Written Answers. - Ogoni People.

John Gormley

Question:

21 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the information available regarding the Ogoni people of Nigeria. [8226/98]

Jim Mitchell

Question:

22 Mr. J. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will raise the position of the Ogoni people in Nigeria with the Shell Corporation; and his views on the situation in the Ogoni region of Nigeria. [8248/98]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

68 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, he intends to take to secure the release of political prisoners in Nigeria and the demilitarisation of the Ogoni region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8155/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 22 and 68 together.

The Government remains gravely concerned at continuing human rights abuses and delays in the transition to democratic rule in Nigeria. With our EU partners we avail of every appropriate opportunity to support an early return to democracy and full respect for human rights and the rule of law in that country.

Our approach, which follows the relevant decision of the EU Council of Development Ministers on 28 November 1997, is particularly focused on the continued plight of Ogoni and other political prisoners and the unacceptable lack of due process in their cases. The very strong support given by Ireland to the decision of that Council to extend the EU common position on Nigeria and its restrictive measures until 1 November 1998 was a direct response to such human rights abuses. It followed our similarly strong support for the EU-sponsored resolution adopted at last year's session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. As a direct result of that resolution, a UN special rapporteur on human rights in Nigeria, Mr. Soli J. Sorabjee, was appointed. The Government will continue to urge the Nigerian authorities to co-operate fully with the special rapporteur and to allow him full access to political and other detainees. With other members of the international community we will be reviewing his work and the situation in Nigeria at this month's 54th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
In a direct approach to the Vatican in advance of the visit of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, to Nigeria on 21-23 March, the Union made known its relevant concerns, including about the situation in Ogoniland. Among these were the continued detention of 20 further Ogonis for trial, recent actions by the security forces in the region and the whereabouts and health of Mr. Batom Mitee. The latter's brother, Mr. Ludum Mitee, is the Acting President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People whom Deputies will recall came to Dublin to brief the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs last February.
As part of his ongoing efforts in relation to these matters, the Irish Ambassador in Lagos recently met and was briefed by the President of the Niger Delta Human and Environmental Rescue Organisation on human rights and environmental justice in Ogoniland and the Niger Delta. The concerns expressed by that organisation include the health and whereabouts of Batom Mitee since his arrest and the ransack of his property on 3 January, the deteriorating health and conditions reported in a letter received by the organisation from the 20 Ogonis being held in Port Harcourt Prison, the alleged killing by the security forces of a woman participant in the Ogoni Day procession at Bari on 4 January, repressive security responses and extra-judicial killings.
Concern was also expressed at the briefing about continued oil spillages and gas fires in various parts of the Niger Delta. The Government supports the view that multinationals should carefully consider the human rights and environmental aspects of their business operations. There is also an onus on the Nigerian Government and regional and local authorities to do likewise and to ensure that the benefits of mineral extraction are conferred on the local population without human rights or environmental abuses. The Government considers it important that multinationals involved in Nigeria should be aware of the strong position of Ireland and the European Union on human rights in Nigeria generally and in Ogoniland in particular. I will, therefore, take steps to ensure that the Shell Corporation is made aware of our policy in this regard. The approach of Ireland and our European partners in relation to Nigeria is based on two operational conclusions of the November Development Council, namely:— after six months — that is to say next month — the Union will assess, at Council level, the situation in Nigeria on the basis of a report from the Presidency, and, if elections fail to produce a return to democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria before 1 October 1998, the EU will adopt further measures in addition to those adopted on 4 December 1995.
These provisions are intended,inter alia, to keep the plight of Ogoni and other political detainees to the fore and reflect the particular significance which we attach to them in the overall context of human rights observance and democratic transition in Nigeria. The Government will continue to support strongly, including at this month's 54th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, concerted international action which will lead to an early return to democracy and full respect for human rights and the rule of law in Nigeria.