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The Stephen Livingstone lecture: Martin O'Brien on human rights globally

Continuing review of Martin O'Brien's speech on 'Human rights and the Agreement: how far have we come?', the 2009 Stephen Livingstone memorial lecture.

To what extent have the lessons of developing peace and justice in Northern Ireland been learned and applied at the national and global levels?

Scarcely at all, is O'Brien's conclusion.

"Clearly the post 9/11 context has not been a good one for human rights. 

The election of President Obama and some of his early pronouncements give some hope for better days in terms of a return to due process and the rule of law. 

However question marks also remain in this regard.   

The Northern Ireland experience points very firmly to the dependence of peace and security on justice, fairness and the rule of law.

How disappointing, then, that the UK government in particular has not applied these lessons in its response to the “war on terror.” 

Who would have thought, during our arguments around the legality of 7-day detention, that we would find ourselves in a debate about 28 days, 42 days and even 90 days detention without charge?

Experience tells us that once these powers come on to the statute books it’s very hard to remove them.  There have been emergency powers of one form or another in place in Northern Ireland since the 1920s. 

At the time of the McGrory lecture [in 2005] I noted that the government had promised to repeal the Northern Ireland specific emergency legislation. 

I expressed the fear that this might simply be replaced with equally bad UK-wide legislation. 

Sadly that is largely what they’ve done."

More to follow…

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