Ireland, the ICCPR and the UN Human Rights Committee 2014

PageLines- IconCCJHR.png Palais WilsonI’m just back from two days in Geneva at Ireland’s hearing before the UN Human Rights Committee. I was there as part of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (designate) delegation, and, as with other members of civil society attending, had the opportunity to meet with UN Committee members in the café, corridors and meeting rooms of Palais Wilson.

 The Committee Rapporteur for Ireland is Professor Yuval Shany, and twitter followers, as well as those who viewed the web-cast, will have heard his sharp questioning of the Irish delegation, on matters ranging from non-discrimination of religious minorities and aetheists in education, abortion, symphsiotomy, and limited access to effective remedies at domestic level, including the failure of the State to incorporate the ICCPR into domestic law.

 The Committee’s challenging questions on Ireland’s failings on women’s rights, and on reproductive and sexual health in particular, were remarkable both in tone and substance.   The ill-fated attempt by the Irish Govt delegation to invoke Article 25 ICCPR, the right to participation in public life (normally associated with free and fair elections), provoked a strong reaction from Committee members, with Prof Yuval Shany calling on the Govt to withdraw its comments. The suggestion that majority views were determinative of the content and scope of human rights norms, and of the State’s human rights commitments, was shocking to those who listened to the Govt’s responses, and with some time for reflection, Minster Frances Fitzgerald quickly accepted the Committee’s criticism.  

 Committee member, Flintermann (formerly of CEDAW), challenged the Government as to whether the electorate had ever been given the opportunity to vote on expanded access to abortion. The answer, as I’m sure he knew, was no. Minister Fitzgerald commented only that the most recent referendum, held in 2002, sought to limit the impact of the X case judgment and remove access to abortion in situations of suicide. Flinterman also linked – as noted subsequently by Rodley – access to abortion with the ICCPR’s non-discrimination guarantee.

 While the exchanges on women’s reproductive rights provoked the strongest words from the Committee, there was also sharp questioning on the State’s continued failure to recognise Traveller ethnicity, as well as on the prolonged stays of children and families in Direct Provision accommodation.  The continuing failure of the State to introduce an independent immigration appeals system or a statutory framework to vindicate the rights of trafficked persons was noted with some frustration by Committee members.  On Direct Provision, the Government’s response, presented by RIA representative, Mr Noel Dowling, cited ‘value for money’ and need to avoid ‘pull factors’ as justifications for continued reliance on DP without time limits or exceptions for families with children.  The notion of ‘rights as trumps’ clearly overlooked already in the Government’s invocation of Article 25 ICCPR, was again ignored by RIA. The lack of disaggregated data on domestic violence, the habitual residence condition and its impact on migrant women experiencing domestic violence, as well as the €300 charge imposed for those seeking to access immigration permission, were all raised by Committee members.

 The wrap up comments from Nigel Rodley, brought together the continuing impunity for gendered historic abuses, including symphsiotomy, with the current law’s treatment of women as ‘vessels’. Failing to provide access to abortion where there existed a risk to health imposed conditions of life on women, that as Flinterman had also noted, violated not only article 6 ICCPR , but also Article 3’s guarantees of non-discrimination.  On symphsiotomy, Rodley was even more categorical in his statements. Although a former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the information brought to light on the practice of symphsiotomy in Ireland had, he said, been keeping him awake at night. Rather than commenting further, he simply re-stated the Covenant’s prohibition of medical experimentation without consent (art 7 (2)).  Clearly, he said, the practice of symphsiotomy fell within the prohibitions of Article 7 – a  core non-derogable human rights norm.

 Uniting the State’s record on historical abuses, from the Magdalene Laundries, to Symphsiotomy, child abuse and the Mother and Baby homes, was, he said, an absence of accountability, a failing in human rights protection that that he suggested was due to ‘dominant institutional belief systems’ that prevailed within the State — I guess he was talking about the intersections of law, gender and religion here?  Strong words from a human rights lawyer not given to emotive outbursts.

 The quality of civil society engagement clearly informed the Committee’s scrutiny, and no doubt prompted the need for a high level Govt delegation to respond. Concluding Obs will issue next week. They are likely to be much more muted than the robust exchanges witnessed in Geneva. Let’s hope however for clear signals on the need for urgent reforms, not least on accountability mechanisms for past abuses.



ISIS in Iraq and International Law’s Rebel Forces Issues


Blog post contributed by Seán Butler (PhD candidate and Government of Ireland IRC PhD scholarship awardee). 

