Robinson criticises plan to merge human rights bodies
Mary Robinson: human rights bodies “need to be invigorated”
SUSAN McKAY IRISH TIMES 25 AUGUST 2008
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT COMMEMORATION: FORMER PRESIDENT Mary Robinson has sharply criticised a Government proposal to merge a number of human rights agencies.
Speaking yesterday, she said bodies like the Equality Authority were set up to fight for and defend human rights in Ireland and “need to be invigorated, not pared down on the cheap”.
“There should be no erosion of the powers of these bodies,” she said. “They should never be reduced by merging or in any other way.”
She was responding to a Government proposal to merge the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal, the Irish Human Rights Commission, the office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the National Disability Authority into a single agency.The bodies have been given until September 12th to respond to the proposal.
Ms Robinson said human rights “belong to the people and are to hold those in power to account”.
The former president, who was the UN high commissioner for human rights until 2002, and is one of the world’s leading human rights activists, was speaking at a commemoration for the 40th anniversary of the North’s civil rights movement.
The conference, the Civil Rights Challenges in Ireland today – Tackling Poverty, Sectarianism, Racism and Inequality, took place in Carlingford, Co Louth.
Ms Robinson said the Belfast Agreement made a “solemn commitment” to upholding human rights and to maintaining human rights commissions in the North and the South.
“This was agreed and sanctioned by the British and Irish governments and accepted by the international community,” she said. Such bodies represented an “extraordinary gain that must be preserved. We still have many struggles for human rights,” she said. She said Travellers in particular were “still suffering”.
During question time, a young Northern man suggested that the Special Criminal Court in Dublin was operating “a form of internment” in its treatment of remand prisoners, including anti-Belfast Agreement republicans.
“I am very sympathetic to the critique of the Special Criminal Court given,” Ms Robinson said. “There is a need for serious analysis of the potential for corruption in the powers given to the court.”
She agreed with Austin Currie, the former civil rights activist, and politician for the SDLP and Fine Gael, that the use of “disappearance” as practised by the IRA in the North, was “a terrible crime against international humanitarian law”.
Ms Robinson compared it with the use by the US of “extraordinary rendition” – the illegal and secretive transfer of persons suspected by the US of involvement in terrorism to be tortured in countries that permit such practices.
The UN was taking this “very seriously”, she said, adding that she was “very concerned about complicity in the European context” with such abuses. The Iraq war was now recognised by the majority of US citizens as a “huge mistake,” she added.
The most urgent human rights issue today was climate change, she said. “Our world is hurtling towards destruction. By 2055, we may have 100 million environmental refugees fleeing desertification or flooding.”
Her grandchildren would just be in their 50s by then, she said. She said she was a “full-time grandmother” in Mayo this summer. “In just under two years, I will be back in Ireland and I won’t move again.”
Ms Robinson paid tribute to former SDLP leader, John Hume, who introduced her, and to other leading figures from the civil rights movement present. “I am very proud of these courageous men and women who were seen as troublemakers but had a passion and knew what they were about,” she said.