Written answers

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Human Rights Issues

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Independent)
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35. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his work with counterparts in the European Union on addressing human rights violations, including the right to religious freedom, in some states of the Middle East. [28131/14]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Threats to human rights across the broad Middle East region are numerous and, in many cases, grave. Promoting and enhancing respect for human rights, together with core related principles such as freedom, equality, and the rule of law, form a very important part of the EU’s dialogue and engagement with countries in the region. The right to religious freedom is an area of particular concern. Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right and a prerequisite of any democratic state and I am greatly disturbed by the continuing, and indeed increasing, prevalence of persecution and attacks on people based on their religious beliefs, including in the Middle East region.

Both Ireland and the EU attach great importance to combating such forms of discrimination or persecution based on religion or belief. In June 2013, under the Irish Presidency, the EU adopted Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, which reaffirmed the EU’s determination to promote, in its external human rights policy, freedom of religion or belief as a right to be exercised by everyone, everywhere. These Guidelines were a priority for the Irish Presidency and we engaged extensively in the drafting process. The EU has also taken a number of steps in recent years in support of freedom of religion or belief, including issuing Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on the matter, for example in February 2011.

Ireland raises regularly the issue of the safety of religious minorities through its official bilateral contacts with many countries in the region, stressing in particular the responsibility of any state or government to protect all its citizens and minorities. Of course, in situations of general instability and insecurity, such as in Iraq or Syria, this is especially difficult. Ireland also works with our partners in the EU to raise the issue in multilateral fora such as the UN Human Rights Council, as part of the EU’s human rights policy.

The issue of freedom of religion or belief is one of our priorities as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and we have played a central role in the negotiation of two important resolutions on this issue in the past year.

Officials from my Department also meet frequently with members of religious minorities from the Middle East region, to hear first hand their concerns and to discuss issues affecting their communities. They will continue to do so, and the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of religion or belief will remain a key element of our engagement with countries in the Middle East region.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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36. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to testimonies of abuse endured by children in Palestine as published in a magazine (details supplied); if his Department has made representations at EU level of the abuses suffered by Palestinian children under Israeli Army practices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28133/14]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I have paid particular attention to the incidence and conditions of detention of Palestinian children. The report referred to provides graphic details of further allegations of practices which are clearly unacceptable. My view is simple: Palestinian children in Israeli custody should be afforded the same rights, protection, and treatment under the law which Israel rightly considers appropriate for Israeli children, and in conformity with international standards.

Ireland has repeatedly drawn attention to concerns regarding the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including minors. We have also pursued these issues in cooperation with our EU partners, in particular in local coordination of EU Missions on human rights issues. At the Universal Periodic Review of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council in October 2013, Ireland recommended, inter alia, that Israel end the practise of night arrests of children, the admissibility in evidence in military courts of written confessions in Hebrew signed by Palestinian children, the use of solitary confinement against minors, and the denial of access to family members or to legal representation.

These serious concerns were among those raised by Ireland in its statement under item 7 on “the human rights situation in Palestine” at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council in March. In addition, Ireland raises its concerns bilaterally, both with the Israeli Embassy in Dublin and with the relevant authorities in Israel, at every appropriate opportunity. We will continue to do so. Ireland also provides financial support to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs who are active in bringing these issues to light. We have seen some improvements in the treatment of minors in detention. Reports, such as the one highlighted by the Deputy in this question, clearly demonstrate that much more remains to be done.

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