Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (46, 47, 48, 49)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

175 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the benefits flowing from the Government’s recent change in its attitude towards the military junta in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25326/04]

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Eamon Gilmore

Question:

180 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the practical benefits that have flown from the Government’s change of position in relation to dialogue with the military regime that has been holding the democratically elected choice of the people in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25292/04]

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Paul Kehoe

Question:

190 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Dutch Government has maintained links with Burma, extended by Ireland during its Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25236/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 175, 180 and 190 together.

The Government has pursued a strong and consistent line in support of democracy in Burma. Both Ireland, and our EU partners, remain strongly critical of the continued detention under house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the absence of political progress, serious and persistent human rights abuses and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Burma.

The issue of Burma is raised in all our bilateral political contacts with relevant third countries, particularly Burma's Asian neighbours. Most recently, the Taoiseach raised the issue of Burma both at the fifth ASEM summit, which took place from 7 to 9 October in Hanoi, and during his visits to Malaysia and Singapore which followed. He also reviewed the current situation with the UN Secretary General's special representative for Burma, Mr. Razali, during his visit to Kuala Lumpur on 11 October 2004. During our EU Presidency, the Government ensured that the issue of Burma was regularly discussed in consultations with third countries. This practice has been carried forward by the Netherlands Presidency, which has demonstrated a similar commitment to fostering democracy in Burma. Burma figured high on the agenda at the ASEM Foreign Ministers' meeting which my predecessor hosted in Kildare in April 2004 as well as at the preceding informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers held at Tullamore.

There was considerable hope at that time that the Burmese regime was about to release Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her party to participate in the national convention. Indeed, the Burmese Foreign Minister at the time, since dismissed, announced publicly that Aung San Suu Kyi was about to be released. This optimism was reflected in the decision by EU Ministers in Tullamore to indicate that if Aung San Suu Kyi were released, the NLD invited to participate in the national convention and the convention permitted to operate free from harassment, the EU would be ready to re-examine its engagement with Burma.

Regrettably, the expected positive developments have not been forthcoming. Lack of support from our Asian partners meant that the EU was not able to prevent Burma's participation in the newly enlarged Asia-Europe meeting, ASEM, short of provoking the collapse of ASEM. Nevertheless, the EU used the recent ASEM summit to make clear its opposition to the actions of the Burmese regime. The Taoiseach, in his intervention, questioned why Aung San Suu Kyi has not been released, and why there has not been greater progress towards democracy in Burma. Immediately following the summit, on 10 October, the Union took the decision to reinforce sanctions against the Burmese regime.

The Government has also acted in regard to the establishment of diplomatic relations. The decision to establish diplomatic relations on a non-resident basis, which was announced on 13 February this year, was taken in the context of increased engagement leading to the anticipated progress to which I have referred. Given the lack of progress, in particular the refusal of the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the exchange of ambassadors has been put on hold. The Government has, in effect, pressed the pause button. I hope that the situation will move forward in the future and that it will be possible to resume progress on the exchange of ambassadors.

The Government's continuing goal, and that of the EU, remains the release and restoration of liberty to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the return of democracy to Burma, an end to human rights violations, and the realisation of peace and prosperity for the long suffering people of Burma.

Joe Costello

Question:

176 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of contacts he has had with the International Committee of the Red Cross on the operation of the Geneva Convention with regard to the prisoners being held in Iraq, or who have been removed from Iraq; the number of prisoners and if they are being held in accordance with the principles of international law; if he proposes to raise these matters with the appropriate authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25288/04]

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The International Committee of the Red Cross plays a crucial role in protecting the interests of prisoners held as a result of conflict. The Red Cross has access to the US detention facilities in Iraq where it is understood between 4,600 and 5,100 persons are being held. A further 50 persons are held by UK forces. In addition to highlighting shortcomings in detention facilities, the Red Cross has also acknowledged remedial actions taken by the US authorities. The Government has not received any representations from the ICRC in relation to the operation of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, but officials of my Department remain in frequent contact with the Red Cross on a wide range of humanitarian issues, including that of prisoners in Iraq.

From the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, the Government has called on all parties to respect their obligations both in regard to the status of civilians and in regard to prisoners of war. The Government's position is in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003, which calls upon all concerned to comply fully with their obligations under international law including, in particular, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and The Hague Regulations of 1907. The treatment of prisoners of war is specifically covered by the third Geneva Convention.

When evidence of mistreatment by multi-national forces of some prisoners in Iraq came to light earlier this year, the Government publicly and strongly condemned these abuses, and made our concerns known directly to the countries involved.