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Front Line Defenders - First Ever Report by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Ireland raises concerns about Irish system of Protection for Human Rights Defenders
The publication of the report by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, following the mandate holder's first ever visit to Ireland,(indeed to any EU country) highlights the many positive steps taken by the Irish Government to contribute both domestically and internationally to the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk, while also highlighting gaps in the system which need to be addressed.
While highlighting the fact that "the environment in which defenders operate in Ireland generally facilitates the defence and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms" the Special Rapporteur encouraged the Irish Government to use the opportunity of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union to further promote awareness of the EU Guidelines and to work towards their more effective implementation.
“The Irish Government is already recognised as a leader on this issue internationally and by using the opportunity of the Irish Presidency of the EU to build on the work done to date could deliver a major break through in terms of effective support for human rights defenders at risk”, said Front Line Defenders Director Mary Lawlor in Dublin.
The Special Rapporteur suggested that the identification of a set of benchmarks and indicators could assist greatly in the establishment of best practice across all EU delegations. The indicators could include a reference to the number of fast-track visas provided under a humanitarian visa scheme. This is an initiative on which the Irish Government has taken an early lead and which could be usefully promoted as an example of best practice across the EU.
While the report acknowledges that in practice human rights defenders in Ireland were not at risk she did raise concerns about the specific challenges faced by “certain groups of human rights defenders in Ireland, including environmental rights activists, defenders working on sexual and reproductive rights, those working for the right of Travellers, whistle-blowers and others reporting wrongdoing, and asylum seekers and refugees working for the rights of their communities”.
Ms Sekaggya raised specific concerns about policing in relation to the Corrib Gas Project “indicating the existence of a pattern of intimidation, harassment, surveillance and criminalisation of those peacefully opposing the Corrib Gas project”. These conclusions echo the findings of the Front Line Defenders 2010 report on the issue, Breakdown of Trust – a Report on the Corrib Gas Dispute
Also among the concerns highlighted by the Special Rapporteur was the fact that “section 3, paragraph 11 of the new Charities Act fails to recognise the promotion of human rights as 'a purpose that is beneficial to the community', therefore, effectively excluding organisations that work on the protection and promotion of human rights from being able to register as charities.”
This has serious implications in that some organisations might as a result not be able to register as charities thus not being eligible for tax exemption or not being seen as a legitimate charity for fundraising purposes.