Written answers

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Middle East Issues

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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88. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps being taken at EU and international level against countries in the Middle East in which there are flagrant abuses of human rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9095/19]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The promotion and protection of human rights internationally is a foreign policy priority for Ireland, as set out in The Global Island, Ireland's Foreign Policy document. Multilateral engagement, both in a national capacity and through the EU, is fundamental for adhering to this objective. Ireland works closely with our EU and UN partners in the multilateral fora to monitor compliance with international human rights standards.

Human Rights concerns are an integral part of Ireland’s and the EU’s relations with all of the states across the Middle East region. Discussions at the EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), whether on the Middle East or other areas, frequently touch on human rights concerns. For example, recent FAC discussions on Syria in February 2019, Iran in December 2018 and Libya in October 2018 all touched on these issues. In February 2019, the FAC adopted Council Conclusions on EU Priorities in UN human rights fora, which reaffirmed the EU commitment to the UN Human Rights system and made specific mention of human rights concerns in countries throughout the Middle East.

Ireland frequently raises issues of human rights abuses, in a national capacity, through the human rights mechanisms of the UN including the Human Rights Council and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York.

At the UN Human Rights Council’s most recent completed session in September 2018, Ireland raised many concerns under Item 4, as being human rights situations requiring the Council's attention. The situations about which we expressed Ireland's concern included reports of attacks in Yemen resulting in civilian casualties; the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and efforts to prevent outside observers from scrutinising Israel's conduct of the occupation; and restrictions on civil society space and the treatment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. During this HRC session, Ireland also made a national intervention during the Interactive Dialogues with the Commissions of Inquiry on Syria. Ireland will raise a number of human rights concerns in relation to the Middle East in the current session of the Human Rights Council, which opened this week.

The UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is another important mechanism for taking action to highlight human rights violations. Ireland used the UPR session on Yemen in January 2019 to highlight grave breaches of international humanitarian law and challenges to humanitarian access. Ireland made several recommendations to the Government of Yemen including: to engage with the work of the Group of Eminent and Regional Experts appointed by the Human Rights Council; to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Yemen; and to take all steps necessary to ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas.

Human rights will continue to be a key element in Ireland's policy on the Middle East, as they are elsewhere in the world. We will continue to use the most effective and appropriate means to promote respect for human rights, whether this is public statements, bilateral contacts, or indeed working through the EU and UN to highlight the importance the international community attaches to this issue.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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89. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the persecution of Christians in the Middle East has been raised at the EU Foreign Affairs Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9096/19]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Ireland is committed to promoting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, as well as the rights of persons belonging to minorities. We strongly condemn all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where it occurs or who the victims are. We attach great importance to combating discrimination based on religion or belief, and incitement to religious hatred.

We strive to protect and promote human rights through our work at the EU, the UN, and other international fora. In addition, Ireland frequently raises and will continue to raise the issue of the persecution of minorities through its official bilateral contacts, stressing the responsibility of governments to protect all citizens and minorities, irrespective of their religion or belief.

At EU level, Ireland played a key role in the adoption by the EU of guidelines on freedom of religion or belief during our Presidency in 2013. These guidelines provide a framework for the promotion of this right in the EU's external human rights policy. My EU counterparts and I regularly discuss conflicts in the Middle East at the Foreign Affairs Council, and the need to protect the rights of minority groups is frequently underlined. For instance, the Council adopted conclusions on the Syrian conflict in April 2018, underlining the need for accountability, including for crimes committed against religious, ethnic and other groups and minorities. In addition, the January 2018 Council conclusions on Iraq reiterated the EU’s firm and active commitment to the preservation of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-confessional nature of Iraqi society, including the protection of its minority groups. Last week, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted conclusions on the EU priorities in UN Human Rights Fora which commit the Union to continue to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief and to condemn persecution of religious minorities across the world.

During the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in September 2017, Ireland strongly condemned all forms of persecution and violence committed on the basis of religion or belief and called on all States to prevent such acts, highlighting our concern, in particular, regarding the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East. Addressing the high-level segment of the 37th session of the HRC in February 2018, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, highlighted threats to freedom of religion and belief and minority religious communities worldwide, including those of Christian, Muslim and Bahá’í faiths.

Ireland also uses the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism of the HRC, to remind countries under review of their obligation to advance fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, under international human rights law.

Ireland is deeply concerned by the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. These communities are part of the historic fabric of their societies and countries, and in most cases they have lived peacefully alongside neighbours of different faiths for many centuries. The political turmoil which has overwhelmed many countries in that region in recent years has led to increased concerns about the safety of several religious minorities and other minority groups. ISIS, in particular, has brutally attacked and murdered many communities and groups of people for their religious beliefs. In response to this, Belgium hosted the third international Ministerial Conference on the Victims of Ethnic and Religious violence in the Middle East in May last, year, at which I spoke.

We believe that the interests of minority groups are best served by pursuing the general goal of pluralism, and we are wary of singling out specific groups in a way which may inadvertently put them at risk. The only sure means of securing the protection of Christian communities and other minorities across the Middle East is through the promotion of sustainable political solutions to the conflicts which have for so long destabilised the region, and have been the key factor in the promotion of radical and extremist ideologies.

I can assure the Deputy that Ireland will continue to actively support freedom of religion or belief in the Middle East, and across our foreign policy.


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