The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a landmark instrument in the history of human rights.

70 years ago, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations, and sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. It has significantly influenced the development of human rights law and policy, internationally, regionally and domestically.

Maynooth University Department of Law just organised a conference entitled

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at Seventy; A Review of Successes and Challenges”

on 21st and 22nd June 2018. This conference included discussions by keynote speakers, in addition to a number of papers focusing on different aspects of human rights protection since the adoption of the UDHR.

Keynote speakers included:
• Prof Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union
• The Hon Mr Justice John Mac Menamin, Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland
• Anastasia Crickley, Outgoing Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
• Prof Philip Leach, Director of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre and Professor of Law at Middlesex University
• Judge Shireen Fisher, Justice of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone
• Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
• Professor Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez, Professor of Constitutional Law at University of Deusto, Bilbao
• Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties
• Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation
• Prof Keith Ewing, Professor of Public Law at King’s College London.
• Sindy Joyce, Human Rights Defender and Doctoral Scholar, University of Limerick
• Prof Randy Lippert, Professor of Criminology at University of Windsor, Canada

Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union Director Michael O’Flaherty delivered a keynote address reviewing the successes and challenges of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after 70 years.

He spoke about the role of fundamental rights in European societies, and addressed challenges related to protecting these rights within the EU.

He addressed the relationship between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and present-day Europe. He credited it with launching “a process through which Europe has built the strongest system of human rights protection in the world”. He added: “In recent decades, the European Union has played an increasingly important role in this system. We have developed the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union—landmark legislation I like to call a European ‘Bill of Rights’ —and the EU’s highest court has vigorously protected human rights in its rulings. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is a global good practice, and is the only body of its kind operating at a regional level anywhere in the world.”

However, he also spoke of a number of pressing challenges, notably the worrying signs of backsliding human rights protection in many places within the EU. He gave the example of the treatment of Roma: ”In a climate of growing anti-Gypsyism, our leaders need to stand up for the Roma—arguably the most marginalized community in our societies, and a constant target of discrimination. Significant parts of this population live in homes without running water or electricity, lack access to health insurance, and go to bed hungry—all in one of the richest regions in the world.

“The European Union has recognised the urgent need to address the dire situation of the European Roma, putting up funding support Member States can use to make targeted investments that help our Roma brothers and sisters get a quality education, access to proper housing and health care. The means are there. But we need political will to make human rights a reality for everybody in society. ”

He also spoke of the challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU: “It is no less important to acknowledge that the rich and dynamic tapestry of European civil society is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracies and of the rule of law. Across the EU, NGOs and other civil society actors need to be valued and respected as partners, not labelled as threats. Criminalising humanitarianism can never be right.”

However, he also gave a more upbeat look to the future: “In spite of the challenges facing the system of human rights protection in Europe, I am convinced that it is fit for purpose, but can always be strengthened. I am also optimistic that—so long as we are vigilant in insisting on compliance with human rights standards, calling out abuses where we see them, and reinvesting in building a culture of human rights—the system will continue to deliver for our people.” (source: http://fra.europa.eu/en/news)

On behalf of the ESC Rights Initiative, Kevin O’Kelly presented the content of the recent Initiative’s Submission to the Irish Oireachtas Committee.

Here you can download the Powerpoint of this presentation entitled “Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Bunreacht na hÉireann”.