Written Answers. - Human Rights Abuses.

Monica Barnes

Question:

33 Mrs. Barnes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to reports of the treatment of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22181/98]

Michael Ring

Question:

39 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement outlining the situation in Afghanistan; and the role, if any, played by the EU in the region. [22063/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 39 together.

The situation in Afghanistan has become increasingly serious over the past year. The Taliban faction are now believed to control more than 90 per cent of the total land area of the country. The Government and the international community in general have been particularly concerned by reports in recent months of massacres of innocent civilians and executions of prisoners of war in Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere in northern Afghanistan. The non-compliance with the basic principles of international law is clearly one of the main causes of an alarming rise in tension in the region in general.

The European Unions approach to the Afghanistan crisis has been outlined in the Common Position which was adopted on 26 January of this year in the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Union's objectives in relation to Afghanistan continue to be as set out in that Common Position, namely: to bring about a sustainable peace and encourage dialogue between the various Afghan factions; to promote regional stability; to promote respect for human rights; to provide effective humanitarian aid; to reinforce the fight against drugs and terrorism; to assist in peace-building activities.

In keeping with this Common Position, the European Union has channelled aid through its ECHO programme to the extent of 26.7 million ECU so far this year. The EU is currently the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Bilaterally, Ireland has contributed this year £100,000 in emergency humanitarian assistance as well as £103,000 to rehabilitation programmes run by non-governmental organisations.

With regard to the treatment of women in Afghanistan, the European Union has denounced the continuing discrimination against girls and women. It has underlined on several occasions that it attaches the highest importance to respect for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It has undertaken to urge the Afghan factions to end discriminatory policies and to recognise, protect and promote the equal rights and dignity of men and women — including access to education and health facilities, employment outside the home, personal security and freedom from intimidation and harassment. I have repeatedly joined with my European Union colleagues accordingly in calling upon the Taliban Interim Council and other Afghan factions to respect basic human rights and to prevent gender discrimination in every way possible. I wish to assure Deputies that the Government will continue to monitor the situation in Afghanistan closely in co-operation with the relevant international bodies.