ISIS in Iraq and International Law’s Rebel Forces Issues

The disaster of the civil war in Syria has since its inception been compounded by fears that the conflict could destabilise its neighbours and spur a much larger regional conflagration. The activities of the Syrian rebels expanded into conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon in mid-2012, and now the stuttering attempts to build a stable post-Saddam state in Iraq have been significantly hindered by the activities of the terrorist group styling themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The group claim sovereignty over the entire Levant region, incorporating Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, as well as portions of Turkey (the Hatay province) and Egypt (the Sinai), in which they wish to establish a caliphate. ISIS was previously allied to al-Qaeda, but was expelled from the latter in February for excessive brutality in its actions and a political disagreement over control of the Syrian rebel group known as the al-Nusra front.

In early June, ISIS scored a major victory in taking control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and currently controls approximately 35% of Iraqi territory in the north and west of the country. Their actions have caused a surge in violence in Iraq, leading to over 2400 deaths in June and severely damaging the position of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It has additionally led to a substantial drop in Iraqi oil production, threatening global crude prices, and spurred a movement towards a referendum on total independence by Iraqi Kurdistan, which would include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The Iraqi government has requested help from the international community to deal with the crisis, which so far has come in the form of a shipment of warplanes from Russia and the dispatch of some three hundred military advisors from the US. Earlier in June, Pentagon officials were discussing possible military action in the form of airstrikes, but the US government has since backed away from this position. An airstrike was conducted against the ISIS-controlled city of al-Qaim on 24 June, but the US denied involvement, and it is strongly speculated that it was undertaken by the Syrian government, who are also fighting ISIS.

The rise in influence of ISIS and the involvement of international players in the crisis has generated some notable impacts in politics and law. Politically, the situation threatens to shuffle the deck in the ongoing Sunni-Shia ‘Cold War’, with Iraq pushing closer to Shia-dominated Iran in the absence of American military involvement and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia likely to fill the vacuum of oil supply being vacated by Iraq. As such, the situation in the Middle East could accelerate towards a state of greater instability and even a potential possible ‘heating’ of this ‘Cold War’. Such fears could force greater US involvement if the crisis does not abate in the future, as military action in Iraq would be (politically) less controversial than similar action in Syria.

A relative lack of political controversy over such a move does not mean that the situation is legally cut-and-dried, however. When the possibility of US military engagement was mooted last month, a number of bloggers questioned whether the move would be legal under domestic US law. The 2001 Authorisation for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, restricted to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and their allies, may not apply to ISIS due to its severing of ties with al-Qaeda, while the 2002 statute permitting action against Iraq to deal with its supposed “weapons of mass destruction” would also not apply.

Additionally, Deborah Pearlstein has argued in a post for Opinio Juris that US military action in Iraq may violate international law also, specifically that it would violate Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and Iraq’s human rights obligations, if an armed force conducts military operations on foreign soil absent a state of armed conflict, a Security Council authorisation or an act of self-defence. The primary issue of contention here is whether the US government can target individuals on foreign soil if said individuals cannot be said to be combatants in a conflict, a question with added salience given the US’ continuing drone campaign against militants in Pakistan.

As some have commented under Pearlstein’s piece, the question is largely moot as it is likely that the Iraqi government are in a state of armed conflict with ISIS, even if it would be politically inconvenient for them to admit to this fact. The issue does however raise further questions. As I raised in a previous post on this blog concerning French action in Mali, to what extent should a government be permitted to request or consent to foreign military intervention in regions of its country over which it does not have de facto control? The Iraqi government now essentially comprises one side of a civil war, and its requests for foreign intervention ultimately amount to an attempt to drag the US into the war on its side. The situation is further complicated by the fact that a truly effective counterattack against ISIS would probably involve attacking targets inside Syria as well.

Due to the prominence of sovereignty in international law, particularly post-1945, the law sides with the de jure governments to a strong degree. The ICJ’s famous Nicaragua judgment declared foreign assistance to rebel forces to be a violation of that state’s sovereignty, yet assistance to the government forces is legal. ISIS declared the establishment of a caliphate in the areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls, yet this new ‘state’ is not recognised under international law as it was a unilateral declaration (similar to the declarations recently undertaken by forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine). Should ISIS gain control of Baghdad, however, it could potentially become the de jure government of Iraq and thus US action against it in favour of the deposed democratic government would ostensibly be illegal. In such a situation, it would become a matter of political wrangling as to what constituted the legal government of Iraq, and thus who foreign states could support.

