events were held online. Ireland’s virtual delegation was led by Minister Roderic O’Gorman, T.D., who delivered Ireland’s national statement in the general debate and also participated in a Ministerial roundtable.
A full programme of virtual side events was organised throughout the session. The DFA Human Rights Unit organised a side event on the topic of “Women in Politics: Overcoming the Gender Barriers”, which brought together policy makers and experts who examined the particular barriers faced by women who wish to enter political life, some of the steps and strategies that can overcome these barriers, and what remains to be done. The side event was moderated by Ireland’s Ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne Nason and addressed by Mr. Niall Burgess, Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs; Ms. Hanna Tetteh, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the African Union (AU) & Head of the UN Office to the AU (UNOAU) and former MP and Government Minister in Ghana; Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Agriculture with responsibility for land use and biodiversity; Senator Eileen Flynn, the first Mincéir (Member of the Travelling Community) to serve in the Houses of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament); and Ms Orla O’Connor, Director, National Women’s Council of Ireland (a leading Irish NGO with 190 member groups which advocates for gender equality for women).
In an important 25th anniversary year, the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women was dedicated to the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the landmark multilateral agreement on women’s rights and gender equality dating from 1995.
In advance of the session, States were called upon to undertake comprehensive national-level reviews of the progress made and challenges encountered. These national reviews fed into regional reviews conducted by the regional commissions of the United Nations, which subsequently fed into CSW64. The Beijing+25 regional meeting for Europe took place in Geneva in October 2019.
Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the 64th session of CSW had to be curtailed. The Commission convened on 9 March 2020 for a procedural meeting, during which a Political Declaration focused on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration was adopted. The session was then suspended until further notice.
The 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) took place from 11 to 22 March 2019 in New York with the priority theme “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”.
Under the Irish chair represented by Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, the Commission adopted by consensus a set of agreed conclusions which outlined the actions needed to ensure that social protection systems, public services and infrastructure were gender-sensitive, responded to the needs of women and girls, and advanced women’s empowerment and gender equality.
The Irish delegation was led by David Stanton, T.D., Minister of State for Minister for Equality, Integration and Immigration, and included representatives of civil society and two second level students (accompanied by their teachers) who had won the Department of Justice and Equality competition “Politics Needs Women.
UN Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council (HRC), based in Geneva, is an inter-governmental body of 47 UN Member States which are elected by the UN General Assembly and is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing human rights violations and making recommendations on them.
Ireland was elected to the HRC in November 2012 and served on the Council for the first time during the period from 2013-2015. As a member of the Council, Ireland focused on the human rights situation in individual countries, as well as a number of thematic priorities such as ensuring the rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex) persons, the rights of the child, protection of human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief and internet freedom.
During our membership, Ireland also led two national initiatives at the Council: the first on the promotion and protection of civil society space and the second on preventable morbidity and mortality of children under five. Advancing these initiatives was chief amongst Ireland’s priorities as a member of the Council.
While our term of membership ended on 31 December 2015, Ireland is committed to continuing to engage, as an observer State, in work at the Council.
One of the key mechanisms of the Council is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which serves to assess the human rights situations in all UN Member States.
Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council
The Special Procedures are a mechanism, consisting of independent human rights experts referred to as special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts, and working groups who monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries. Ireland seeks to support their work to advance human rights around the world. Ireland has also issued a standing invitation to all special procedures to visit the country, and has in the recent past received visits from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Human Rights at the European Union
Ireland works with our EU partners to promote and protect human rights worldwide. The EU’s priorities on human rights are set out in the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy and the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019. The Action Plan commits the EU to promoting human rights in all areas of its external action. The EU also publishes guidelines on human rights issues in order to further advance EU policy on human rights.
COHOM is the Human Rights Working Group of the Council of the EU. It is responsible for human rights issues in the EU’s external relations and is composed of human rights experts from EU countries and the European Commission. It works to implement EU priorities on human rights and to support the work of the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights, Mr Stavros Lambrinidis.
Human Rights at the Council of Europe
The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) is central to the work of the Council of Europe and is widely considered to be the cornerstone of human rights protection in Europe. The Convention binds its signatories, of which Ireland is one, to protect specified rights and freedoms.
The European Court of Human Rights is based in Strasbourg. It hears applications from both individuals and member states on alleged breaches of the Convention. It is of particular importance to Ireland, given the vital role it plays in safeguarding fundamental rights. Ireland has also strongly supported efforts in recent years to reform and improve the working methods of the Court.
Within the Council a number of important human rights monitoring systems also operate, including the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the Framework Convention for the Protection on National Minorities, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), and the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)
The IHRA (formerly the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research) is an intergovernmental body, established in 1998 by the Stockholm Declaration, currently comprised of 34 Member Countries. As a full member since 2011, Ireland is committed to the implementation of policies and programmes in support of Holocaust education, remembrance and research. These commitments are strongly supported by civil society organisations including the Irish Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland.
Human Rights Council
Ireland was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the first time in November 2012.