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Minister addresses 2010 International Affairs Conference

Human rights, Irish Aid, United Nations, Press Releases, Ireland, 2010

Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to deliver the keynote address at this year’s International Affairs Conference. My colleague, Micheál Martin TD, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, would have liked very much to be here today, but as you know, he has suffered a bereavement recently and is unfortunately unable to take part in today’s conference.
The wide range of issues that will be explored throughout the course of the day, and the presence of distinguished academics and specialists from various backgrounds, should make for an exciting and fruitful conference. I would like also to acknowledge the presence of a number of people with very considerable experience of international relations, including the Chairman of the Academy’s Committee on International Relations, Mr. Noel Dorr.
The theme of today’s conference is ‘Governance for a More Ethical World’. From my perspective as Minister of State for Overseas Development, I will initially address the challenge which we all face in devising forms of ‘governance’ which can ensure that an ethical dimension is built firmly into global development efforts and is, indeed, inseparable from these.
I am acutely conscious that, even as we gather here today for a debate on issues relating to global governance, difficulties are being addressed here in Ireland which arise in part from failures of institutional oversight and other governance issues.
My address to you today therefore is made recognising that ‘good governance’ applies at home as well as abroad.

Development
Over the last 35 years or so, the political systems in many of the world’s poorest countries have failed to provide the conditions necessary for economic and social development. Without good governance in these countries, long-term sustainable development is impossible.
But as United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon remarked at the 2010 World Policy Conference in Marrakesh last month, “the world is facing challenges transcending borders like no other time in history”.
Just as it will be impossible to tackle the problems of very poor states without good governance within those countries, good global governance is needed to address the common problems and collective threats that confront our global community in the 21st century.
In our increasingly interconnected, multipolar world, challenges including the elimination of poverty, tackling climate change, combating terrorism, fighting disease, pulling the world out of the global economic and financial crisis, and taking on organised crime at a transnational level are too vast and far-reaching to be solved by any one nation state working alone. Indeed, events this week bring this point into sharp relief.
These problems call for intensive cooperation and coordination among states, regional organisations and multilateral fora. It is only through good global governance – by working in concert with one another and pooling our energy and resources – that these common challenges can be overcome.
However, the reality is that some of our existing international systems and institutions which are intended to facilitate this cooperation have not kept pace with a globalised and interdependent world in which people and ideas are connected with breathtaking speed through the Internet and other IT innovations.
Some have weaknesses in terms of efficiency, representativeness and/or accountability.
In this address to you today, I would like to reflect on how a radically changed global environment is forcing these systems and institutions to reassess the role that they can play, so as to bring about a more ethical world. In some cases, deeper interdependence is precipitating structural reform and a review of working methods within these bodies. I will also identify instances where Ireland is working to ensure that different global governance institutions are as efficient and as inclusive as possible.

Reform of the Bretton Woods Institutions
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To manage the challenges of the globalised economy in which we live, and to ensure that principles of respect for human rights and equality underpin the process of globalisation, it is clear that we need significant reform of the institutions which support global governance.
It was US President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who stated that one should “never let a crisis go to waste”. The developing G20 framework represents an attempt to turn the current financial crisis into something of an opportunity and usher in a new chapter in global economic governance, adapted to our times. The group has representatives from both the developed and the emerging world.
G20 leaders see a reformed International Monetary Fund as integral to managing the crisis. There is no doubt that the Bretton Woods institutions generally have a crucial role to play in overcoming the present turmoil.
Over the past two years, a key element of the agenda of the IMF and the World Bank has been reform of the voting systems to give a greater voice to emerging economies and developing countries. A key priority has been reform of the voting systems of the Bretton Wood Institutions. I myself have had useful discussions on this issue at the Spring Meetings in Washington this year and with senior World Bank officials.
Since 2008, progressive shifts in voting power in favour of developing countries have been approved by the World Bank. We are now at the stage where over 47% of the voting power is in the hands of developing countries.
The Bank has also committed to a greater focus on better targeting of the poor and vulnerable, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states in Sub Saharan Africa, and to greater investment in areas such as agriculture as well as tackling important global issues such as climate change and food security.
Ireland has been a consistent supporter of the reform process. In my discussions with the Bretton Woods institutions, I have emphasised that this process is essential if the institutions are to become more representative, more credible and more effective.
The Government’s White Paper on Irish Aid reminds us that “We are bound together by more than globalisation. We are bound together by a shared humanity”. This shared humanity entails a responsibility to those in great need beyond the borders of our own states.
We in Ireland feel the impact of decisions made elsewhere in the world. And likewise, decisions that we take in Ireland impact on others. Understanding and appreciating the impact which policy decisions and actions taken in the developed world can have on the poorest peoples and countries is an important dimension of ethical global governance.

