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Amnesty expresses serious concern at Irish Government failure to address human rights on Gulf Trade Mission

10th January 2014, 12:10:18 UTC

Amnesty International Ireland has today voiced serious concern about the reported failure of the Irish Government to raise human rights issues during its bilateral engagement with governments in the Gulf region.

The trade mission visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates this week. Responding to comments by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton reported in the media, Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said:

“It is of grave concern to us that the Taoiseach and Minister Bruton who have led this mission seem to believe that it would be inappropriate for them to raise human rights issues as part of Ireland’s normal bilateral trade engagements with other states.

It is of grave concern to us that the Taoiseach and Minister Bruton who have led this mission seem to believe that it would be inappropriate for them to raise human rights issues as part of Ireland’s normal bilateral trade engagements with other states.

Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland

This view was reportedly expressed by the Taoiseach, and then repeated by Minister Bruton during a radio interview. Minister Bruton said that the mission was a ‘business to business’ event, and that it was not an appropriate forum to raise human rights concerns. He went on to suggest that the appropriate fora are the EU and UN. If these statements reflect current Irish foreign affairs policy, they represent a departure from Ireland’s traditional approach to such issues. It has been the practice for many years of Irish governments to use such bilateral trade engagements with other states with poor human rights records to raise human rights issues and concerns.”

For the current Irish Government to abandon this practice, to effectively outsource to the EU or UN its responsibility to act to promote and defend human rights, is simply unacceptable,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“Equally, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ireland needs to show leadership on such issues, not only at the UN, but also in its dealings with other countries,” he continued.

“We are today writing to the Taoiseach to urgently seek clarification as to whether it is now this State’s foreign policy that Ireland’s trade interests will be allowed to trump its human rights commitments.

Last November Amnesty International published detailed research revealing serious abuses of the rights of migrant workers in Qatar. The report identified cases that constituted forced labour. Some workers interviewed by Amnesty International were living in fear of losing everything; threatened with penalty fines, deportation or loss of income if they did not show up to work even though they were not being paid.Many workers reported poor health and safety standards at work, including some who said they were not issued with helmets on sites. A representative of Doha’s main hospital stated earlier this year that more than 1,000 people were admitted to the trauma unit in 2012 having fallen from height at work. Ten per cent were disabled as a result and the mortality rate was “significant”.

Researchers also found migrant workers living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning, exposed to overflowing sewage or uncovered septic tanks. Several camps lacked power and researchers found one large group of men living without running water.

“However this week in Qatar the Taoiseach is reported as having said that his assumption was that those who work internationally on such projects would have proper working conditions and proper facilities. This is clearly not the case. We have today sent a copy of our report on the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar to the Taoiseach,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Amnesty International Ireland has today written to the Taoiseach, and to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to express its grave concern at the reported approach to this trade mission and seeking clarification of Irish foreign affairs policy in this area.

Copied below are the headline reports on Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates from Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2013.

Saudi Arabia 
The authorities severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly and clamped down on dissent. Government critics and political activists were detained without trial or sentenced after grossly unfair trials. Women were discriminated against in law and practice and inadequately protected against domestic and other violence. Migrant workers were exploited and abused. Sentences of flogging were imposed and carried out. Hundreds of people were on death row at the end of the year; at least 79 people were executed.

Qatar
Freedom of expression continued to be curtailed. New cases of torture emerged. Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice, as well as violence. Foreign migrant workers, who comprised the majority of the workforce, were exploited, abused and inadequately protected under the law. At least one death sentence was imposed; no executions were reported.

United Arab Emirates
More than 90 government critics, including human rights defenders, were in detention at the end of the year without charge or trial amid increasing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. At least two were prisoners of conscience. Seven of those detained were arbitrarily stripped of their nationality and one was then deported. At least six people faced charges for content they posted on social media. Women faced discrimination in law and practice. Foreign migrant workers continued to be exploited and abused. At least 21 death sentences were imposed; at least one person was executed.

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