Policy submission to Ireland's new international development policy.

Peace Brigades International Ireland

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND                                                                                                          

Founded in 1981, PBI has 36 years of experience working alongside human rights defenders, opening and protecting space for peace, conflict transformation and the defence of human rights. PBI provides a life-saving international presence in areas of conflict and repression, and a powerful global advocacy network protecting those on the ground.  PBI currently works in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico and Nepal and in the past had additional field projects in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, North America, Haiti, and the Balkans. 

The principal focus of PBI’s work is to provide protection and support to human rights defenders, for which PBI have developed an integrated protection model that combines physical, digital, political and psychosocial approaches.

Peace Brigades International Ireland (PBI Ireland) welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the next phase of Ireland’s International Development Policy.  We note that previous documents, One World One Future and the Global Island outlined human rights and governance as a priority. However, we are disappointed to see that Ireland’s new International Development Policy fails to make sufficient mention of human rights. Furthermore, we would hope to see explicit recognition of the role of civil society across all priorities and interventions.

PBI Ireland, therefore, proposes that the new Policy should include the following specific elements:

  1. The White paper should recognise the vital role of human rights defenders as peacebuilders.

  2. Irish Aid should resource, and Irish diplomatic should facilitate, peace and human rights accompaniment through partnership with civil society organisations. 

  3. Recognition of the role of women is critical to the effective implementation of all programmes.

  4. Ireland should develop an integrated and sustained approach to peacebuilding.

This submission responds to question 4 on the guidelines on consultarion process–

Q. 4. How can we improve delivery of Ireland’s international development cooperation and humanitarian action?


Ireland, as a post-conflict society, has experienced the process of peace negotiations and peacebuilding. Peacebuilding will not be sustainable if it is imposed, interfered with or does not involve those directly affected. Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) work across the globe, advocating for rights and accountability and by fighting corruption and the degradation of their communities and societies, cross-cutting every sector which international development seeks to address.  They must be involved at all stages of the peacebuilding process.

The Consultation Paper recognises that “threats to civil society space and disregard for human rights has limited the scope for action and eroded the basis for peaceful sustainable development in many contexts” (page 9). However, Ireland has fallen short on highlighting the specific role played by HRDs in protecting civil society space. PBI believes that the work of HRDs is critical to ensuring that basic rights are fulfilled, and governments are held to account.

HRDs also serve as peacebuilders. The Consultation Paper, One World, One Future and The Global Island all refer to peacekeeping as an intervention, but fail to mention other methods of conflict prevention/resolution. PBI believes it is important to include and to emphasise the need to support local grassroots peacebuilders (ie civil society and HRDs) in conflict and post-conflict settings as part of a strategy for supporting peace.

The EU Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (2004) outline the EU’s commitment to supporting and protecting HRDs in ‘third countries’, ie countries outside the EU where there is an EU presence. In 2013 former Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, Margaret Sekaggya, stated that Ireland “assumed a leading role in initiatives under the EU Guidelines on HRDs to contribute to the protection of defenders and activists at risk in other countries.” She also commended Ireland for its “efforts to assist defenders at risk in third countries[1]. Ireland was further credited by the General Assembly Human Rights Council in 2015 as one of a handful of countries with supportive protection systems in place for HRDs with “a humanitarian visa scheme provides support for defenders at risk[2] at national level. 

PBIs observers who carry out protective accompaniment missions in conflict and post-conflict countries regularly call on diplomatic staff to take actions outlined in these Guidelines as we have seen the impact that they can have in protecting HRDs at risk.  We have had positive interactions in this regard with Irish diplomatic staff overseas, but more work needs to be done within the international community to demonstrate the effectiveness of taking action on behalf of HRDs.  We believe that where Ireland has embassies or influence through EU diplomatic missions, tools such as the EU Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders should form an integral part of the work of our missions. Irish missions should demonstrate through specific actions, the benefits of implementing the Guidelines to other EU and non-EU states and show its commitment to protecting local human rights defenders by engaging with them in the manner outlined.

