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The Iona Blog

Ireland needs to challenge contentious interpretations of UN human rights treaties

Author: David Quinn
Date: 7 July 2011

Ireland goes before the UN Human Rights Council in October to report on how well it is doing in conforming to the various UN human rights conventions and treaties the Irish State has signed. The Irish submission is now publicly available. It is very heavily biased towards a particular interpretation of human rights.

For example, rather than defend the current constitutional position on the right-to-life, it tells the Council that it is reviewing the law in the light of the European Court of Human Rights decision in the ABC case, a decision that is non-binding.

Rather than defend the current constitutional definition of marriage, it tells the Council that a constitutional convention established by the Government is to look into the issue of same-sex marriage.

Rather than tell the Council that ‘gender reassignment’ is a biological impossibility, it boasts about the number of official documents that can so far be changed to record a gender reassignment with the promise of more to come.

Rather than challenge the conventional wisdom on ‘gender equality’ (namely that as many women as possible must be in the workplace and as many young children as possible in daycare), it parrots this wisdom. It should instead have said the Government is neutral between home and work and therefore doesn’t favour one choice over the other.

But what the submission should really have done is challenge the interpretation that the UN Human Rights Council, among other bodies, is forcing upon UN human rights documents.

Those documents are, for the most part, sensible and uncontroversial. They do not bear many of the interpretations currently being forced upon them.

For example, in no way, shape or form do they recognise a right to abortion, or to gay marriage, or to gender reassignment.

The relevant conventions recognise that parents are the primary educators of their children and therefore they are not biased against denominational schools. However, in its submission the Government makes no attempt to defend denominational schools and rather is at pains to stress that efforts are being made to reduce their numbers.

By way of example of how this process of misinterpretation works, when Ireland appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee in 2008 we were told that under Articles 2, 16, 17, 23 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights we had to ensure our "legislation is not discriminatory of nontraditional forms of partnership, including taxation and welfare benefits."

In addition we were told: "The State party should also recognise the right of transgender persons to a change of gender by permitting the issuance of new birth certificates."

 

But none of the articles quoted oblige States to give "nontraditional forms of partnership" the same rights as married couples, much less that transgender persons must be issued with new birth certs.

It is a great leap to suggest otherwise. There is simply no way that the vast majority of member-states who signed this convention imagined for one second that it required them to give all the rights of married couples to those in other forms of relationships. (Although in my view, anyone in a caring, dependent relationship should receive certain marriage-like rights).

Instead of accepting at face value that the interpretation of UN conventions by UN committees is authoritative either in international or in Irish law, Ireland should instead strongly challenge those committees where their interpretations depart from both the text and the spirit of the various treaties.

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