UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerned by Irish business involvement in rights violations

Ireland appeared before the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in early December in Geneva. The Committee was considering the consolidated fifth to ninth reports submitted by Ireland. As previously mentioned on the blog, several civil society submissions to the Committee had raised the issue of the potential involvement of Irish businesses in violations of human rights, including those entailing racial discrimination.

During the session, members of the Committee asked the Irish government delegation about measures being taken to address business and human rights issues, including most prominently the connections between Irish companies and the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia:

The Irish delegation was given the opportunity to respond to the Committee on this issue, as live-tweeted by my colleagues at the Irish Centre for Human Rights:

The Concluding Observations of the Committee have now been published (in advance form). They include strong recommendations on a range of issues relating to racial discrimination, including those implicating the private sector. For example, the Committee stated that is was “particularly concerned” about the operation of direct provision centres for those seeking asylum “by private actors on a for-profit basis without proper regulation or accountability mechanisms”. While the Committee recommended that Ireland develop an alternative reception system, it recommended, in the interim, that the State:

Set up clear standards of reception conditions for direct provision centres; regulate and inspect the operation of direct provision centres; and hold those responsible accountable in case of breach of standards;

In relation to the Cerrejón mine in Colombia, the Committee articulated its concerns as follows:

The Committee is concerned that, despite the adoption of a national action plan on business and human rights, the operation of the Cerrejón mine complex in La Guajira, Colombia, whose headquarters is domiciled in Dublin and from which the State party has purchased coal for one of its power stations in County Clare, has been linked with serious abuse of human rights, particularly affecting people of African descent and indigenous peoples (arts. 5 and 6).

Drawing on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Committee made the following recommendations to Ireland:

Ireland has been questioned previously on business and human rights by UN treaty monitoring bodies, and a series of recommendations on business and human rights were made in the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016. CERD’s recommendations to Ireland reflect the ongoing embedding of business and human rights as a thematic issue within the UN treaty human rights machinery, the continuing risks and harms to human rights from the local and transnational activities of business enterprises, and, in this particular context, the inadequacy of Ireland’s efforts on business and human rights to date.

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