The complexity of this situation is just another example of contemporary international law’s difficulties dealing with the reality of non-state actors. The brutality of ISIS means its status as a pariah in international law will garner them little sympathy, yet the law which applies to it equally would apply to the more popular secular forces also fighting the Assad regime in Syria. This issue was also relevant in the disagreement over the interpretation of Security Council Resolution 1973, as to whether the targeting of pro-Gaddafi forces in Libya was a necessary component of NATO’s mandate of civilian protection or a violation of the law (see my Mali post for a brief discussion of this). The law needs further clarification and congruence in this area, so that the legal battlefield can better match the requirements of the physical one.






Malala and the post-postcolonial child*

Sarah M. Field 

Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Lithograph by Robert Motherwell).

Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Lithograph by Robert Motherwell).


‘Malala is not alone’ said the deliverer of the 2014 Annual Grotius Lecture of the American Society of International Law — Radhika Coomaraswamy. Held within these four simple words are children’s indivisible worlds, where embodied vulnerability lives in continuous, dynamic juxtaposition with their evolving capacities. So too, are ‘the interrelations of subjugation and independence’ of the distinguished discussant’s response — Diane Marie Amann. Subjugated, Malala seized, shaped, and expressed her right to education. And for this act of subversion she was silenced; or at least the ultimate silencer was triggered and failed. Herein the depth of the connection between aspects of those interrelations (those of subjugation and self-determination) is held within the individual of Malala. However those four words (‘Malala is not alone’) also illumine their broader dimensions.

In her word-selection, Radhika, evokes both presence and absence (the presence of Malala and absence of others). And, in so doing, she provokes reflection, illumining the subjugation in presence and self-determination in absence. Of the two, the invocation of absence is perhaps the most powerful. In suggesting the unseen it conjures those intimate relations of subjugation: invisibility, exclusion and above all silencing. However this absence subsists also within the presence of Malala: less the individual and more her celebrated status. Viewed another way, the latter, lives, at least partially, because of absence: the perception of absence; the perceived exceptionality of Malala’s status as child, her gender identity and position as a child human rights defender. However the former Special Representative only evokes absence: she speaks of presence — the presence of other child-human rights defenders.

Undergirding this conjoined presence-absence is a paradox, evocative of still broader dimensions of those interrelations: though Malala’s human rights advocacy is and has been celebrated, how many states (including those of my own continent of citizenship) respect and ensure children’s evolving capacities to seize, shape and express their rights. Consider it this way: they may ensure their right ‘to’ education, but what about their rights ‘in’ and ‘through’ education? Here too those interrelations of subjugation and self-determination loom. The celebration of Malala’s acts of self-determination in defence of her human rights is countered by the subjugation of others closer to home (wherever home may be). And this may only partially be explained by Malala’s perceived exceptionality. It illumines deeper dimensions of those interrelations: specifically the underside of the interface between political and legal imperatives — the politicking that undergirds greater respect for human rights away from home. Here the focus is arguably less on the rights-holder and more the identity of, and our relationship with, the rights-violator (amongst other dynamics).

Still as the discussant affirms ‘we are all postcolonial now’. Herein the affirmation of the rights to self-determination of peoples and individuals represents the beginning of our present ‘postcolonial epoch’. And children were part of this; they too are postcolonial subjects of rights. (Indeed they are arguably the first postcolonials, as recognised by the League of Nations in the Declaration of the Rights the Child (the quasi-juristic forerunner to general and child-specific instruments of international human rights law).) Envisioned in this way, the legal expression of our position as postcolonial subjects of rights was born of the hurt and harm of the subjugation of peoples and individuals — and here is the crux, within the homelands of the colonised and the colonisers. Further as, the individual of Malala, illumines, these rights continue to be seized and shaped by continuing acts of injustice including the suffered injustice of children.

To an extent then, international human rights law is the juristic holder of our embodied vulnerability to hurt and harm of all forms. Thus viewed it has particular significance for children and their aforesaid indivisible worlds. In affirming children’s position as human rights-holders, international law acknowledges and accommodates their differences and disadvantage from adults. However, the applicability of selected rights to children is often underappreciated: specifically the rights transformers — children’s rights to legal remedies, take part in decision-making affecting them and freedom of expression, amongst others. So too is the hurt and harm of the non-fulfilment of these legal obligations. Of course, supporting children’s evolving capacities to seize, shape and express their rights is dignity affirming. However it is also vital to ensuring their other rights including their freedom from all forms of violence (and the rights-based development of international law).

