That Seanad Éireann noting with concern the obstacles facing the transportation and distribution of emergency food aid to the starving people in Ethiopia, appeals to all concerned to take the necessary action in order for food aid to be adequately distributed, and calls on the Government to use its good offices to effect a ceasefire between all the forces involved in the conflict in Ethiopia.
I welcome the opportunity to introduce this motion, although I am not happy to have to do so. I am unhappy to do so because even as we debate this motion — which, by the way, I earnestly hope will receive all-party support — human beings are starving to death and, I will contend, needlessly starving to death. Whenever a person dies needlessly it is a tragedy but when ten or 12 die needlessly it is an even greater tragedy. How terrible it is, therefore, that those at risk from famine in Ethiopia are not numbered in dozens, or scores, or hundreds, or thousands, or even hundreds of thousands. The number of people in Ethiopia who very shortly will not have enough to eat is six million. Do we need another holocaust? It is incumbent upon us not merely to express our concern, we must do something. When we recall the previous famine in that unfortunate land, when we recall the mass transfers of population in Ethiopia and the conflicts that are taking place, with periods of greater or lesser tension in most of the famine stricken regions, when we think of the enormous prestige expenditure recently incurred by the Ethiopian authorities, when we are aware that last year the rainfall in Ethiopia was far below normal and that in some areas it rained even less than during the period preceding the severe drought and famine of 1984 and 1985 and when we know that in these circumstances there is threat of another terrible famine in many parts of Ethiopia, since according to initial estimates there will be a shortage of 950,000 tonnes of cereals and six million people will not have enough to eat, surely we must be not merely moved to pity, we must compelled to take action. We are a small nation but our response on a previous occasion was excellent and we have, to the best of my knowledge, contributed to charities more per capita than any other country and I have no doubt that we can be relied upon to do the same again. I am sure one of the reasons is that we have a very vivid memory of having our own population decimated by famine when even our closest neighbours stood by and nobody would help us.
We are also contributing on another level through the European Community. The focus of much of the EC development effort is the Lomé Convention. This is a trade and aid agreement between the EC member states and 66 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, an essential clause of which makes respect for human dignity a condition of long-term paid projects in the Third World. I understand that in June of this year the EC is considering giving, under the Lomé Convention, 230 million ECUs to Ethiopia. This huge handout, approximately 300 million US dollars, is based on said-to-be-reform of agricultural policies. I am not against giving these moneys but I am opposed to the giving of these moneys without any controls to ensure that they are spent on famine relief and not on arms.
Many people have voiced concern that a good proportion of the aid sent to Ethiopia during the last famine period was misappropriated and they fear that this will happen again. Mr. Tony Baldry, Conservative MP for Banbury in Britain is reported in The London Times of December 17 as saying in the House of Commons in December last that the Ethiopian Government was spending three-quarters of the national wealth on arms and securing a four billion dollar credit from the Soviet Union for more, as well as “press-ganging” 300,000 young Ethiopians into the armed forces. It was also reported that on December 6 last year Russian MIG fighters, owned by the Ethiopian Government, bombed civilian targets in Hasmet in northern Eritrea.
At present in Ethiopia thousands of political prisoners are being held without trial. Not least of these are the ten members of the former Emperor Haile Selassie's family who have been incarcerated in extreme conditions of squalor and discomfort since the communist revolution of 1974. Of this mostly female group, whose only crime is their relationship to the former Emperor, the eldest is 76 and may soon become the second to die in custody. Many African countries who are signatories of the Lomé Convention are rightly concerned that Ethiopia's lack of respect for human rights and dignity diverts attention from the real issues of long-term aid and development.
Mrs. Margaret Daly, who is an MEP for Somerset and Dorset in Britain, said in January last year that while acting as co-president of the Lomé Convention's, EC, ACP, Joint Assembly that the Ethiopian ambassador begged her to give his country more time before bringing the issue before public attention. Why would the ambassador make such a request of Margaret Daly? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the statement emanating from the British Horn of Africa Council dated 25 February 1988 and kindly forwarded to me by the secretary of that organisation, Mr. Louis Fitzgibbon. The statement reads, and I quote:
The most serious cause of trouble not just in Ethiopia but in the whole area is the concentration of Ethiopian resources on military and paramilitary expenditure. Ethiopia maintains, with some help from Cuba and the Soviet Union, the largest army in the African continent; larger indeed than that of two much richer countries, Nigeria and South Africa.