With this, we recommend:

  • The Irish Government should strengthen its voice in international venues and institutions to advocate for recognition and fulfilment of human rights and the role of HRDs.

  • Ireland should recognise and outline HRDs as peacebuilders.

  • The specific inclusion of a clear indicator for Ireland to report on its progress in supporting the work of HRDs and their protection.

  • That Ireland should consult with civil society organisations, like PBI, in the development of an action plan for implementation to ensure HRDs are included in the peacebuilding process.

  • Ireland’s diplomatic missions should promote the EU Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to other missions and amongst local civil society groups as part of its mandate.

  • Ireland should explicitly seek to protect the space of HRDs, peacebuilders and civil society. It should take a lead in implementing the EU Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

  • Ireland should be transparent in the business and private sector partnerships it establishes so that they do not cause further destruction to local communities and so that HRDs are not harmed.



Ireland has a long history of building and establishing partnerships to achieve its development, humanitarian and peace goals. Through partnerships with civil society, with governments and through multilateral channels, Ireland employs a multi-pronged approach. These partnerships “[…] have a focus on strengthening governance and the protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights[3]. This approach should be at the forefront of the new policy.  In addition, PBI welcomes the inclusion of innovative forms of new partnerships so that “tailored, flexible, and innovative approaches are required if complex circumstances are to be addressed[4]

In keeping with a number of binding international commitments, such as those entered into in the World Humanitarian Summit (2016), PBI encourages Irish Aid to partner with local civil society organisations to fulfill its commitments to a ‘localisation’ agenda.  Civil society organisations like PBI work to support, build capacity, and ensure a locally-led approach which is critical to ensure a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world. The explicit recognition in the Sustainable Development Goals that peace, the reduction of violence, and the need for inclusive societies, are integral to sustainable development should remain at the core of an integral approach. This approach should engage and directly involve local organisations and communities affected by conflict.

Furthermore, the Stockholm Declaration 2016 reaffirms that “Achieving sustainable peace and development in conflict-affected countries requires the International Community to work together like never before, with new partnerships and in new ways that reinforce mutual accountability and transparency” thus emphasising the need to respond to the changing environment in which we work through reassessing partnerships and approaches.

  • Ireland should widen its partnership with local organisations.

  • In consultation with civil society organisations like PBI, Ireland should develop an implementation plan to ensure support is provided to local grassroots organisations and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).

  • PBI would welcome the specific inclusion of HRDs as key players in Ireland’s Development Policy, together with the inclusion of clear indicators to report on progress in supporting the work of HRDs.



It is essential that women are involved in these partnerships and that they are engaged in every aspect of development and peace work. Women have made and continue to make an enormous contribution to peace processes through cross-community activism, political engagement and as mediators. Women must be included in all priorities and interventions, and must not be seen solely in terms of service provision or in the context of Women, Peace and Security.

Womens participation in civil society as human rights defenders and peacebuilders can be impeded by many factors, many of which are specific to their gender.  Any approach that seeks to empower women as active agents in building peace should be context dependent and should take into account their particular protection needs to ensure equal participation.  Irish Aid should support programmes that create space and provide resources for context-specific protection initiatives to ensure the safety and wellbeing of women is taken into account.

One example of how Ireland has supported women and worked through local partnerships was by funding workshops in preparation of the 2017 Kenyan elections.  Backed by Irish Aid funding, PBI provided training on electoral violence for local Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), specifically in relation to gender based violence (GBV), and reporting. Following this training, WHRDs were involved in reporting and documenting violence across Nairobi settlements. While this is only one example of how Ireland support Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), it reflects a practical example of how Ireland can strength its work through partners and ensure maximum impact across its proposed priority areas.

To achieve these objectives, we recommend:

  • Ireland should build on its outlined commitment to prioritising gender equality, ensuring women are included in every part of its Policy and not just in terms of service provision and Women, Peace and Security.