Interwoven within the multilayers of presence and absence evoked here are the vestiges of subjugation; these subsist notwithstanding the identifiable momentum towards child rights infused decision-making and outcomes at all levels. De jure, children remain ‘equal in dignity and rights’. De facto, (with limited access to justice and decision-making affecting them) they are less subjects of rights and more objects of protection. Considered in this way ‘[w]e are thus in need of post-postcolonialism’. Perhaps the beginning is unlocking the abstraction (the child), reconnecting children’s indivisible worlds to their present rights-bearing selves  — perceiving and affirming the Malala in each and every child.


* Inspired by the 16th Annual Grotius Lecture of the American Society of International Law‘Women and children: the cutting edge of international law’ delivered by Radikha Coomaraswamy (Global Professor of International Law at New York University School of Law and former U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict and U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women) and the response ‘The post-postcolonial woman or child’ by Diane Marie Amann (Emily and Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law at the University of Georgia School of Law and Special Advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court). Please note, the views expressed here are my own.


Public Panel Discussion: “Climate Justice and Adaptation Strategies: Linking Global and Local Initiatives”

By Mark Kernan, 7th July 2014


As a precursor to the third in a series of workshops on Climate Justice, Human Rights, Migration and Adaptation Strategies, hosted by the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in conjunction with the EU COST Action Programme IS1101, a public discussion took place on 9th June 2014 at UCC highlighting key areas in the climate justice debate, with speakers from diverse viewpoints: academia, policy-level, and from an activist standpoint.


Chair for the discussion, Professor Siobhán Mullally, introduced the evening’s key talking points: how different types of migration, short-term and seasonal for example, can be an adaptation strategy in response to climate change, and the need for examination of the institutional responses to adaptive migration strategies at the global, regional, and national levels.


First to speak was Dr Cosmin Corendea, from the United Nations University (UNU) in Bonn and current chair of the University’s social vulnerability project, who discussed a recent UN collaborative project – Where the Rain Falls – which ran from 2011 to 2013. The project was an empirical study with a participatory ‘bottoms-up approach’ which focused on climate change, food security and human mobility in eight countries in the Global South, where seasonal rainfall, now often erratic due to climate change, acts as a trigger for non-traditional migration. The global findings of the project, based on country specific case studies, highlighted in particular that in 30% of cases forced migration was the main violation of human rights, particularly problematic in the case of rural to urban migration. The study’s key finding however found that the most important issue facing climate-induced migrants in all countries was food security. As a specific example, in Tanzania climate change is now impacting on both the wet and dry seasons, where the monsoon season often falls later than expected thus causing confusion to traditional migratory patterns. As a result, communities who migrate to other regions at non-traditional times, due to crop failure for instance, now face severe human rights problems, often in conflict over resources with host communities. Dr Corendea however was keen to point out that ‘migratory reaction adaptations’ differ considerably in diverse regions of the world. Responses in Vietnam to erratic rainfalls for instance are different for a host of reasons from Peru, for geographic or cultural reasons, and local and national action plans to deal with such a diversity of migratory responses must take this into account.


Second to speak on adaptation strategies, this time from a Global North policy level perspective was Diego Quiroz-Onate, Policy Officer with the Scottish Human Rights Commission. In his talk on climate justice in Scotland, three themes where outlined. First, he argued that human rights are not adequately discussed in climate change reports. Instead, climate change is communicated overwhelmingly in terms of fiscal policy, economics and depleting resources and as a result the social element is ignored or at best downplayed. Climate change displacement impacts on housing rights, for example when flooding acts as a push factor resulting in homelessness, and sometimes destitution, a direct consequence. Therefore the integration of a strong human rights framework at the policy and legislative level is vital for both adaptation and mitigation. Second, and following on from the first theme, the human rights-based approach gives added value in the design, implementation and evaluation of law, policies and practices. Human rights impact assessments for example, he argued, add moral value, within a strong moral framework, in that they identify both rights-holders with specific claims, and duty-bearers with specific legal obligations. His final point dealt with the concept of climate justice in Scotland, specifically the 2009 Climate Change Act and the 2012 Scottish Parliament motion on climate justice. The 2009 Act creates the statutory framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enables the transitioning to a low carbon economy. Meanwhile, the 2012 motion was passed unanimously, and according to Quiroz-Onate, this legislative framework linking human rights to development in Scotland is a highly progressive model, with a climate justice approach as the formal policy of the Scottish Parliament.


