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The 'human rights' industry has lost all sense of proportion

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Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International pictured at the launch of a new major report into abortion

Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International pictured at the launch of a new major report into abortion

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Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International pictured at the launch of a new major report into abortion

It used to be that the phrase 'a breach of human rights' meant someone being killed or tortured, or getting locked up unfairly.

This was in the days when Amnesty International had a Prisoner of Conscience campaign which bands like U2 would highlight.

But with the growth of the 'human rights' industry, the concept seems to have stretched into different kinds of issues, offering new and valuable work for experts and quangos.

And more issues to spend our taxpayers' money on.

According to Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International, the time has come to move on to a field of new rights, as in "economic, social and cultural rights".

But what exactly does this mean - apart, from the continuing march of the Nanny State?

Most controversially, Amnesty International has embraced abortion as a cause, a very dubious concept of a 'human right', given that many would consider abortion to be the very opposite - a denial of a human right to the unborn.

This is not to ignore, incidentally, the awful shortcomings of Ireland's abortion laws, especially when a woman's life in danger.

However, many might have thought that Amnesty International had enough on its plate, highlighting the use of torture and terror in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But Amnesty International has an appetite for rights in all sorts of directions. As does the human rights industry in general, which seems to have abandoned any sense of proportion in terms of the phrase 'human rights'.

Last week, Ireland was hauled before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, for, among other things, 'the effects of economic austerity' and, yes, the 'poor access to broadband in rural areas'.

Now, you and I might have issue with these topics, and rightly so, but whether we would feel they should be brought before a UN gathering is another matter.

Ireland is also being criticised at these meetings for its prisons and alleged mistreatment of Roma and Travellers - often by countries which do not adhere to even the most basic of human rights standards.

Meanwhile, our well-meaning quango experts nod along sagely as the likes of China, Iran and Jordan question and lecture the Irish Government.

It just shows how widened and, in fact, debased the whole concept of human rights has become in the last few years.

Many Irish groups travelled to Geneva for this interrogation, but the way was led by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), whose chief commissioner Emily Logan said the Irish Government would be "asked to explain why many groups already susceptible to poverty or inequality were particularly badly affected under the Troika bailout programme".

For example, the IHREC said that unemployment among people with disabilities rose almost threefold - from 8pc to 22pc - between 2004 and 2010, and that "barriers to their employment remain disproportionately high".

No mention, of course, that from 2006 to 2010 there was a massive 40pc rise in those who developed a disability - over 50,000 people. Nobody talks about that, or about why it happened.

Other human rights failings that the IHREC highlighted were in relation to childcare provision, the gender pay gap, access to free legal aid, and social housing and lone parents.

All of this is laudable, but surely these issues are the job of a political party? Or is this politics by the back door, via quangos and non-elected experts?

And in losing a sense of proportion or relativism in this discussion, the 'human rights' experts not only diminish the definition of serious human rights abuses, they also let the real offenders off the hook.

Thus, countries that do really abuse human rights can always distract from their crimes by pulling out these reports, and saying: 'Well, what about your Travellers or what about your police force?'

Two years ago, for example, Ireland was accused by Iran of "xenophobia" and of having "a harsh treatment of Muslims" - this from a country that has hanged gays and persecutes its minorities. (In fact, Ireland was reported to be among the most Islam-friendly of countries at the same meeting.)

Afghanistan, of all places, questioned the alleged "violence in Irish prisons" - but then why wouldn't these countries try it on, given that the reports drawn up by Irish groups often use such disproportionate language?

For example, Mark Kelly of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, yet another body active in this human rights area, echoed the charge of an "excessive level of violence in Irish prisons".

Where is the sense of proportion here?

Of course, Irish prisons could be safer, but compared with the prisons of Iran and Pakistan, they must seem like a holiday camp.

There is always room for improvement in the area of human rights, or at least in 'people's livelihood', but it is abandoning the true and original concept of human rights to include all such improvements under this label.

These experts and pressure groups are confusing access to goods and services with the fundamental rights of human freedoms and bodily integrity.

And are thus in danger of forfeiting wider support.

Irish Independent