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15 March 2023

Irish Government should use St. Patrick’s Day diplomacy to urge protection of human rights defenders

Irish Government ministers visiting dozens of countries to mark St. Patrick’s Day should use the opportunity to ensure their counterparts protect human rights defenders (HRDs) and enable them to carry out their peaceful work unhindered, Front Line Defenders said today.

The call comes as Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs dispatches 36 representatives on diplomatic visits to 44 countries to mark Ireland’s national holiday – in what it describes as its “biggest ever” such initiative to promote “Global Ireland”.

“The Irish Government wants to promote a modern, progressive society that is open to the world – an important part of this vision should be ensuring there is a level playing field when it comes to upholding human rights and protecting those who often put their lives at risk to defend the rights of others,” said Olive Moore, Interim Director of Front Line Defenders.

“In many countries across the world, including some of those being visited, human rights defenders risk intimidation, imprisonment or even death, just for carrying out their peaceful work. Ireland’s diplomatic envoys must make clear that any attacks on human rights defenders are unacceptable." - Olive Moore, Interim Director of Front Line Defenders

“It’s worth remembering that the story of St. Patrick is one of someone who escaped captivity to follow his vocation – human rights defenders now languishing behind bars should be released and allowed to enjoy the same freedom.”

Human rights defenders are at the core of free, fair and equal societies, and serve their communities often at great personal cost. The United Nations General Assembly recognised this key role when it adopted by consensus the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, 50 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 1998 Declaration clearly states in its first article that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.”

The Irish Government has repeatedly stated that it prioritises HRDs and their protection in its foreign policy. At Front Line Defenders’ biennial Dublin Platform event held at Dublin Castle in October 2022, Jack Chambers, TD, then-Chief Whip and Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht said: “Human Rights Defenders are humanity’s best hope for justice and accountability.”

Each year, Front Line Defenders’ Global Analysis documents threats against human rights defenders around the world – including data on the hundreds of defenders killed each year for their peaceful work. In 2020, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Front Line Defenders jointly sponsored a monument in Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens in memory of these fallen HRDs.

Many more HRDs are at constant risk of a wide range of intimidation, including physical and online attacks, smear campaigns and arbitrary detention, as a result of their human rights work. Some are imprisoned unjustly for years on end. Those suffering such long-term imprisonment include: human rights lawyer Mohamed Abdullah Al-Roken; HRD, engineer and poet Ahmed Mansoor; and HRD, economist and prominent academic, Nasser Bin Ghaith in the United Arab Emirates, where the space for civil society is so curtailed that virtually no HRDs can openly conduct their peaceful and vital human rights work. As one HRD told Front Line Defenders, “the authorities have so closed all spaces for human rights action in the UAE that HRDs in the country are either in prison or dead, and the lucky ones are forced into exile.”

Mexico is another country where HRDs come under a wide range of attacks, with Indigenous peoples’ rights defenders being particularly targeted. Some have been subjected to long-term imprisonment, including forest and water rights defender, and Zapoteco indigenous leader, Pablo López Alavez, and lawyer, feminist and Amuzga indigenous defender Kenia Inés Hernández Montalván.

“We are calling on the Irish Government representatives traveling this St. Patrick’s Day to urge their counterparts in Mexico and UAE – and all other countries they visit – to end the persecution of HRDs and to immediately release, and drop charges against, all HRDs who are abitrarily imprisoned,” said Moore.


Image credit: The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons