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Start your own UN Fact Finding Mission!
by Sarah Beth Watkins, Templeshannon CDP

So your CDP or community group has a human rights issue that needs addressing. You've formed a group to campaign and raise awareness. Your march is planned and you've stuck posters around the town. You know your issue inside and out but dread crossfire questioning and being left speechless.

Find your facts. Talk rights and obligations. Use documentary evidence that is linked to the UN. Do your research and you’ll have the answers.

There are nine human rights treaties that make up the United Nations Human Rights Treaty System. They are:

• The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
• The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
• The International Bill of Human Rights.
• The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
• The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
• The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
• The Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or DegradingTreatment or Punishment.
• The Convention of the Rights of the Child.
• The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

States who sign these treaties are bound by them. The UN have treaty bodies to monitor their implementation. The main role of these bodies is to consider State Reports and make recommendations.
Read the Irish state’s report that covers the issue you are addressing. Look at both where it is fulfilling its role and where it doesn’t.
Read Shadow Reports prepared by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that give an alternative view to the Irish state’s accomplishments and failures.
Both of these reports will give you facts and figures. They will also point to the relevant articles in the conventions that you need to be aware of. For example, article 12 of CEDAW requires steps to eliminate discrimination from the field of health care, including access to services such as family planning. Article 12 of the ICESCR recognises the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
After the treaty body has read the State reports, it issues general recommendations and/ or concluding comments. These are also a tool for you to use when fighting for your issue. If the UN has recommended change, then you definitely have a point to make!
- Summer ’06, Issue 18

Top Ten Tips for highlighting human rights abuses
Sarah-Beth Watkins – Templeshannon CDP project co-ordinator – gives some resource tips below on what CDPs need to do if they wish to highlight an abuse of human rights.

- How to address human rights issues effecting your community
1) Raise awareness of the issue. People won’t know it’s an issue if they don’t know anything about it.
2) Research your facts. Make sure everything you use to promote your issue has been checked and double-checked. Facts hit hard but they will completely discredit you if you get them wrong.
3) Use the UN and its conventions. Check that Ireland has signed to the relevant treaty (eg The Covention on the Elimination against All Forms of Discrimination against Women). Then read up on the convention’s general recommendations and concluding comments.
4) Check the State reports to find out how the Irish governments meets these obligations and then read any shadow reports available on your issue to see where these obligations fail.
5) Use all this information! Formulate a campaign. Think strategy and plan ahead. Remember this takes huge commitment and time.
6) Use the media to get the word out. Use newspapers, magazines, radio, even television if you can. Don’t ignore the free press sheets or local newsletters who are often happy to take contributions.
7) Demonstrate. You don’t have to chain yourself to the railings but it’s a possibility! Think creatively about how you can let people know of your issue and what can be done about it.
8) Form a coalition. There is strength in numbers. Link with like-minded people to form a group to specifically challenge the issue and raise awareness.
9) Write your own shadow report. This can be done as an organisation or as a coalition. Respond to the Irish government using a formal document that will be read by others.
10) General Election 2007. It’s a good time to start talking to the politicians.
- Summer ’06, Issue 18

 

Take a legal approach to human rights!
- community groups could unite to fight cases

The law is a tool that Traveller CDPs in particular make good use of. However, many CDPs shy away from adopting legal strategies to achieve their communitys’ aims, or they do not recognise that they are using legal strategies already.
Recently, a number of volunteers and staff in CDPs in urban and rural areas were interviewed as part of a new initiative to encourage community groups to take more legal cases.
In 2005, CAIRDE, Ballymun Community Law Centre, Irish Traveller Movement Legal Unit, Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, Northside Community Law Centre came together to see about working more closely on legal issues affecting marginalised groups. They also wanted to see how community participation within legal processes could be strengthened.
"CDPs and community groups in general could be doing more if they adopted legal strategies," said Grainne O’Toole, one of the researchers leading the new initiative.
Nineteen organisations were contacted which included a mix of rural, urban and issue based organisations. CDPs including Doras Bui CDP in Dublin and FORUM CDP in County Galway. Kildare Travellers Action, who are currently applying for CDP status, were also interviewed.


The main issues they found were:
• Marginalised groups are very vulnerable and there is an overall lack of support for such groups to engage with the legal process.

• There is a lack of access to quality legal advice and high legal costs ensure that claiming legal rights within the courts is prohibitive.

• People acceptance of discrimination and lack of enforcement of their rights is widespread. This stems from the fact that many people are unaware of their rights and/or how to go about securing them.

• There is a lack of strategy building as the legal system is based around individual cases so cases that are won and precedents set are not shared on a practical level. Also, as a result of successful cases little change occurs in policies or attitudes of the state.

Now, the CLAS group hope to set up a network, starting with a conference seminar in January. The venue will be Dublin, the date has yet to be set. The early recommendations of the CLAS group include the following:
• Groups could work together within the CLAS network on common themes to give force to the issues being worked on.
• CLAS could develop a strategy to tap into legal resources.