  • PBI would welcome a plan for increased investment and inclusion of women and women’s groups which will be reported on annually.

  • Irish Aid should support programmes that create space and provide resources for context-specific protection initiatives to ensure the safety and wellbeing of women is taken into account.


Through successive aid programmes, Ireland has provided considerable humanitarian assistance and support for democracy-building in countries challenged by violent conflict.  Based on our own national experiences and the increasing number of humanitarian crises where conflict is a key causal element, there is widespread recognition in Ireland of the importance of international support in peacebuilding and particularly during the critical transition stages in post-conflict situations.  In the forthcoming programme Irish Aid seeks to “develop a more comprehensive Irish response to peace and security identifying synergies with other areas of development and instruments of foreign policy”.

When speaking about the on-going Peace Process in Colombia, EU Special Envoy, Eamon Gilmore has affirmed that “Ireland has a role to play in promoting European values and providing much-needed international support to strengthen vulnerable political systems”. 

In recent years, Ireland has already provided substantial development assistance, diplomatic support and technical expertise to the ongoing peace process in Colombia.   In addition to increased cooperation between the two countries and a significant financial contribution both bilaterally and via the EU Trust Fund for Colombia, Ireland through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has given priority to protecting human rights by supporting the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia and by providing funding to deal with a backlog of cases being dealt with by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.  These are welcome developments and show recognition of the link between human rights and justice in achieving a complete, lasting, and sustainable peace.

However, this is a country which is in critical need of further international support if it is to prevent renewed conflict and develop sustainable peace.   Despite the fact that Colombia is a middle-income country, there are wide disparities in wealth distribution and an unacceptable level of violence, particularly against those who are defending the rights of marginalised communities. Of particular concern at this time following the signing of the Peace Agreement is that rural areas vacated by disarmed guerrilla fighters have become the object of disputes between neo-paramilitary groups, the ELN, and other illegal armed actors, highlighting the complexity of the issue.  The situation remains critical. Other concerns highlighted by local and international organizations are that there continues to be a lack of guarantees for the protection and participation of victims in the implementation of the Peace Agreement and that the protection measures provided by the state are insufficient and, in many cases,, unsuitable.  

The resultant fragility of the recent Peace Agreement is widely recognised.  Long-term support to this process is needed and international support will be key to providing oversight and ensuring its success.  PBI calls on Irish Aid to review its assistance programme to Colombia and look to build a more integrated and sustained approach to peacebuilding in this fragile political environment.  The designation of Colombia as a ‘priority country’ or ‘special case‘ would allow the development of a carefully integrated and sustained programme in order to develop the synergies referred to above.  The decision to increase Ireland’s diplomatic presence in Colombia with the opening of an Irish embassy in Bogota, the continued role of former Minister of Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore as the EU Special Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process , the presence of several Irish NGOs working in close collaboration with innovative local community organisations, all combine to make Colombia a potential focal point for such a strategy.

To achieve these objectives, we recommend:

  • Irish Aid should consider designating Colombia as a 'priority country' or 'special case' where it can develop and design an integrated and sustained approach to peacebuilding.

  • This approach should be flexible, adaptive and respectful of the differences and context specificity of different conflict situations.  There is much we can share but also much we can learn from other peace processes. 

  • Irish Aid should review its assistance programme to Colombia and look to build a more integrated and sustained approach to peacebuilding in this fragile political environment.

                [1] General Assembly Human Rights Council, 2013, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A-HRC-22-47-Add-3_en.pdf.

                        [2] General Assembly: Human Rights Council, 2016, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, pg 13, para. 74.

                [3] Irish Aid, Transforming Our World: Ireland’s new International Development Policy Public Consultation Paper, 2018, pg 6, 1.12.

                        [4] Irish Aid, Transforming Our World: Ireland’s new International Development Policy Public Consultation Paper, 2018, pg 6, 1.15.