Policy Coherence for Development, UN System-Wide Coherence, Delivering As One
Another area of critical importance is the need to ensure that the policies which a Government adopts across all areas of business are carefully assessed for their impact on the well-being of developing countries. The Doha Round negotiations, agricultural policy and climate change discussions are prominent examples of areas where development considerations must be given their full weight. The Irish Government attaches considerable importance to promoting a whole-of-Government approach to development work. We want to ensure maximum coherence in our policy-making with the objectives of reducing global poverty, inequality and hunger.
To this end, we have established an Inter-Departmental Committee on Development as a forum for inter-departmental dialogue on the development implications of government policies and activities. This Committee, which I chair, also assesses the opportunities for harnessing expertise and skills from across the public service to support Ireland’s overseas development programme.

Global hunger
Perhaps the greatest moral challenge confronting us in the 21st century is the spectre of almost 1 billion people going hungry. It is over 40 years since we put a man on the moon. We now have technology that allows us to communicate across the globe in split seconds. And yet we are not meeting the most basic of human needs. We are not combating global hunger.
This is fundamentally an issue of political will, as we have the means and resources to feed the planet. And it is for this reason that Ireland has made the eradication of hunger not just a priority of our overseas development programme but also of our foreign policy.
It is a matter of ethics, of prioritisation, of leadership and action at the global level. Ireland is providing the leadership necessary to tackle this issue and to galvanise international action to combat hunger.
We are working in close partnership with the US and with the UN Secretary General to create the global arrangements necessary to eliminate hunger.
This September at the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York, Ireland and the US launched a 1000 Day campaign supporting the UN Secretary-General’s SUN initiative to combat undernutrition in pregnant women and children under the age of two years. We have pledged to take concrete steps over the next 1000 days to deal with undernutrition in countries with the highest levels of stunting in their children. And we have pledged that we will return to the UN General Assembly in 2013 and demonstrate real progress in reducing undernutrition in pregnant women and children under two.
This is an important element in Ireland’s commitment to action for a more ethical world. A world free from hunger.

The UN’s role in development
As I indicated at the outset, confronting the many challenges facing developing countries such as poverty, disease, violence and corruption is a task far beyond the capacity of any one single state. The UN plays a vital role in fighting poverty and hunger and in promoting and supporting national development efforts across all continents. It also plays a central role in responding to, and coordinating, responses to humanitarian disasters. During my recent visit to Haiti I witnessed the importance of that role first-hand. But, as the world becomes more and more interdependent at a faster and faster pace, and policy domains become increasingly interconnected, a severe strain is being put on many of the traditional institutions whose activities are directed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and ultimately a fair global society.
Throughout the UN system, there are over forty entities involved in development and humanitarian activities. This results in serious fragmentation and competition for resources, especially at national level. It not only imposes severe burdens on the governments of developing countries as they cope with a multiplicity of demands and pressures; it can also lead to duplication, inefficiencies and inconsistencies of performance.
Ireland has positively engaged with the UN reform agenda from the beginning. In 2005 the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern TD, as a Special Envoy for UN Reform. In 2008 Ireland co-chaired the General Assembly consultations on System-Wide Coherence. Since then, we have actively supported the reform efforts within the UN General Assembly, as well as in multilateral and bilateral consultations with the Funds, Programmes and Specialised Agencies.
The response to calls for reform of the UN’s development and humanitarian actions was set out in the 2006 report of the UN High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence, entitled “Delivering as One”. The report proposed action in five key areas, including a unified UN presence at country level, a single UN entity to address gender equality and the empowerment of women, improvements in funding systems, strengthened governance and harmonisation of business practices.
At the level of individual developing countries, the reform agenda includes revising management and operation practices with a view to improving effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. This involves all agencies coming together to operate under four simple principles of One Leader, One Budget, One Programme and One Office. This “Delivering as One” approach is being piloted in eight countries.
Ireland is actively engaged in those countries where we have a bilateral aid programme, notably in Tanzania and in Vietnam. We have played an important leadership role as Chair of the Donor Groups in Tanzania and Vietnam, and have provided direct financial support – of approximately €8 million between 2007-2010 – to the Delivering as One approach in Tanzania, Vietnam, Malawi and Mozambique. I have myself had a close personal involvement with the Delivering as One process in Tanzania.

