Galway professor appointed as Commissioner for Human Rights in Council of Europe

Professor Michael O’Flaherty. 
Credit - Aengus McMahon / University of Galway.

Professor Michael O’Flaherty. Credit - Aengus McMahon / University of Galway.

Professor Michael O’Flaherty will begin his six year, non-renewable term as the Commissioner for Human Rights on April 1, 2024.

A renowned expert on human rights, Professor O’Flaherty was elected to the role during a plenary meeting of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly on January 24. Professor O’Flaherty received 104 of the votes cast in the second round of the election, the two other nominees; Meglena Kuneva (Bulgaria ) obtained 70 votes and Manfred Nowak (Austria ) obtained 37 votes.

The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent and impartial non-judicial institution that was established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to promote awareness of, and respect for, human rights in the 46 Council of Europe member states. The Commissioner for Human Rights also identifies ‘possible shortcomings in the law and practice’ concerning human rights, and facilitates the activities carried out by national ombudsperson institutions and other human rights structures.

As part of his new role as the Commissioner for Human Rights, Prof O’Flaherty will carry out regular visits to member states to meet with governments and civil society groups to report on issues that may occur in his six year term.

Renowned ‘human rights expert’

Having previously held the position of Established Professor of Human Rights Law, and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at University of Galway, Prof O’Flaherty has been described as a ‘renowned human rights expert’.

In addition to his time in academia, Prof O’Flaherty spent 18 years working with the United Nations (UN ), setting up human rights field operations in conflict-affected areas like Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and as a serving member of the UN Human Rights Committee.

In addition to his work with the UN, Prof O’Flaherty previously served as the Chief Commissioner for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, an institution set up under the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement. Most recently, he served as Director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency from 2015 to 2023.

Local reaction

President of University of Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, paid tribute to Professor O’Flaherty following the announcement of his appointment, saying “Professor O’Flaherty has an internationally respected reputation for dedication to human rights and leadership in the field both on the island of Ireland but also in Europe and around the world.

“On behalf of University of Galway, I wish to extend congratulations. The ideals and principles which Professor O’Flaherty has pursued and promoted throughout his career are under considerable strain in Europe and it is these qualities that will be at the core of his work in the coming years.”

Professor Siobhán Mullally, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the University, said, “On behalf of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, I am delighted to congratulate Professor Michael O’Flaherty on his election as Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights. Michael is an outstanding human rights lawyer and advocate, and distinguished academic.

“As the former Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, he helped to build the Centre’s global reputation for human rights research, teaching and international engagement. His election comes at a challenging time for human rights protection in Europe and globally, as core values of democracy, equality and solidarity are under threat. Michael has prioritised the defence of democracy, protection of the rights of minorities, and vindication of the rights of the Ukrainian people. We look forward to supporting this critical and urgent work and wish him every success.”


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