David Quinn: Beware of the left-wing bias in UN's politics
Published 07/10/2011 | 05:00
Alan Shatter represented Ireland in Geneva. Right: The banner at Liberty Hall.
Draped over Liberty Hall for the last few days has been a huge banner advertising Justice Minister Alan Shatter's appearance yesterday before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Ireland's appearance before this body has been flagged for months by mostly left-leaning NGOs, and with good reason. They know it will interpret the UN human rights treaties to which Ireland is a signatory in ways that will be to their taste.
It's probably a safe bet that very few in Ireland know that Ireland has signed six separate UN human rights documents.
It's probably an even safer bet that fewer people know that our Government is obliged to appear before a UN body to report on how well we are implementing the treaties.
But we ought to know more about both the treaties and the monitoring process because they have an influence on Irish law and public policy, and due to our lack of knowledge there is yet another big democratic deficit in Irish life.
The treaties themselves are, in the main, excellent documents. For example there is the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The problem doesn't lie so much in the treaties as in the ways in which they are interpreted both by the UN and by homegrown NGOs.
In 2008, Ireland appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee (a separate body from the Human Rights Council). We had to report on how well we were implementing the provisions of the aforementioned International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Incredibly the committee criticised us for not bringing our abortion laws into line with the Covenant.
Citing Articles 2, 3, 6 and 26 of that document the committee reiterated its "concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in" Ireland.
But none of those articles mention abortion and it takes a big leap of imagination to derive a right to abortion from them.
In fact, Article 6 seems to say the opposite. It says: "Every human being has an inherent right to life". Therefore, the Covenant could more easily be used to argue against abortion.
But it never is used in this way, not by the UN monitoring bodies anyway because they are so ideologically biased.
The bias of the Human Rights Committee was also in evidence when it complained about the preponderance of denominational schools here.
It was right to tell us to increase our efforts "to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions".
But the ideological bias was in evidence when it didn't tell France to do the opposite. France has a state-dominated school system and France wasn't told when it appeared before this committee to facilitate parents who want a denominational education for their children.
So you see why left-leaning NGOs love this whole process. They love it because it advances their agenda. Do you really think the trade unionists in Liberty Hall would be advertising our appearance before the Human Rights Council if the process wasn't to their liking?
In fact, while we are 'bound' to implement the provisions of the treaties we have signed, those treaties have not been incorporated into Irish law. This means they cannot be directly invoked before an Irish court as a principle of law.
But the interpretations of the UN human rights treaties by the UN monitoring bodies have no legal standing at all.
Their interpretations are, in reality, little more than opinions which we are free to ignore. We are also free to offer interpretations of our own as indeed is any Irish NGO, including those which don't subscribe to the leftist/secular orthodoxy.
We shouldn't allow UN human rights treaties to be captured by ideologues who twist the treaties to suit themselves.
So as you read about our appearance before the UN Council keep in mind that the whole process has become biased and that we are free to ignore what it tells us to do.