Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - UNFPA Funding.

Éamon Ó Cuív


10 Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he intends to continue providing funding to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities in view of the fact that it is making large grants to the Chinese Government for population control; if he has satisfied himself that the Chinese Government is not abusing fundamental human rights in its pursuit of its population control policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7591/96]

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities — UNFPA — provides assistance in the field of population, including family planning and awareness and education programmes, in response to requests from developing countries. UNFPA is financed from contributions by Governments and private donors.

Ireland has provided funding support to UNFPA since 1993. Prior to then, Ireland was the only EU member state not to have contributed to UNFPA. Given the growing importance of the population issue at international level, it was felt by the Government at that time that a contribution to UNFPA represented an appropriate response to the challenges posed by population growth, particularly in developing countries. Since then Ireland has provided a total of £400,000 in support of UNFPA's work in developing countries and a further £250,000 is being provided in 1996.

UNFPA is committed by its mandates to the principle of voluntarism in its programmes of assistance throughout the world. It condemns the use of coercion in any form or manner in any population programme.

I am aware of Chinese family policy, which envisages families in urban areas having no more than one child and those in rural areas no more than two children. I am under no illusions but that there are cases of forceful pressure on women to have abortions but I understand this is contrary to Chinese law.

We sought and received assurances from UNFPA, most recently in January 1996, that in providing support for family planning activities in China it has carefully monitored its programmes to ensure full adherence to universally accepted standards of human rights. UNFPA has emphasised that its family planning activities, both in China and elsewhere, are grounded on the principles of freedom of choice and informed consent. It has categorically stated that it does not support China's one-child policy and is opposed to targets and quotas to enforce such a policy.

UNFPA also states that it has maintained a constant dialogue with the Chinese authorities about abuses of human rights in its population programme. It has also formulated special projects specifically designed to point out the practical advantages of a purely voluntary programme.

I share the Deputy's concern and that of the international community about the allegations of human rights abuses in respect of China's population programme. However, I am satisfied on the basis of the UNFPA's statement and assurances that its projects in China have been conducted in full accordance with its mandates and principles.

I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive reply. Is she satisfied that UNFPA has not provided funding for activities that I am sure everyone in the free world would find unacceptable? Furthermore, in funding a population programme in China through the UNFPA — even if it does not directly fund unacceptable activities — is the Minister of State satisfied that organisation is not signalling the support of unacceptable practices of birth control? Without going into the details, I am sure everyone is aware that two fundamental issues are involved. One is the question of coercion of people into population control. The other is the use of abortion as a method of population control as opposed to what we normally understand as family planning. Is the Minister of State satisfied that no such inference can be drawn from the provision of funding by UNFPA to support the Chinese policy of birth control?

The UNFPA provides assistance in the field of population control, including family planning and awareness and information programmes, in response to requests from developing countries. It does not provide support for abortion or abortion related activities. Its policy as laid down by its governing council, on which Ireland has observer status, specifically states that "the UNFPA is not to provide assistance for abortions, abortion services or abortion related equipment and supplies as a method of family planning".

On the question of coercion, I agree with the Deputy that it is an extremely important question. The UNFPA has maintained a constant dialogue with the Chinese authorities about abuses of human rights in its population programme, especially abuses that may be attributed to rigid enforcement of China's one-child policy. It has also requested China to review and moderate provincial and local regulations which do not conform with international human rights standards. It is UNFPA policy to take up each report of alleged coercion directly with the Chinese authorities, and I assure the Deputy that when this matter was raised at earlier stages by other Deputies in this House direct contact was made with UNFPA both from Dublin and through our mission in New York to ascertain and to get oral explanation and written confirmation of the statements I have just made.

In the context of the controversy which arose about the treatment of children in Chinese orphanages, I contacted all of my partner Ministers for development co-operation in the European Union on the issue of the treatment of girl children and the broader question of the treatment of children in orphanages in China. I also contacted UNICEF and its director, Mrs. Carol Bellamy.

I am aware of the very sensitive question of population pressures in China because it is a country of 1.2 billion people and of the question of human rights and people voluntarily availing of family planning services which is a choice to be made by couples. Ireland has always supported — and we reiterated this at the Cairo Conference — voluntary family planning while recognising that in the developing world the pressure of population growth is one of the factors leading to intense poverty and pressure on resources.

We are substantially past our time, but I am anxious to facilitate the Deputies who are offering. I suggest brief questions from the Deputies concerned and perhaps the Minister would answer the questions together.

I thank the Minister of State for her concern in the matter and for her very comprehensive reply. I accept that the money being given might not go directly to support activities that would be anathema to personal freedom and to the rights of the unborn but it seems slightly disingenuous to say that while our money does not go towards any of those things, at the same time money is going through UNFPA to agencies that are involved in what we would consider to be violation of human rights. Can the Minister assure us that the agencies receiving money are not involved in such activities? If they are, does she feel it is right to give money to agencies involved in what we, and the general mass of people in the free world, would consider to be a basic denial of human rights?

Does the Minister agree the question posed by Deputy O Cuív has not been answered, that is, whether the Minister has satisfied herself that the Chinese Government is not abusing fundamental human rights in pursuit of its population control policy? Does she agree there is one part of China, taking a one-China view, where no such abuse of human rights takes place, that is, in Taiwan? Will she agree also that the Irish Government, if it really does give a damn about fundamental human rights of women in particular and, I suppose, of husbands too, should make strong representations to the Government of the People's Republic of China that we do not accept the standards we know in our hearts it applies in the manner in which it controls its population and tramples down women's fundamental human rights in China as a matter of course and as a matter of internal policy?

The question from Deputy Ó Cuív was in the context of our funding to the UN Fund for Family Planning Activities. That is my reading of the question, but I am not a lawyer. We have taken up with the UNFPA on a number of occasions the question of its policy on China. There is a programme in China which I understand amounts to some $9 million a year, about 5 per cent of the total budget worldwide for family planning. I support the concept of family planning in China. There may be a difference between me and Deputy Ó Cuív on that.

There is not.

I am glad to hear that. What I absolutely reject and what the Irish Government rejects is any question that that would be imposed by coercion.

As to the broader question of human rights in China, which Deputy McDowell rightly raised, we have an ongoing dialogue with the Chinese Government on the question of human rights of which this is undoubtedly an element, particularly as it pertains to what happens to girl children and the position of children in Chinese orphanages.

And mothers.

Of course.

Did we make our position known forcibly to them?

I and the Tánaiste made that position known when he visited China and when the Chinese Foreign Minister visited here. Overall in relation to China, one has to decide whether to have contact and dialogue or to shut down all contact and dialogue. It is a question on which there is not total agreement.