Finally, speaking from an activist point of view, Oisín Coghlan from Friends of the Earth (Ireland) spoke on climate change legislation in Ireland – specifically, the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Bill 2014. Unfortunately, and in direct contradiction to the Scottish legislature’s success in passing laws, Ireland is considerably off-track on climate change targets due to legislative inactivity. In a challenging analysis, Coghlan argued that the ‘hold up’, ongoing since 2007, is largely due to ‘complex climate change politics’. Before the 2011 election for instance all the main political parties had explicitly committed to climate change legislation, yet since the new Daíl has convened the current coalition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, have not seen it as a priority. All this, he frankly admitted, despite the inception of the coalition on advocating for a climate change law began in 2007, with development NGO’s and faith groups, has been a somewhat sobering, if enlightening experience.


A law is needed, Coghlan argued, to provide a ‘policy architecture’ robust enough to drive action on climate change. Otherwise, it invariably falls off the political agenda. Part of the reason the legislation itself has taken so long, he maintained, is due to civil service resistance; where there is a preference for policy flexibility over firm timelines and targets, and where increased external oversight and accountability hold no great appeal. It takes considerable political will to overcome that inertia and political leadership has been lacking, especially given the influence of vested interests such as IBEC and the IFA, concerned about the short-term costs of climate action on their members.


Coghlan also argued that climate legislation, while not negating the legitimate interests of the business and farming lobbies, is intended to increase transparency and raise the level of democratic debate on climate policy. The public role of the expert advisory body should help bring the policy decisions out from behind closed doors. Elements in the civil service regard this as restricting Ireland’s room for manoeuvre.


This combination of civil service caution and interest-group concern is what stymied the last Government’s Climate Bill which included targets for 2030 and 2050, beyond the 2020 targets Ireland had already agreed to in EU negotiations. Following discussion of mitigation and adaptation, Coghlan finished the session with a somewhat apt and succinct phrase which had been conveyed to him at a recent environmental convention, in relation to climate change and its consequences: manage the unavoidable, but avoid the unmanageable.


In summing up the three presentations and placing them within tripartite institutional and policy structures, Dr Dug Cubie of the CCJHR and organiser of the evening’s discussion, argued that to protect the most vulnerable in society we must adapt to a changing climate as well as tackling the root causes via mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, climate change adaptation strategies must be understood in terms of linking the global UNFCCC Cancun Adaptation Framework which prioritises approaches that are country-driven, gender-sensitive, transparent, participatory and based on best available science; with the regional, for example the EU adaptation strategies and climate-proofing action at EU and member State level; while at the local level, it is necessary for the Irish National Adaptation Framework and the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill to articulate a coherent strategic government policy for both adaptation and mitigation measures.

Climate Justice and Adaptation Strategies: public lecture, Thursday 26th June 2014, UCC

“Climate Justice and Adaptation Strategies: Linking Global and Local Initiatives”

On Thursday 26th June 2014, the CCJHR will host a free public discussion on the topic of climate justice and adaptation strategies in Room 107, Western Gateway Building, UCC.

Chaired by Professor Siobhan Mullally, this event brings together a panel of international experts on climate change, human rights and migration to analyse the impact of climate change on the most vulernable in society.

Dr Cosmin Corendea from the UN University in Bonn will commence by presenting his recent research into migration decisions by individuals and communities resulting from the increasing variability of rainfall in countries such as Bangladesh, Peru, and Tanzania. Full details of this research can be found at:

Next, Diego Quiroz-Onate will describe the experience of the Scottish Human Rights Commission in promoting a climate justice approach with policy-makers in Scotland.

Bringing the discussion to the national and local level, Oisin Coghlan from Friends of the Earth (Ireland) will analyse the pending Climate Action and Low Carbon Bill 2014, and discuss the approach to climate change taken by the Irish authorities.

Finally, Dr Dug Cubie, Faculty of Law, UCC will describe the national adaptation framework for Ireland before leading a Q&A session with all contributors.

Date: Thursday 26th June 2014
Time: 4.00pm – 6.00pm
Venue: Room 107, Western Gateway Building, University College Cork

There is no registration fee for this event.
Advance booking is required via (search for CCJHR).