These are some of the common legal issues that concern marginalised groups:
• Lack of rights and standards within public services e.g. housing
• Lack of a right to advocacy and representation
• Negative effect of discretion within services e.g. social welfare and housing
• Lack of the statutory right to family reunification
• Lack of rights for undocumented workers
• Discrimination in service provision as experienced by Travellers
• Exploitation of the elderly who have lost all legal entitlements to their property
• Social welfare issues and lack of access to entitlements
• Lack of knowledge of the legal system and how to impact on it.

For more information, contact Grainne O’Toole, Talbot Mews, Vernon Grove, Rathgar, Dublin 6. Tel. 01-496-5736. E-mail: grainneotoole@gmail.com
- Winter ’06, Issue 20

 

New booklet on human rights
- aimed at one-parent families
Former Irish President, Mary Robinson, says the "basic human rights" of thousands of one-parent families are being denied.
"One in six families in Ireland remain disadvantaged – legally, financially and socially," she pointed out.
Mary made the remark in the introduction to a new booklet on how human rights law can be used to improve the life-chances of one-parent families.
Hard copies of the booklet are available through the One Family organisation, formerly Cherish, (tel. 1890-662-212) and from their website: www.onefamily.ie
- Autumn ‘05, Issue 19

 

Community Development and Human Rights
- a couple at odds?

By Sarah-Beth Watkins
There is a faciltiators' warm-up exercise that gets everybody standing in a line. This is the line that signifies that point at which we are born. We are all equal on that line, born equally.
Oh no, we’re not, I already hear you shout. Babies are born into poverty, with disability or illness, into neglectful or abusive families. Or born rich. Or healthy. - An unequal start right from the beginning.
That’s the community development perspective.

f you look at it from a human rights perspective, babies are born equally, with equal rights. An equal right to life, to a quality of life that includes health, housing, access to education and other fundamentals. It is circumstance and situation that impinge on human ability to live that life equally.

Community development and human rights approaches do not sit comfortably together. Community development is about people; its about approaches and processes, its about ownership and leadership, about disadvantaged people being empowered. Human Rights argues forcefully for the rights of people but it’s not just the marginalised, disadvantaged and disempowered, it’s the rights of all.

Development workers have always struggled with having to prioritise which group has the greatest need and wrestled with the notion of positive discrimination. The above exercise continues with each participant selecting a ‘target’ group; Travellers, people with disabilities, drug users, ethnic minorities, women experiencing domestic violence, etc. The idea is to place the target group you work with steps forward or back from the equal birth line, in relation to progression or regression of their issues. Nobody really steps forward. Everybody takes steps back but suddenly your issue and the group you are working with are more important than anyone else. Your group should be right at the back. They are the most marginalised, disadvantaged section of the population. They have more of a right to a better life.

Not if you’re looking at it from a human rights approach, everyone should be standing on that line together. Equal. Nobody has more right to a better life than the next person. Everybody has the same right to life. And that is where community development and human rights clash.

We agree with rights and equality but would you say that a middle-classed, single, white male had as much right to housing as a working class, single mother with four children? Community development takes sides, human rights stay neutral.

Take recent developments in women’s issues. Organisations like Womens' Aid have counterparts like AMEN. Women’s issues are also men’s issues. The male perspective on family, domestic violence and other ‘private’ issues are coming to the fore.

We know that domestic violence is a huge issue across the globe. Women have a right to a life free from violence as do their children but hey folks, so do men.

We could argue for hours about the levels of violence, the difference between male and female physical abuse, the incident rates, how it affects the family. It is all relevant and in community development, we are close to the effects and can see the reality.

But a human rights perspective sees that men have the right to a quality of life too. This can be especially difficult for development workers who could find it hard to balance who had what rights in such a volatile, precarious environment.

So community development sits uncomfortably next to human rights, but like an old couple married for 50 years, they’d be lost without each other.

Community development is grass roots. We work locally, regionally, sometimes nationally. We work on the ground at people level.

Human rights works at all levels but is also international. It gives people equal rights across the globe. It works at a legal level, has conventions and legislation to back it and issues are dealt with by lawyers, in courts.

For this reason, human rights are hugely important. They are a powerful tool. A human rights approach brings issues to a level where something can actually be done about them. How many times have we moaned that we’re still fighting for the same thing we were fighting for 20 years ago?

To use domestic violence again as an example, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, seen as the International Bill of Women’s Rights, has been ratified by 64 countries. That means 64 countries have agreed to eliminate domestic violence against women. They have to report to the UN and the UN gives its general recommendations. Governments are named and shamed in a global arena.

We need lawyers and politicians to bring our issues to that level to effect change. And guess what, they need us too, to give solid, hard evidence! The evidence that comes with 20 years of working with women who are affected by domestic violence, by working year after year with groups who are marginalised and disadvantaged, whose issues are worth highlighting, whose rights need addressing.

Community development may not always share a bed with human rights but they definitely hold hands every once in a while. Our challenge is keep their alliance working for us by realising their differences and embracing their similarities.

* Sarah-Beth Watkins is Co-ordinator of Templeshannon CDP, Enniscorthy,
Co. Wexford.
- Autumn ‘05, Issue 19