The Statement goes on to say:
Part of these armed forces are engaged in the prosecution of the civil war in Eritrea and Tigre. It is not for this Council to pronounce upon the merits of either side in these conflicts but we have a right and, I think, a duty to protest at the refusal at the Ethiopian regime to accept the ceasefire to which the Eritrea and Tigre resistance movements have agreed in order to facilitate the passage of food to the famine stricken areas.
The "I" in that paragraph refers to Julian Amery, who is the President of the British Horn of Africa Council.
The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, April 12, reported that Ethiopian warplanes had dropped napalm on a food distribution centre and an orphanage in a rebel-held town in northern Ethiopia, killing and wounding at least 31 people. The MIG-21 aircraft made the bombing run on the town of Wukro in Tigre province on Saturday, 9 April.
Again in The Sunday Telegraph of 17 April this year there is a report, and I quote:
An Ethiopian Army ground assault, using hundreds of Russian-built tanks backed by squadrons of MIG fighter bombers dropping napalm and nerve gas, is expected to send several hundred thousand refugees trekking to the Sudanese border for food.
Napalm, as we know is a substance, used expertly in Vietnam which clings to the flesh and burns it. It is a sad reflection on any Government when they drop this on a place which is handing out food or on an orphanage. When the EC is planning to send money to a government which is doing this and intent on using nerve gas, I think questions have to be asked about this.
It is only after several years of pressure from the World Bank, aided more recently by the European Economic Community, that the Ethiopian Government is said to have agreed to liberalise its policy on marketing of food in different regions, to raise prices paid and introduce other incentives to encourage farmers to produce more. These reforms are viewed as essential by many western donors if there is to be any attempt to remedy the situation of structural food deficit which is ever-worsening in Ethiopia.
Alan Woods, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, estimated on January 5 of this year that famine would be almost unavoidable in two weeks. That time has long since passed. He stressed the inflexible nature of the Addis Ababa's Government agricultural policy. On December 18 Washington announced additional aid of 105,000 tonnes of food, bringing to 250,000 tonnes the total U.S. assistance already pledged to Ethiopia for 1988. Canada promised to supply an extra 20,000 tonnes of food, along with one million Canadian dollars for the purchase of spare parts. However, to put that in context I have a little quotation here from the Indian Ocean Newsletter of January 9, 1988. It says:
Although it is necessary, the liberalisation of Ethiopia's agricultural policy will not fundamentally resolve the national food deficit problem whose basic cause is civil war which takes up 60 per cent of the State budget.
The Indian Ocean Newsletter goes on to comment:
In this respect, neither the Soviet Union nor the West is pressing for a political settlement of the Eritrean conflict.
We are not the only ones who are concerned about this problem. I refer to an extract from Hansard, the record of the proceedings of the British House of Commons. In written answers on 11 December 1987 dealing with Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, specifically Ethiopia, Mr. Julian Amery had the following question:
To ask the Secretary of State of Foreign and Commonwealth affairs if he will call upon the Ethiopian Government, and the resistance movements against which they are fighting, to negotiate a ceasefire so that aid provided by her Majesty's Government should reach the victims of the famine as soon as possible.
Mrs. Linda Chalker, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said in a written answer:
The Twelve issued a statement on 13 November condemning attacks by rebel groups on food aid convoys and urging that no obstacle be put in the way of the transportation of food aid. With our European partners we have repeatedly urged progress towards a peaceful solution of the internal conflicts in Ethiopia. A ceasefire based on humanitarian considerations would relieve much suffering and assist relief efforts.
That last sentence of that written reply — a ceasefire based on humanitarian considerations — is an important one. This is a highly significant call for a ceasefire from the British Government and it applies equally to the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia as it does to the resistance movements fighting in different parts of Ethiopia.