The United Nations
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is no doubt that the United Nations remains the pre-eminent global governance organisation – and that it is there, above all, that Ireland’s efforts to enhance global governance so as to create a more ethical world must be concentrated.
The UN derives unique legitimacy and authority from its near-universal membership and global reach. It provides a framework within which states can overcome national or regional rivalries and work together in pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity. It performs an enormously valuable role in areas such as peace-keeping, the protection and promotion of human rights, and, as I have just outlined, international development and efforts to combat poverty and hunger. However, the emergence of new structures such as the G20 has led to a certain questioning of the UN’s traditional role and a sense that the structures and operations of the Organisation need to be adapted to the new realities of the 21st century.
Consistent with our strong support for the UN, Ireland has been to the fore in advocating reform and change where we feel that this would be to the benefit of the Organisation and its Member States. It is only through improved performance and effectiveness that the UN can remain relevant to the demands of our rapidly changing world.
Nowhere is this task more urgent than in relation to reform of the major UN organs, which need to be brought up to date and made fit for purpose in the 21st century. The case for reform of the UN Security Council is particularly urgent. Its membership remains anachronistic, an echo of the international conditions of 1945. The five permanent members of the Security Council today cannot be said to reflect accurately the actual distribution of power and influence in the world. The membership should be expanded to include, for example, greater representation from Africa and from countries which make a significant contribution to the Organisation. It is noteworthy that, in the course of his recent visit to India, President Obama voiced his support for India as a permanent member of the Security Council.
The General Assembly, which is currently wrestling with this most difficult and sensitive of reform issues, needs to be creative and to consider all options, including interim models, which might command broad consensus among Member States. Securing early agreement on reforming the Council’s working methods and improving its transparency should also be a priority in the inter-governmental discussions currently underway.
Needless to say, given the extremely difficult budgetary conditions facing so many countries, we also need to adopt a critical attitude towards UN expenditure, and to ensure that the Organisation makes the very best use of the resources which it receives. Ireland, along with our EU partners, has advocated urgent review and reform of the whole system for apportioning expenses within the UN. At present, EU Member States collectively contribute almost 40% of the UN’s Budget, even though our share of global GDP amounts to just over 30%. This is not a sustainable position and needs to be urgently addressed.

The UN & Human Rights
As the UN considers institutional reforms, and the role which it can play in promoting and guaranteeing a more ethical world, one core value dominates above all others: the fundamental principle of universal respect for human rights. I firmly believe that, without a strong culture of respect for and vindication of human rights and good governance in individual states, global peace, prosperity, and – in developing countries – long-term sustainable development will not be possible.
Ireland has long championed the critical role of the UN in the promotion, protection and vindication of human rights. We are committed to a strong and effective Human Rights Council, the main human rights body of the UN and the primary international forum for advancing respect for human rights.
In 1948, states of vastly different traditions, religious beliefs and philosophies came together and agreed on a single concept of human dignity. This they enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it must be recognised that the extraordinary unity which the world achieved on this subject in 1948 has fragmented in the interim, giving way to differing conceptions of human rights around the globe. Efforts to reconcile these variations, and indeed conflicts of perspective, are underway in a number of multilateral institutions which seek to ensure global respect for human rights.
If the Human Rights Council, which will shortly undergo the first five-year review of its operation, is to be a credible force for human rights, then it must be representative and inclusive, and it must try to accommodate all viewpoints. As a small state, Ireland has a particular responsibility to foster a positive and constructive environment at the Council, where countries can learn from each other, as befits a real partnership.
We have consistently worked with others at the Council to share knowledge and achieve the best possible outcome for human rights in a number of areas, including human rights defenders, gender equality, freedom of religion and belief, issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity and addressing situations of violations of human rights in particular countries. But for Ireland to contribute further to a culture of cooperation in the field of human rights, we need to be at the very heart of the Human Rights Council. The Government has therefore decided to seek election to the Council for the period 2012-2015, to coincide with Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union in 2013.
As Edmund Burke once said, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. If the Human Rights Council is to promote and protect the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it has to confront the reality of human rights abuses head-on, drawing attention to situations where international human rights standards are being systematically violated or neglected. We need to find new solutions to old problems, and to bridge regional divides in the articulation and practical expression of the Council’s core principles.
Irish Aid, the Government’s development cooperation programme (for which, as Minister, I have special responsibility), provides support for the participation of poor and marginalised people in the UN human rights system. This support includes funding to organisations such as the International Federation of Human Rights for training of human rights defenders from developing countries on how to access the human rights system.
We also work to preserve the independent status of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to promote a good relationship between it and the Human Rights Council, with the aim of ensuring the most efficient use of resources.

