Dáil Éireann - Volume 480 - 30 September, 1997
Written Answers - Standing Committee on Human Rights.
Mr. McCormack Mr. McCormack
64. Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the standing committee on human rights as promised in the Foreign Affairs White Paper has been set up; and if he will report on its functioning. [14606/97]
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. Burke) Raphael P. Burke
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. Burke): The Deputy may be aware that two official-level committees which deal with human rights issues have been established this year, under the aegis of my Department.
The Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Human Rights held its inaugural meeting on 18 February and met again on 17 July. Meeting approximately quarterly, the committee is mandated to consider all aspects of Ireland's international human rights obligations. It is particularly concerned with ensuring the timely preparation of comprehensive national reports under the various international instruments already ratified and with expediting the legislation necessary for the ratification of additional instruments. I should add in the latter regard that I am keen to see the United Nations Conventions on Torture and the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination ratified as soon as possible. The preparatory work for this is under way in the Department concerned. The committee will play a useful role in expediting these ratifications and as a forum for co-ordination and co-operation between Departments on human rights issues generally.
The second new committee is the Joint Department of Foreign Affairs/NGO Standing Committee on Human Rights. This Committee had its inaugural meeting on 11 June and met again on 17 September. The committee provides a formal framework for a regular exchange of views between my Department and representatives of the NGO community. I know that successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs have found the contribution of Irish NGOs on human rights issues extremely valuable. The placing of the network of contacts on a more formal footing by establishing this committee was, therefore, a logical and very worthwhile step and will be of considerable value both to myself and to my colleague, the Minister of State with special responsibility for Human Rights, Deputy O'Donnell. The committee has already had a number of useful discussions and has charted an intensive programme of work for itself, covering a wide range of topics. At this important time for human rights internationally, as Mrs. Mary Robinson assumes her  post as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and as we approach the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I am delighted to have the expertise and experience of the NGO community and independent experts available to us in this new way.
I should add, of course, that ongoing, informal contacts on human rights matters between NGOs and the various Divisions of my Department continue and have, in no sense, been replaced or restricted by the establishment of the Committee. Moreover, to ensure the fullest utilization of the experience of the broader NGO community, we intend to hold an Annual NGO Forum on Human Rights to which all interested organisations will be invited. We propose to hold the first of these in advance of the next Annual Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which takes place in March 1998.
Dáil Éireann 480 Written Answers Standing Committee on Human Rights.