Foreign Conflicts.

I take this opportunity to raise the issue of the basic civil rights of two repressed nationalities, namely, the Kurdish people and the very small nation of Chechnya. In past centuries, when we lived under the depths of a repressive regime, our ancestors found it inspiring that people in other lands at least raised the key issues and key sufferings of our people.

More than 30% of the Republic of Turkey is the homeland of the Kurdish people who now number in the region of 20 million of just over 60 million in the Turkish State. For most of the history of modern Turkey, from 1922 to 1925, the Kurdish people have been repressed in cultural and linguistic terms in relation to their rights to broadcast and free assembly. Like ourselves, in the lead up to the Treaty of Versailles, they expected to have an independent Kurdistan or, as they were promised by Kemal Ataturk, the rights of autonomy of, say, Scotland within the United Kingdom. After 1925 they were cruelly disabused of this. I raised the issue earlier in the Dáil with the Minister, Deputy Cowen. Obviously, in recent years, Turkey has had a European destiny, which I welcome. Eventually it will be a sister state of ours. However, it is vitally important for Ireland to ensure that as the accession protocol is worked through, the demands we make in relation to the civil, political, religious and other rights of the Kurdish people of the Turkish state are fully realised.

The new Government of Tayip Erdogan and his justice and development party have promised major reforms. While they have abolished the death penalty and lifted some of the restrictions on broadcasting in the Kurdish language, the position for Kurdish civil society is very difficult. Up to 2004, when the Taoiseach will make a decision on Turkey, we must insist that the rights of the Kurdish people are recognised, at least on the basis of an autonomous state, which they were promised. Kurdistan is the great nation of Saladin. It has a glorious mediaeval 3000 year history like ours. Following the horrible war in Iraq, there may be the development of an autonomous Kurdish homeland in Iraq. It is important that the Kurdish people of Turkey also get freedom.

I want to turn to the situation in Chechnya. This is a very small country and territory within the Russian Federation. It is approximately the size of Munster with a population of one million people. The Danish human rights and refugee body which is active in the country estimates that there are only 750,000 Chechnyans in their homeland at the moment. Just like Turkey, Russia has a great European destiny, one of the greatest centres of European civilisation. I welcome the achievements of the Russian people in the 20th century, including the massive impact they had, particularly in defeating fascism, and the strides that have been made under President Putin. It must be said, however, that a ferocious and savage war has been fought in Chechnya. There has been a recent referendum to try to establish a normal civil state. The powers given to the Chechnyan people are still extremely limited. The President can be dismissed at will by the Russian President.

If the Russian Federation is to develop into a real federation on the basis of the United States or Germany, it is crucial that the Chechnyan people get their full civil rights and that the policies and brutal campaigns carried out during the 1990s are discontinued. It is estimated that at least 5,000 young Russian men and women died in these battles, some 250,000 people have been displaced and there has been intense suffering. There was the horrendous seizure of the theatre in Moscow when 129 innocent people died and the administration building in Grozny was blown up.

It is crucial that our small country is prepared to say to a sister European country, a joint federation of 145 million people, that we are not happy about the events which have taken place in Chechnya in the past ten years and that we expect a European state to behave in a democratic way.

I thank the Deputy for raising these questions. I wish to comment separately on the two distinct issues, namely, the situation in Chechnya and the situation of the Kurdish population in Turkey, which are referred to in the motion for the adjournment this evening. As regards Chechnya, I assure the House that the Government remains very concerned about the human rights situation there and the prospects for a peace settlement. Clearly a settlement would improve the humanitarian situation of ordinary Chechen people who have been affected by the conflict. Since 1997, Ireland has allocated nearly €1.7 million for humanitarian assistance to the civilian population there which has been channelled through international aid agencies operating on the ground and in the region.

Together with our EU partners, we have repeatedly made clear that the development of EU relations with Russia should be based on respect for human rights and the principles of the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. While we acknowledge the right of the Government of the Russian Federation to defend its territorial integrity, to overcome terrorism and crime and to protect its population, we believe the fight against terrorism in the Russian Federation as elsewhere must be conducted in accordance with internationally-accepted human rights standards. Consequently, the Government continues to work with partners in the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe to encourage progress towards a political settlement in Chechnya and to encourage respect for the rule of law and an end to the culture of impunity.

The EU tabled a resolution on the human rights situation in Chechnya for the UN Commission on Human Rights, UNCHR, in Geneva earlier this month which we hope will be adopted. Another key outstanding issue on the human rights front relates to the request from the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, the current chairman in office of the OSCE, to the Russian side to re-open a permanent OSCE presence in Chechnya. Discussion on this issue will take place in Moscow later this month and Ireland is strongly supporting the Netherlands efforts on this important issue.

My colleague and Minister with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Roche, raised the Chechnya issue at the European Union Council of Ministers in Brussels yesterday. He specifically asked the Presidency to see how best to have a review of the situation in Chechnya included on the agenda of the EU Russia summit which will take place in St. Petersburg on 31 May 2003. The St. Petersburg summit will be attended by heads of state or Government of all EU member states and we hope that the agenda can encompass dialogue with Russia on all important issues, including the situation in Chechnya.

The Minister also sought an up-date on Chechnya from the Deputy Russian Minster for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Chizhov, when he met him in Dublin last week. The Minister indicated that the situation was improving in Chechnya and the Minister, Deputy Roche, mentioned the importance of having an inclusive political dialogue in developing a sustainable peace process.

Ireland hopes that the referendum which took place on 23 March may mark a first step towards a political solution to the Chechnyan conflict and that the recent steps towards democratisation and the rule of law may be maintained. Some commentators consider the result as a clear expression of a yearning for hope and a profound longing for peace among the ordinary Chechen population, while the validity of the result has been questioned by human rights NGOs. The timetable now is for presidential elections in December 2003 followed by parliamentary elections in 2004.

We note with interest recent significant political statements by President Putin that have acknowledged the need for the military to respect the civilian population, the importance of reaching an agreement between Chechnya and Moscow and compensation for civilians who have lost their properties or business. These statements have also highlighted the need for reconstruction as a priority as well as the fact that consideration is being given to some form of amnesty. We look forward to practical follow-ups on these important statements that could provide a basis for a new, conditional EU engagement to assist democratisation, recovery and a political settlement to the benefit of all the ordinary people of Chechnya.

Ireland will continue to work for decisive advances across the broad front of relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation. A close and fruitful relationship between the two is necessary to ensure stability and progress on the Eurasian landmass and beyond.

The conflict in Iraq has heightened the concerns of Kurdish populations in the region. It has also once again drawn international public attention to the situation of Kurds in Iraq and neighbouring states. The Government has been concerned at the potential impact of the conflict on Kurdish populations. While the situation in northern Iraq appears to be stabilising, we continue to urge all governments involved to exercise the greatest care to ensure that the rights and physical security of these populations are fully respected.