Successive Irish Governments have attached priority to human rights in terms of Ireland’s foreign policy. The Human Rights Unit (HRU) was established in the Political Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1996. Its main function is to take an overview of Ireland's approach to international human rights issues, so that they are given full attention in all aspects of Ireland’s foreign policy.
HRU liaises with other Divisions across the Department on international human rights issues and provides domestic policy departments with information on Ireland’s international human rights obligations. The Unit also interacts with international and domestic non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on international matters of particular concern to them through policy partnerships such as the DFA/NGO Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Annual DFA NGO Forum on Human Rights.
In addition, HRU co-ordinates Ireland’s participation in international human rights fora such as at the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council and the EU Human Rights Working Group (COHOM)
HRU is also responsible for facilitating the ratification of international human rights instruments. Status of Ireland’s ratification of international human rights instruments.
For each UN Covenant or Convention, State Parties are obliged to submit periodic reports to the UN on the progress made in implementing the treaty domestically. HRU coordinates the submission of these reports. Ireland’s national reporting obligations.
The Unit works closely with other Sections of the Department, and Ireland’s Missions abroad, on matters relating to human rights issues. In this regard, it should be noted that day-to-day handling of human rights issues in specific countries is undertaken by the relevant Regional Desks in Political Division.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, T.D., met the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, in Dublin on 20 November 2009 and the two discussed the major developments in international human rights.