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Five key areas Ireland needs to focus on during Presidency of the UN Security Council

This is a key month for Ireland on the international political stage as it takes over Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC), providing a critical opportunity to put our stamp on international relations and to fight for peace and justice.

Trócaire  Distributing Emergency Supplies at Rwampara Health Zone in Ituri Province of Eastern DRC Trócaire Distributing Emergency Supplies at Rwampara Health Zone in Ituri Province of Eastern DRC

Founded in 1946, the UNSC is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. Ireland took up a seat as an elected member of the UNSC for a two-year term on January 1st. The Presidency of the Council rotates each month and during September the spotlight will be on Ireland as it holds the Chair.

Throughout the month, the Security Council will respond to rapidly escalating crises and long-running, seemingly intractable conflicts. Ireland, as Chair, will be responsible for steering a politically divided Council to decisions  that protect  life, prevent human rights violations, and help resolve conflict.

The lives of millions of people are affected by decisions taken in the UNSC Chamber. For example, in early July, humanitarian access to over 3m people in North West Syria was secured through a vote to extend a resolution on cross-border access from Turkey.

The issues on the Security Council agenda could not be more important. Ireland will chair debates on critical issues such as the highly volatile and tragic crisis in Afghanistan which has unfolded in recent weeks. It will facilitate meetings on long-running conflicts including Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, all countries in which Trόcaire works.  It will shape and steer debates on climate security, women’s rights in conflict situations and peacekeeping.

This is a critical opportunity for Ireland to put its stamp on international relations and there are five key areas where Ireland needs to focus its influence:

  1. Protection of civilians, humanitarian access and accountability in conflict situations

The crises in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Myanmar are complex and will require bespoke responses and ultimately, inclusive political settlements. However, during its Presidency, Ireland needs to ensure that UNSC members take the strongest possible action to ensure the protection of civilians during conflict, and to protect those who bring  civilians humanitarian aid. It needs to ensure that agreements are reached and honoured on allowing civilians to be reached with timely and reliable humanitarian assistance.

Ireland also has an important role to play in achieving accountability, by ensuring that crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide are referred by the UNSC to the International Criminal Court. The groundwork can  be laid during its Presidency, when it holds a key role in negotiating language in resolutions and conclusions of debates.

Ireland’s leadership on these conflicts, including navigating with UNSC members to commit to concerted action, will be key.

  1. Protection of Palestinian rights under international law

The illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian land, one of the world’s longest-running violations of international humanitarian law, is on the UNSC agenda during Ireland’s Presidency.  

The Secretary General will report to the Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 2334 (2016), in which the UNSC reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

Ireland will chair a debate on this Resolution, and will have the opportunity to take a strong human rights-based stance on the need for its implementation. Indeed, since Ireland has recently passed a motion in the Dáil condemning Israel’s de facto annexation of Palestinian territory as a violation of the fundamental principle of international law, it is crucial that Ireland maintains this leadership on the international stage.

  1. Driving a human rights-based approach to climate and security

Ireland is co-chair of the Informal Expert Group (IEG) on Climate and Security and during the Presidency Ireland will host a high-level meeting on Climate and Security.

Climate change is one of the gravest issues facing humanity. It is causing and exacerbating conflict as competition for the scarce resources that sustain life, such as land and water, increase. Many countries are vulnerable, especially in Africa where the temperature increase has been more rapid than the global average, with human-induced climate change being the dominant driver.

We know that developing nations face an estimated 75% of the cost of the climate crisis. These impacts are particularly unjust because while the poorest half of the world’s population are responsible for only 10% of carbon emissions, the richest ten countries are responsible for 50% of all carbon emissions.

As Chair, Ireland can work to get the UNSC members to adopt a strong human rights-based resolution on the need to prevent and mitigate climate change as a matter of international peace, security and justice.

  1. Prioritising women, peace and security in peacekeeping operations

Women and girls are particularly at risk of violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, whilst being excluded from decision-making and peace negotiations. Conflict-related sexual violence is commonly perpetrated against women and girls as a tactic of war, to terrorise families, dehumanise communities and destabilise societies. Further, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased risks for women and girls, silenced survivors and has undermined much of the progress achieved to date.

The Secretary General will brief the Security Council on reform of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. There is a need for far greater implementation of the women, peace and security agenda, including full representation of women in senior positions in the formal processes and bodies in international peace and security, gender sensitive humanitarian responses and adequate resourcing. The UNSC has an important role to play in ensuring accountability, including implementing sanctions in response to sexual violence, and progressing accountability for crimes of conflict-related sexual violence at the International Criminal Court.

As Chair, Ireland needs to continue to highlight women, peace and security, asserting principles of gender equality and human rightsthroughout all the meetings during its Presidency.

  1. Protecting human rights defenders, particularly women defenders, and civil society space

Civic space and civil society participation make critical contributions to the effective prevention of conflict, the protection of human rights, the fight against impunity and peacebuilding. Efforts to prevent and address conflict are strengthened by a strong and enabled civil society and the increased participation of women in all decision-making processes. However, attacks against human rights defenders continue and COVID-19 has made them even more vulnerable to attack, as states have used the pandemic as an excuse to erode human rights and curtail freedoms.

Trócaire has supported the call of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security for Security Council members to consistently and publicly defend the space, voices and legitimacy of civil society, human rights defenders  and peacebuilders, and condemn any attacks against them – as there can be no just and durable peace without women human rights defenders  and peacebuilders.

As Chair, Ireland should champion the protection of civil society space, including the protection of human rights defenders, in statements and resolutions. Ireland should advocate for freedom of association, assembly, and speech, for human rights defenders – especially women – and prevent reprisals directed at those who engage with the UNSC.

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