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Speak Truth To Power Series in KI-Media - Martin O’Brien (Northern Ireland) “Human Rights in the Midst of Conflict”

Speak Truth To Power Series in KI-Media - Martin O’Brien (Northern Ireland) “Human Rights in the Midst of Conflict”

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Published by: kiletters on Aug 03, 2011
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05/12/2014

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in association with 
Speak Truth To Power
 (“
Courage without Borders
”) Seriesin KI Media
. . . . .
Martin O’Brien (Northern Ireland) “Human Rights in theMidst of Conflict”
Biography 
Martin O'Brien
was the Country Representative for Northern Ireland and theDirector of the
Reconciliation & Human Rights Programme for Atlantic Philanthropies
. This grantmaking program works actively to bringabout lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people in NorthernIreland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa and the United States by 
promotingpeace-building and access to human rights
.
Martin O’Brien (Photo: Eddie Adams)
Prior to joining Atlantic in 2004, Mr. O’Brien worked for 17 years co-ordinating the work of the
Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ)
, anorganization dedicated to securing the highest standards in the administration of justicein Northern Ireland. It was during Mr. O’Brien’s tenure in 1998 that CAJ was awarded
 
the prestigious
Council of Europe Human Rights Prize
in
recognition of itscontribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland
. Mr. O’Brien has written, spoken and publicly campaigned on a wide range of civil-liberties issues. He has been centrally involved in the campaign to secure a
Bill of Rights forNorthern Ireland
and active in securing strong human-rightsprotections in the historic
Good Friday Peace Agreement
. Mr.O’Brien has brought concerns about the abuse of human rights in Northern Ireland tointernational audiences, including the United Nations. Mr. O’Brien received his
degreein Sociology and Social Administration from Queen’s University Belfast
in1987. In 1996, he was awarded a
first class Master's degree in human rights law 
.In May 1999,
Notre Dame College presented him with an honorary Doctoratein recognition of his work to promote justice and peace in Northern Ireland
.He is the cofounder of several organizations, including
 Youth for Peace
; the
IrishNetwork for Nonviolent Action Training and Education (INNATE)
; and
Kilcranny House
, a rural education centre committed to healing the divisions whichexist in Northern Ireland. His work has also been
honored by Human Rights Watch
, which selected him as one of 12 international human rights monitors for 1992.
 
Interview 
I started working at the
Committee for the Administration of Justice
in NorthernIreland in 1987. The committee has three jobs.
First
, it publishes and disseminatesinformation on citizens' rights, such as
how the police should behave
whenconducting an arrest, or how prisoners are treated.
Northern Ireland is a very segregated society-so much so that it is quite possible to reach theage of eighteen without ever having met someone from a differentpolitical background
. In an effort to tackle this segregation there are a range of groups that organize different
activities designed to bring Protestants andCatholics together
, perhaps by sponsoring activities, talking about sports, ordiscussing a number of uncontroversial topics. Over time, more controversial issuesarise within these groups. Tension, for example, might be created within the group if someone has a family member in prison. At this point, CAJ might be invited by thegroup organizers to
facilitate a discussion about prisoners' rights orhave a general discussion about human rights:
why are rights importantand where do our ideas about rights come from? CAJ publishes materials about abusesand gets that information into the press. As an extension of this, the committee acts as
an informational resource for students, journalists, community groups,church people, members of the public, politicians, internationaldelegations, and others.
Secondly 
, CAJ offers
legal advice and assistance to people
whose rightshave been violated. The committee either acts as their lawyers (as in the five casespresently in the
European Court of Human Rights
), or helps victims and theirfamilies manage a case beyond the court proceedings. For instance, members might helpthe family in a miscarriage of justice case by identifying sympathetic politicians andattending meetings between the two parties. Likewise, members meet with people from
 Amnesty International
or the
Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights
to enlisttheir support.
Lastly 
, the committee is involved in
lobbying for changes to laws andpractices that violate human rights
. For example, it has worked to secure
laws prohibiting racial discrimination
in Northern Ireland. This hasprovided protection for minority groups like the Chinese and Indian communities inNorthern Ireland. Another example would be our work to
secure safeguards toprevent the ill-treatment of detainees
. Lobbying and campaigning arecritical to ensure that the government lives up to its commitment to internationalhuman rights law. Over the last few years our work centered on gettingI got involved in this kind of work in 1976 when I was twelve years old. A group of people knocked on the door of our house and said,
"Do you want to go on apeace march to demonstrate against the violence?"
My older brotherand sister went and I said I would go with them.
 We marched every weekendin different parts of Northern Ireland and, in doing so, formed alocal group that brought together diverse people. The
Peace

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