An approach adopted by the Justice Desk of the OLA Irish Province
The UN, Fratelli Tutti and Edmund Rice International
We are reminded by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, that the United Nations provides the best global framework for peace-building, promotion of justice and realization of human rights. (FT, 257) In line with this view of the United Nations structures, it is important for faith communities to promote, and make use of, the UN Treaty Bodies and human rights mechanisms to promote JPIC. At the same time this encyclical was being published (October 2020), I was being introduced to the UN Treaty bodies and human rights mechanisms as part the ten week “Acting Justly” programme provided by Edmund Rice International (ERI). This online training programme explored a rights-based approach to JPIC advocacy with a focus on the using the UN mechanisms. Edmund Rice International (ERI) has NGO “consultative status” with the UN at Geneva, and the training was based on their working experience of advocacy through the UN structures. Since then, the OLA Justice Desk (Irish Province) has been involved in making submissions to the UN Universal Periodic Review and to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. What began as training, and a desire to put that training into practice, has increasingly become a strategic approach to our JPIC promotion.
Arising from the ERI training in autumn 2020, I sought out an opportunity to engage with the UN’s primary human rights mechanism; the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a review process led by the UN Human Rights Council. Happily, in January 2021, I was introduced to the Justice Officer for the Presentation Sisters, Brian O’Toole, who had also participated in the ERI training. Brian also invited Br Donal Leader to join us; Donal is a Christian Brother who had previous experience of making a submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Together we resolved to make a joint submission to the 39th Universal Periodic Review in 2021.
Submission to the Universal Periodic Review, 2021
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. As part of the process, civil society organizations are invited to make submissions outlining their concerns about human rights issues affecting their country, and to propose recommendations. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right prepares two reports in advance of each review: one is a compilation of concerns raised by the various UN bodies, while the other is a summary of concerns raised by civil society organisations from the State under review.
As part of that process, we made a joint civil society submission in relation to Ireland, which was up for review in 2021. Our submission, lodged in March 2021, addressed three interrelated areas of concern: human trafficking, domestic and gender based violence, and migrants’ rights. The concerns and recommendations raised in our submission helped to inform the interactive dialogue between the UN Human Rights Council and Ireland, which took place on 10 November 2021. Following this, the Irish Government accepted several of the recommendations and noted others. Among the recommendations accepted, several addressed the concerns raised in our submission.
In March of this year (2022), several civil society organizations were afforded the opportunity to make a follow-up oral statement during the session of the Human Rights Council at which the report on Ireland was adopted; thus bringing the review of Ireland to a close. Through our partnership with Edmund Rice International, we were invited to make a 2 minute pre-recorded oral statement at the 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 24 March 2022. This allowed us to further draw attention to the key recommendations in our 2021 submission.
Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2022
Building on our UPR submission, we made joint submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child which is undertaking its review of Ireland in 2022. The Committee monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and each country is reviewed periodically every 5 years. As with the UPR, civil society organizations can submit written reports to the Committee on the situation of children’s rights in their country.
In February 2022, the Irish Government published its state report: the combined Fifth and Sixth State Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In August 2022, we responded to the State Report with our own submission to the Committee. Once again, this was a joint submission in collaboration with the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Sisters. This year we were pleased to add to our team by bring on board the SMA Justice Officer, the JPIC representative for the Presentation Brothers, and the Cork Migrant Centre. Our submission built upon on the concerns we raised in our UPR submission – human trafficking, domestic violence, and migrants’ rights – but did so with an emphasis on the impact on children. To these areas of concern we also added concerns about the right to education and racism in schools, both of which are issues relevant to the OLA mission.
As part of the review process, a “constructive dialogue” will take place between the Committee and representatives from the Irish Government at the 92nd Session of the Committee from 16 January to 3 February 2023. Following this dialogue, the Committee will publish its report (called the Concluding Observations), which will outline a list of recommendations to better realise the rights of the child in the coming five years. We will be monitoring the constructive dialogue closely and the Irish Government’s response to see if the concerns we raised are addressed.
Promoting the Report of the Committee for the Elimination for Racial Discrimination, 2021
Engaging with the UN human rights mechanisms doesn’t stop with making submissions that outline our concerns. Engaging with the UN human rights mechanisms also requires an effort to promote the outcomes of the UN reports, to make them known to the public, to build support for them, and to advocate for the implementation of their recommendations. Therefore, while I was involved in making a joint submission to the UPR in March 2021, I also led a promotional campaign on social media to draw attention to the concerns and recommendations of the 2020 report on Ireland by the UN Committee for the Elimination for Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Outreach to peoples of African descent here in Ireland is one of the ways in which the OLA Irish Province continues the mission to Africa. As Ireland has become more multicultural in recent decades, and as the African community in Ireland grows, unfortunately so too has racial discrimination increased. Therefore, the work of the UN Committee for the Elimination for Racial Discrimination (CERD) complements and supports our JPIC concerns. CERD is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and undertook a review of Ireland toward the end of 2019. The report was published in 2020 and outlines a series of concerns and recommendations.
The OLA Justice Desk coordinated a collaborative video campaign on social media called Religious against Racism, which drew attention to CERD’s concerns and recommendations. Our campaign was a collaborative effort and included the Association of Religious and Missionaries in Ireland (AMRI), the Columbans, the Daughters of Charity, the Dominicans, the Kiltegans, the SMAs, the Presentation Sisters, the Presentation Brothers, and the Redemptorists. This campaign coincided with the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March. The campaign was framed in a faith context with quotations from Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, especially his comments on racism and our duty to love our neighbour.
In total we produced eleven videos which were shared on social media. The campaign reached an extensive audience with the first video alone reaching 3,370 people on Facebook, and was reported on by the Irish Catholic newspaper. The full campaign videos can be found on the OLA Irish Province Facebook page. While this is only a small effort in the grand scheme of things, raising awareness about the concerns and recommendations of UN human rights reports is an essential first step towards their implementation.
Conclusion: Slowly but Surely
Processes like the Universal Periodic Review and the reporting cycles of UN committees, like the Committee on the Rights of the Child or the Committee for the Elimination of racial Discrimination, provide a structured route for civil society organizations to advocate for a rights-based response to issues of concern. In addition to making submissions, it is important to promote the outcomes of these reports and to publicly support their implementation. These UN mechanisms provide the opportunity to the JPIC committees of religious congregations, like the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, to engage in strategic structured advocacy, but… to have impact, there must be commitment; it must be undertaken consistently and over the long-term. In 2023, we intend to continue to engage with the UN mechanisms and to build on the work we have done over the past two years.
John McGeady, OLA Justice Officer – Irish Province: 4 November 2022.