UN Women
An important recent development in terms of rationalising resources and promoting coherence in a pivotal area of human rights was the General Assembly’s establishment in July 2010 of a new entity, UN Women. Building on the work of four previously separate and distinct UN bodies, this body has a mandate to work for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
UN Women, which is headed by an Under-Secretary-General, the former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, will have a significant field presence and provide a raised profile for a wide range of issues relating to the rights of women and girls.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325
This year, as you may be aware, marks the tenth anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
It calls for the full and equal participation of women in decision-making processes relating to peace and security; the incorporation of gender perspectives in all conflict resolution and post-conflict recovery policies; and for the protection of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings.
Ireland has been a leading international advocate for this Resolution over the past number of years. We developed a cross-learning initiative which gave a voice to women in Northern Ireland, Timor Leste and Liberia who have been directly affected by conflict. Among the key issues highlighted by this initiative was the need for states to ensure their own ability to protect their citizens and for a culture of impunity to be defeated. A report on the results of this initiative was presented recently in New York to Michelle Bachelet, representing the UN Secretary-General. The Government is also engaged actively with partners in civil society and academia on the preparation of a National Action Plan for Ireland in relation to implementation of this Resolution.

Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
I would now like to turn to a regional organisation in which Ireland will shortly be assuming a key responsibility and which has a significant contribution to make to the promotion of human rights and good governance.
Comprising 56 participating States, with a geographical spread from North America to Central Asia and a combined population of 1 billion people, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is unique as an intergovernmental security organisation that places human rights, democratic values and sound economic and environmental governance at the heart of its concept of international security.
Through its secretariat, institutions and field missions, the OSCE has established mechanisms through which participating states can help each other in capacity building and raising public awareness of the importance of good governance.
The OSCE Summit in Astana in Kazakhstan next month, the first such gathering in 11 years, will be a major opportunity to address the strategic priorities for this organisation over the coming years.
Ireland will assume the Chairmanship of the OSCE for the first time in 2012. As of 1 January 2011, we will be members of an OSCE troika with Kazakhstan, the current Chair, and Lithuania, the 2011 Chair. We are looking forward enormously to the challenge of this role and the ability it will give us to influence the protection of human rights and the promotion of conflict resolution in a number of sensitive conflict situations. Our term in the Chair of the OSCE will enable us to project core values of Irish foreign and domestic policy, building in particular on our experiences of the Northern Ireland peace process. We will also have an opportunity to contribute to improved governance and reform processes within the OSCE.
The ‘Human Dimension’ of the OSCE, one of the three broad categories of commitments made by the OSCE’s participating states, is of particular interest to Ireland and will receive priority attention during our Chairmanship. The commitments which make up the Human Dimension encompass a large set of human rights norms and standards reflecting principles which are enshrined in key international treaties and declarations.
The priority attached to the Human Dimension commitments varies among individual OSCE members, as does the extent of implementation. We hope that, beginning with the Astana Summit, there will be renewed emphasis by all participating states on these key undertakings.
Ireland will seek to have an ambitious Human Dimension programme for its Chairmanship year, and will work hard to achieve the requisite buy-in from all participating states.
Freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression will be high on our list of priorities. Indeed, these rights are enshrined in our own Constitution.

Conclusion
Ladies and gentlemen,
In conclusion, let me recall some sentiments expressed by President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address. In that address, delivered against the backdrop of an unfolding world war, President Roosevelt mentioned four fundamental freedoms which he believed people everywhere in the world should be able to enjoy at all times. These were freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
The need to protect and uphold these freedoms has not diminished over the intervening seventy years. Indeed, the threats to these freedoms are in many respects growing. We must be vigilant in preserving and strengthening them for our own and for subsequent generations. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”, as John Philpot Curran once observed.
The UN, the Bretton Woods institutions and the many other regional and global structures that have been established since 1945 serve those freedoms. Emerging from the ashes of conflict, they were designed to underpin a new global order based on peace, justice and prosperity.
Our world is a better place because of these institutions for global governance. But we cannot be complacent. The world has changed dramatically since 1945. And it has changed in different ways for different people in different parts of the world. Our institutions must be adjusted to meet the challenges of a new century.
We must ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people receive the protection and the assistance that they need. This means examining critically our systems and institutions and finding better ways of working together. We need more efficient, more inclusive and more accountable structures.
But at all times, as we face into a challenging future at home and abroad, we must keep the fundamental dignity of the individual human being before us. At all times, we must ensure that we have institutions which serve and promote fundamental human rights and values. This should always be the overriding objective. The global governance which we are building must lead us on a clear path towards a fairer global order and a more ethical world.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.