The publicity surrounding the visit of Vice-president Xi Jinping to Ireland affirms the important role China now plays within the international legal order. Other than perhaps the pomp and ceremony surrounding the visits of US Presidents, his visit is as well publicised, if not better, than what most heads of state usually receive. Such ceremony, even though Vice- President Xi is the Vice-President rather than President of China. Admittedly, according to most reports, he is the heir apparent to China’s Presidency. When President Hu Jintao steps down next October Xi Jinping will, most likely, succeed him. In fact, he was greeted in a similar fashion in the United States last week. The fact that the Chinese Vice-President is greeted with such ceremony indicates just how important states now consider good relations with the Government in Beijing.
in the context of our candidacy for the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, and I underlined the importance Ireland attaches to human rights and our view that human rights are universal
While in the political context it is perhaps understandable that the Government stressed Ireland’s human rights stance and its wish to join the Human Rights Council it is interesting that what was emphasised was Ireland’s human rights’ record rather than China’s, if indeed the point the Tánaiste was making was that the Government did not demure from raising human rights with China. The Government appeared not to have raised any issues that questioned China’s human rights record, rather it sounds like a pitch for Ireland’s qualifications for joining the Council. In fact, this arguably undermines our candidacy for the Council. The Human Rights Council replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission whose overtly political overtones left no belief in its position to question any state on its human rights record. The General Assembly resolution establishing the Human Rights Council emphasised that it
shall be responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner…that the work of the Council shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.
While these kinds of questions are often raised regarding various countries’ stances with relation to China’s human rights record, this is equally important with regard to any state which we may require an international favour, vote, extension of loan, trade agreement, or otherwise, from. If Ireland, in claiming to raise human rights issues instead makes a play for its candidacy then arguably we should not be on the Council as our actions are more akin to what the Human Rights Commission was known for and does not indicate human rights leadership. If Chinese domestic human rights was too hot a topic to raise, particularly given the ongoing protests in Tibet, perhaps the issue of Syria could have been raised by the Government. Ireland voted in favour of the recent General Assembly resolution backing the Arab League‘s attempts to resolve the crisis while China, alongside 12 other states out of 193 states voted against the resolution. This followed China’s veto, alongside Russia, of the previous Security Council resolution. This issue, already on the international stage and one where in voting in opposite directions both states are aware of the other’s position, would perhaps have been pertinent to raise. Such an example of leadership, particularly given the Human Right’s Council establishment of a Special Rapporteur for Syria, would perhaps have better emphasised our suitability for a place on the Council. While Ireland does not need to harangue all visiting dignitaries, at a time when real leadership is required to aid the people of Syria, Ireland could have played a small part in emphasising the need for states with vetoes, such as China, to take action in situations where human rights are being so grossly abused. Instead, we appeared to put our own political ambitions first.