A University of Nottingham professor has been appointed as the new Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Professor Michael O’Flaherty, of the University’s School of Law, will lead the human rights watchdog for the next five years.
The Commission advises the government and is responsible for protecting and promoting human rights throughout Northern Ireland; it also helps people whose rights may have been denied and can carry out its own investigations.
Professor O’Flaherty’s appointment was announced on Monday July 18th by Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Mr Paterson said: “The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission plays an important role in protecting and promoting human rights in Northern Ireland. The new Chief Commissioner and seven new Commissioners bring with them skills, understanding and knowledge that will contribute greatly to the Commission’s work.
“Twelve years after its establishment, the Commission continues to face a range of challenges that are changing as Northern Ireland society changes. I am confident that the new Chief Commissioner and Commissioners will help meet these challenges in a way that commands support across the community.”
As Chief Commissioner, Professor O’Flaherty will be based in Belfast for the duration of his five-year term but will maintain his association with the University. He is Co-Director of The University of Nottingham’s internationally renowned Human Rights Law Centre, and holds the first chair of Applied Human Rights in the world.
Professor O’Flaherty said: “I’m greatly honoured to take on this important post and am much encouraged by the excellent team of commissioners that has been appointed. I’m also conscious that we will be building on the first-rate work done by Monica McWilliams, the other outgoing commissioners and the first-rate team of staff.”
Professor Stephen Bailey, Head of the School of Law at The University of Nottingham, said: “We all congratulate Michael on this appointment, which is a tribute to his standing in the field of human rights, and offer our very best wishes.”
Professor O’Flaherty read law at University College Dublin (BCL), theology and philosophy at the Gregorian University, Rome (BPh, STB) and international relations at the University of Amsterdam (MA, MPhil). He is a Solicitor of the Irish Courts. Since 2004, he has been an elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and is currently a Vice-Chairperson. He is also a member of the UN Expert Group on Human Rights Indicators.
He is currently the Rapporteur for development of a new General Comment of the Human Rights Committee on the topic of Article 19 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Freedoms of Opinion and Expression). He is as an advisor to many international and regional inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations and is a member of the editorial boards of the Human Rights Law Review, the Irish Yearbook of International Law, the International Journal of Human Rights, European Yearbook on Human Rights, and Revue Trimestrielle Des Droits de L'Homme.
He sits on advisory committees of the European Roma Rights Centre, the Diplomacy Training Programme, the UN-UK Association, the World Organization Against Torture, the Hilde Back Education Fund and a number of other groups worldwide.
Prior to December 2003, he served in a number of senior positions with the United Nations. He established the UN human rights field missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1994) and Sierra Leone (1998) and subsequently guided UN headquarters support to its human rights programmes across the Asia-Pacific region.
He has served as Secretary of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and UN human rights advisor for implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. From 2000 to 2002 he chaired the UN reference group on human rights and humanitarian action.
He will take up his post as the new Chief Commissioner on 19 September 2011.
Grainia Long, Christine Collins, John Corey, Milton Kerr, Alan McBride, Marion Reynolds and Paul Yam have been appointed as new Commissioners to work alongside Professor O’Flaherty.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was created by the Northern Ireland Act 1998, as part of the Belfast Agreement. The Commission is an independent body whose main functions are to promote awareness of the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland and to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.
The Commission advises the Secretary of State, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly Committees of measures which ought to be taken for the protection of human rights. The Commission is also able to assist people whose rights have been denied or abused by helping them to take a case to the courts. It is, in appropriate cases, able to bring proceedings itself, and can carry out investigations.
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