Other Questions. - Human Rights Abuses.

Bernard J. Durkan


15 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the Government has responded to the comments of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on human rights violations in recent times; the measures, if any, his Department has initiated with the objective of bringing pressure to bear on the perpetrators; the measures, if any, taken in this regard at EU and UN level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8400/98]

In view of the priority attached by the Government to observance of human rights, we have been active on a wide range of issues where violations of rights have been involved.

We met the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson, and discussed a wide range of shared human rights concerns with her on a number of occasions since 11 November last, when the Minister of State and I met the High Commissioner in Dublin and offered our full support, and that of the Irish Government, in her efforts to promote universal human rights standards throughout the world. That message has been reiterated on a number of occasions since then, for example, on 27 November last when the Minister of State had a detailed exchange of views and information with the High Commissioner in Geneva and, more recently, when Mrs. Robinson came to Dublin to give the keynote address at the inaugural NGO forum on human rights in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, on 7 March.

We have taken account of the concerns expressed by the High Commissioner in our efforts to promote and protect human rights at EU and UN level, particularly in the context of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the 54th session of which is currently taking place in Geneva. I will briefly outline our priorities for this session of the commission, of which Ireland is currently a member. The issues with which we are concerned have a broad thematic and geographic spread.

We are taking the lead in sponsoring resolutions on, first, the human rights of persons with disabilities and, second, the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance and of discrimination based on religion. Ireland was the first co-sponsor of a resolution on the total abolition of capital punishment. This reflected the support given by us to this important initiative in recent years. It is envisaged that this year's resolution will be adopted with an increased level of support.

With our European partners, Ireland will sponsor resolutions on human rights in Iran, Iraq, Burma, Nigeria, East Timor and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. We also actively support the efforts of the High Commissioner to extend the mandate of the UNHCHR office in Colombia for a further year. The EU Presidency will express, on behalf of the member states, our common concern about human rights violations in a number of other countries, including Afghanistan, Belarus, Bhutan, Burundi, Cambodia, North Korea, Turkey, Rwanda, Kenya, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the western Balkan states.

The European Union will also note the important developments which have taken place with regard to human rights in China. These developments are the subject of other questions I am answering today. It is worth mentioning, however, China's acceptance of the principle of universality and its growing integration in the UN human rights system, such as the signature and proposed ratification of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and its announced intention to sign the international covenant on civil and political rights. These represent important advances. The release of Wei Jingsheng, the continuing dialogue on human rights with the EU and the forthcoming visit of the High Commissioner are further encouraging signs. Ireland, with its EU partners, views the current session of the commission as an opportunity to encourage further constructive engagement between China and ourselves on human rights issues.

The situation in Algeria is particularly worrying and the EU is working in tandem with other concerned countries to arrive at an approach which offers the best possibility of bringing to an end the barbaric killings in that country. Discussions are continuing on how best to achieve Algerian agreement to early visits by the UN special rapporteurs on torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

It now appears likely that the commission will adopt a declaration on human rights defenders. This would represent the culmination of 13 years' work by the international community. Its adoption, which will be welcomed by all those active in the field of human rights, is a most fitting way to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Building on what is achieved at the current session, Ireland will intensify its efforts to promote the observance of human rights standards worldwide. In partnership with EU member states and other like-minded countries, and in close co-operation with the office of the High Commissioner and other UN agencies, we will continue to voice our concerns and to work for concerted international pressure to achieve the elimination of human rights abuses wherever they occur.

Does the Minister envisage the possibility of establishing an ongoing mechanism within the EU or the UN whereby a more dramatic response might be made to the human rights abuses to which the High Commissioner referred? The abuses continue indefinitely. To what degree can Ireland, as an EU member state, and the United Nations respond in a way which will have a more immediate impact on the perpetrators of such abuses than is the case at present? I am conscious of the difficulties that exist in this area.

I agree with the Deputy. There appears to be a terribly slow response internationally to human rights abuses. If there was quicker response, there would not be so much abuse.

However, we are involved in an initiative which might be of interest to the Deputy. Ireland has worked and continues to work for the establishment of an international criminal court which will constitute a powerful and impartial instrument of justice in the field of international humanitarian law. Ireland supports the early establishment of an independent and effective court and will be represented at the United Nations diplomatic conference being held in Rome from 15 June to 17 July 1998 to finalise and adopt a convention on the establishment of the court.

The court relates to human rights crimes. Whereas the list of crimes which fall within the jurisdiction of the court has yet to be finalised, there appears to be widespread acceptance that it should be given jurisdiction to deal with crimes of exceptional gravity and depth. Most states, including Ireland, agree that the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and exceptionally serious war crimes should come within the remit of the court. The importance of the establishment of the court is that it will be a valuable instrument in ensuring that those who commit such crimes, many of which represent serious breaches of human rights, cannot do so with impunity.

I am sure the Deputy would welcome that development. I agree there is a problem in this regard, as one can see in cases such as Algeria and East Timor, where there has been trouble since 1976. There have been developments in East Timor in the recent past but they are not acceptable by the standards of what we seek to achieve, which is the recognition that human rights abuses occur and the need to ensure that human rights abuses, wherever they occur, come to an end.