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Access to Justice

Trócaire calls on Varadkar to put human rights at the heart of his vision for international diplomatic presence

While Monday’s announcement carries positive potential benefits in terms of investment and trade, it is crucial that the proposed increase of Ireland’s diplomatic presence is not solely focused on these areas, but is also clear on making Ireland a leader in promoting responsible business practices anchored in strong respect for human rights and the environment. This core value has long underpinned Ireland’s foreign policy and must continue to do so.

As Ireland seeks election to the UN Security Council, a reputation for principled human rights can have trade benefits as an added value for those who want to do business with us. An increase of diplomatic staff, embassies and agencies should enhance this proud tradition not marginalise it.  

Increasingly governments around the world put economic gain and self-interest first and the State fails to protect human rights within the business sphere. Furthermore, widespread impunity compounds this practice and ensures human rights violations continue without accountability. 

Globally, more and more human rights abuses in developing countries are committed by private sector big business with the victims often being vulnerable communities. 

This week the Brazilian Government has abolished a vast national reserve – an area roughly half the size of the island of Ireland – to open up the area to commercial development of natural resources. Many observers are calling it the biggest attack on the Amazon in 50 years. It is a really short-sighted move that despite the strong economic appeal, may bring undesirable impacts to the Renca protected areas, such as deforestation, threats to indigenous populations and loss of wildlife.

In Central America, Trócaire works with local communities and civil society that are unlawfully intimidated, threatened and displaced by private sector actors illegally obtaining land, and a Government that is protecting economic interests. 

Those who stand up for the rights of vulnerable communities often do so at risk to their own safety. In early March 2016, Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist and Trócaire partner, was murdered because of her opposition to a hydroelectric dam on behalf of indigenous communities in the Aguan valley. Officials have denied state involvement in the activist’s murder, however, eight men have been arrested, including one serving and two retired military officers.

She is just one example of an emerging global trend towards restrictions, threats and violence against organisations or individuals who speak up against the powerful.

In June 2014, the Government committed to developing Ireland’s first National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) and the working outline was published on December 10 (Human Rights Day) 2015, yet there is still no finalised NAP. 

Implementing a strong NAP, and strong support from Ireland to the United Nations process towards a binding treaty on business and human rights, would send a clear signal that Ireland is focused on responsible business and is not willing to profit off the back of the most vulnerable in our global society.

It is essential that we not only strengthen our commitment to improving diplomatic relations but we must also demand greater accountability for human rights violations and attacks against civil society.

If the Taoiseach wants to discuss “Ireland’s place in the world in the years ahead” and wishes to cast his announcement as a “major statement on Ireland’s future foreign policy” this should include a strong commitment to maintaining Ireland’s proud tradition of a foreign policy based on equality, human rights and solidarity with those suffering from poverty, hunger and disadvantage. 

Julian Waagensen is Trócaire’s Human Rights Policy Advisor


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