I should like to see a similar call emanating from our own Government here but phased in much stronger and much clearer terms. What would I like to see happen? I would like to see the Government welcome the speedy action of the European Commission in response to calls for emergency food aid including transport and relevant infrastructures. I would like to see the Government call on the Ethiopian authorities to do everything in their power to facilitate the handling and distribution of this emergency aid to ensure that it reaches those really in need. I would like to see the Government call on the Ethiopian Government to agree to ceasefire with the forces in Tigre and Eritrea in order for food aid to be adequately distributed. I would like to hear the Government call for the continuation of emergency aid as long as current prevailing conditions persist.
I wish that our Government would express alarm at reports that forced resettlement and villagisation programmes may be re-introduced and call on the European Commission to obtain assurance that any such programmes will be undertaken on a voluntary basis only, that they will be fully respected and that they will fully respect the human rights of those involved. I want to hear our Government call on the Ethiopian Government to release, without further delay, those political prisoners and detainees, including members of the family of the former emperor, who have not been charged or tried as required under article 44 of the new Ethiopian Constitution. I would like to hear our Government call on the European Commission to re-affirm in all their negotiations with the Ethiopian Government that respect for human dignity has been formally recognised by all parties as one of the essential elements of the EC-ACP relationship and that continuing offences against human rights and unworkable transfer of population policies will bring into question the continuation of longer term aid.
I want the Minister to take this debate up to the Cabinet table and down to the floor of the Lower House. When the Minister makes a reply I do not want to hear a wishy-washy statement about the Twelve doing all they can. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Minister will do this, but I would appreciate a reply with a bit of bite to it. The other statements have already been made. For example, a reply to the European Parliament about the problem on behalf of the Ten in June 1983 — as far back as that — stated that "while considering that the Eritrean problem is an internal matter for Ethiopia, the Ten express the hope that a political solution can be found which will bring an end to violence, ensure the observance of human rights and take account of the historic and cultural identity of Eritrea." More recently, in their statement of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in July last year, the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve "urged the governments concerned to take further steps to achieve the peaceful settlement of internal conflicts".
We are all agreed about the depressing state of affairs in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government's human rights record is very poor and their economic policies contribute to the dreadful recurring famine. There has been no evidence in recent years that either the Ethiopian Government or the other belligerents have been serious in seeking anything other than military solutions to their problems, though the provisions on "autonomous regions" under the new Constitution may just provide a ray of hope.
There is so far no sign of a Soviet reluctance to supply Ethiopia's military needs. In general, policy towards Ethiopia presents us here with a dilemma. We and other donors need to provide humanitarian assistance to the starving without conditions. We also need to apply all the pressure we can on the Ethiopian Government to make changes in their economic policies, to improve their agricultural production. We have to take a strong line in the European Community and maintain momentum. Let Ireland take the lead in this regard. Signor Lorenzo Natali, Vice-President of the European Commission, said in December 1987 that "the Commission is ready to act in co-ordination, both with other Community institutions as well as with international institutions, in any effort to bring peace inside the Ethiopian borders." He said he was sceptical about the usefulness and the effects of a truce call in civil war regions. He went on to say, "but I certainly will not be in the way if one or more member states want to put forward a proposal for collective action". I hope we will be in the vanguard of that collective action.
I look forward to hearing the views of other Senators on this matter. May I remind all here present that, when we leave this Chamber this evening after this debate, to enjoy dinner in the plush surroundings of the Members' dining room, there will be people not so very far away who at this time have not, and have no hope of getting, sufficient food to even exist at the most basic level. Those of us who have visited Ethiopia, those of us who have talked with relief workers and those of us who have seen on television the gaunt faces of mothers with eyes bereft of hope and the pitiful figures of babies and children with swollen bellies, cannot but be moved to pity and impelled to action.
I will finish with a quotation from a 19th century work, "The Present Crisis" by James Russell Lowell:
"Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood for the Good or Evil side."
Let there be no equivocation on the part of Ireland in this most sad, tragic and imminent matter, I ask that the motion be supported.