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Response to Richard Bruton: Trade missions are the place to raise human rights

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Response to Richard Bruton: Trade missions are the place to raise human rights

The Irish Times published an article by Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, titled “Trade missions are not the place to raise human rights”.  In his article, Mr. Bruton responds to the criticism of the Irish government not raising the human rights issues during the Irish trade mission to Gulf States Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

Richard Bruton has an interesting slogan on his website. It says “Richard Bruton TD - Knows what must be done”.

First of all, we must congratulate Mr. Bruton for being honest in telling us that when it comes to trade, profit making and the occasional creation of jobs, the right-wing governments don’t really pay any real attention to human rights issues. Mr. Bruton clearly and without any doubt explains us how the capitalist mentality works: Business, trade, investment, profits, jobs and human rights are mutually exclusive things and where business is to be spoken, there is no place and time for discussing human rights.

It is the capitalist view of the world that competition must exists in every aspect of life. Human rights need to compete with business, job creation needs to compete with profit making. Jobs, human rights and a fair and just economic environment cannot be given the same and equal importance. They simply can’t co-exist.

We may organize conferences, our ministers may issue statements and Ireland may raise eyebrows to show its opposition to human rights abuses but only when there is no trade discussions going on.

A government that oversees the unemployment numbers rising to nearly half of a million and paying out billions to the bond holders surely will do everything, including the ignoring of most brutal human rights abuses in some countries, to create 4000 jobs and bringing in €600 million additional revenue from trade. And not surprisingly, they will use the conditions they have created as an excuse to let other miseries happen somewhere else. It is this view of the world that puts 4000 victims of torture and oppression somewhere else in competition with the 4000 unemployed people in Ireland.

It is the core of capitalist ideology that enables international arms trades taking place despite millions being killed by these arms. According to the capitalist business morals, the trade of arms is separate to and different from the use of these arms.

Western leaders and politicians may publicly - and officially - never support dictators and oppressive regimes but multinational business relationships with the same regimes are always upheld and strongly supported by these very same leaders. We may give out about the undeniable suffering of the people in Gaza but surely trade with Israel must go on. We may dislike what dictators do to their people but as long as money is concerned and they are good customers we must keep the good business relationship.

Trade and profit making are the earthly gods, the bible and the ultimate sacred values of the capitalists. Everything else is a minor detail, a mere hurdle to skip over to accumulate more profits. Government commissions for human rights etc. may prepare reports after reports but it is the trade commissions that matters. Don’t we know money talks as torture victims scream...

In his own words, Mr. Bruton sums it all up for us: “Ireland has a proud history of supporting the cause of human rights around the world. Unfortunately, our record of providing jobs for our people is far less glowing”. 

It seems Mr. Bruton is indeed the man ‘who knows what must be done’. The question is, who are these things done for, for whose benefits? Managing the country down to rock bottom, creating record number of unemployment, poverty and inequality, turning the whole country into a corporate model and organising trade missions to bring in more money, while dismissing and ignoring the most important issue and the universal core value of every one of us; the human rights…

Mr. Bruton may know a lot but he doesn’t know everything. Or at least he forgets. The regimes he is dealing with are oppressing their people and these regimes are only strong due to their economic wealth and their massive fire power, some, if not all, provided by the West. Unconditional Economic friendship with these regimes and turning a blind eye to state oppression is just another blow to the people fighting for human rights and democracy in these countries.  Whatever Mr. Bruton thinks of Ireland’s international human rights records, the people of these countries will see the latest trade mission and Ireland’s silence on human rights as a significant compromise by our country.

It is a bit like this: Ireland is formally neutral and is not - should not be – involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But being neutral and doing business are again presented as two different things. Therefore one Ireland pretends to be neutral while the other opens Shannon Airport to the use of US military. And another Ireland arrests a 79 year of peace activist. 

If what Mr. Bruton says is correct, that is, if “Ireland has a proud history of supporting the cause of human rights around the world”, this by itself must be the sole and undeniable reason why the Irish delegations - as the bare minimum - must bring up human rights issues during such official visits.

Why is Ireland not doing that? Is this also part of the Troika agreement that Ireland to keep its mouth shut agains human rights abuses and only to discuss business?

Richard Bruton may point at the EU and the UN to show us the ‘great’ job the Irish government is doing but, he surely know very well that this does not eliminate Ireland’s humanitarian and democratic duty to raise its concerns at the highest levels.

He writes, “During an intensive and ultimately successful trade mission we met prime ministers and other senior political leaders as well as major corporations in three of the fastest-growing economies in the world. A lot of very serious business was done, which will help us deliver much-needed jobs for Ireland.”

In other words, he met the very same people who are responsible of human rights abuses.  Therefore trade missions are the place to raise human rights issues. But it seems the current standard of Ireland is also a new low when it comes to dealing with human rights abusers.

The world does not have to be a place where everything has a $/€ sign in front of it. We don’t have to settle for jobs at the expense of workers being oppressed in other countries. We are not wild animals fighting for scraps. Indeed, a safer, cleaner environment; real democracy and human rights; a proper economic management can all co-exist. And that would be a much safer, a much happier world for all of us. That would be a world where people come before profit, human rights before trade.

That would not be a capitalist world.

Does Mr. Bruton know these as well?

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