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Human Rights Issues.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 5 May 2005

Thursday, 5 May 2005

Questions (206, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213)

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

206 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the status of the Nobel Laureate and democracy leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi and her ongoing house arrest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14638/05]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I refer the Deputy to the reply to Questions Nos. 7, 24, 29, 67 and 74 of 28 April 2005, a copy of which is set out below:

The Government has consistently condemned the lack of progress towards democracy in Burma and the continuing abuse of human rights and fundamental freedoms in that country. Together with our EU partners, we remain gravely concerned about the continuing house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, other opposition activists and a number of MPs elected in 1990. On 2 December 2004, the Minister for Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the decision of the Burmese Government to extend the detention under house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi for another year. The Minister also called on the Burmese authorities to allow the special envoy of the Secretary General, Razali Ismail, to travel to Burma at the earliest opportunity, including for the purpose of visiting Aung San Suu Kyi. The EU Presidency issued a similar statement on 10 December 2004.

On 2 March 2005, the Minister for Foreign Affairs met Harn Yawnghwe, Director of the European Office for the Development of Democracy in Burma, which is a joint project of the European Commission and the Olaf Palme International Centre of Sweden. Mr. Yawnghwe was accompanied by members of Burma Action Ireland. The meeting provided a useful opportunity to reiterate the Government's position in support of democracy, human rights and national reconciliation in Burma and also to detail Ireland's response to the impact in that country of the recent tsunami. The discussions also looked forward to the EU-ASEAN foreign ministers meeting scheduled for later that month.

I represented Ireland at this meeting which was held in Jakarta from 10 to 11 March 2005. The meeting included a frank exchange of views on the situation in Burma. Together with my EU colleagues, I was the first speaker to call for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the re-opening of all National League for Democracy offices and the full involvement of all opposition parties and ethnic groups in the work of the National Convention which had resumed deliberations on 17 February 2005 but without participation by the opposition. Ireland and our EU partners again urged Burma to allow full access to the special representative of the UN Secretary General who last visited that country in March 2004. Unfortunately, the National Convention, in the absence of the main opposition, lacked credibility and it was adjourned on 31 March 2005 by the Burmese authorities to an unspecified date in the autumn. On 14 April 2005, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights passed without a vote a resolution introduced by the EU and co-sponsored by Ireland criticising systematic violation of human rights in Burma, calling for the restoration of democracy and freedom for all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. When the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, met the Burmese Prime Minister, Than Shwe, during the Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta on 23 April 2005, he repeated the concern of the international community about the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and the need for democratic reform.

In response to the lack of progress in Burma, on 25 April 2005, the General Affairs and External Relations Council agreed to extend the EU Common Position on Burma for a further 12 months. The Common Position includes a visa ban on named senior members of the Burmese regime and members of their families aged over 18 years as well as a freeze on all their financial assets in the European Union. It also prohibits EU-registered companies from financing loans to named Burmese state-owned enterprises. The forthcoming ASEM, Asia-Europe foreign ministers' meeting, which is scheduled for 6 to 7 May 2005 in Kyoto, will provide an early opportunity to reiterate EU concerns about the situation in Burma to the Burmese authorities and their Asian neighbours.

While the members of ASEAN generally defend the principle of non-interference in each other's internal affairs, concern that the rotating chairmanship of the organisation is due to be held by Burma in 2006 has been growing among a number of its members. The ASEAN foreign ministers held an informal meeting in the Philippines on 11 and 12 April and agreed to defer a decision on this issue until their formal ministerial meeting in Laos in July. On 20 April 2005, the Philippines Senate unanimously approved a resolution that Burma should not assume the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006 unless there had been an improvement in the human rights situation, including the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi. Ireland and our EU partners, however, wish to see Burma's neighbours pressing much more strongly for progress towards democracy in that country.

The EU will now await the outcome of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Laos in July before taking a decision on the question of the Union's presence or otherwise at the Asia Regional Forum and ASEAN post-ministerial meetings during 2006. We are aware that the United States indicated last year that it would not attend ASEAN-related meetings with Burma in the chair. However, it is appropriate in the context of EU-ASEAN relations to allow for further discussion of this issue in ASEAN before coming to a decision on the EU's position. Regarding the outcome of the National Convention, now standing adjourned once more, it is clear that an eventual outcome falling short of minimum democratic standards would not be acceptable to Ireland or the EU.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

207 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the status of the investigation into the disappearance of a person (details supplied) in Belarus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14639/05]

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The disappearance of Mr. Victor Gonchar, formerly deputy speaker of the Belarus Parliament, is one of a group of four disappearances dating back to 1999-2000 which have never been satisfactorily investigated by the Belarus authorities despite sustained international pressure. In my reply to an oral question about the political situation in Belarus on 28 April, I mentioned that the latest resolution adopted by the Commission on Human Rights about Belarus again urged the Government of Belarus to respond urgently to a number of cases of grave human rights abuses, dating back several years, which it has failed to clarify; and that these included disappearances. Ireland, along with all other EU member states, the United States of America and Canada co-sponsored the resolution.

The Pourgourides report of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe — named after the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly's committee on legal affairs and human rights who produced it in January 2004 — alerted the international community to the issue. The report concluded that a proper investigation of four disappearances in the period 1999-2000 had not been carried out and that there were reasons to believe there had been a high-level cover up. In addition to Mr. Victor Gonchar, the persons in question are his friend Mr. Anatoli Krasovski, a former Minister of the Interior, Mr. Yuri Zakharenko and a cameraman for a Russian TV channel, Mr. Dmitri Zvadski.

Throughout last year, including in the run up to the parliamentary elections and referendum of 17 October, the EU singled out these cases on all appropriate occasions. The Council conclusions of 22 November, the Council's most recent comprehensive statement of policy on Belarus, again urged the Belarus authorities to conduct an independent investigation of the disappearances of three opposition politicians and a journalist in 1999-2000 and to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

In view of the gravity of the crimes and of the absence of any appropriate response from the Belarus authorities, the EU in December 2004 placed a visa ban on four persons responsible for, but who failed to initiate, an independent investigation and prosecution. Considered by the Pourgourides report to be key actors in the disappearances and the subsequent cover up, the four persons whose entry or transit through their territory EU member states are required to prevent are Sivakov, Yury Leonidovitch, Minister of Tourism and Sport of Belarus, Sheyman, Victor Vladimirovich, head of presidential administration of Belarus, Pavlichenko, Dmitri Valeriyevich, officer of the special forces of Belarus, Naumov, Vladimir Vladimirovich, Minister of the Interior.

The unsatisfactory situation with respect to these disappearances is an egregious example of the general lack of progress towards democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights in Belarus which continues to impede EU and bilateral relations with that country.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

208 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the status of the investigation into the deaths of Burundi Members of Parliament, Mr. Mfayokurena and Mr. Ndikumana (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14640/05]

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Mr. Sylvestre Mfayokurera, a member of the then Burundian Parliament, was assassinated in August 1994 while Mr. Innocent Ndikumana, also a member of Parliament, was attacked and killed by a group of Tutsi militia on 16 December 1995. Both men had been elected to parliament as members of the Hutu FRODEBU party in 1993. To date, no persons have been charged or convicted in connection with either killing. I understand, however, that one of the suspects in the murder of Mr. Mfayokurera has since been apprehended in connection with another crime while arrest warrants have now been issued for two people suspected of murdering Mr. Ndikumana. I also understand that a working group of the transitional national assembly, which replaced the Parliament, was established in April 2003 to consider, in conjunction with the Burundian public prosecutor and the Burundian government, how the investigations into the murder of a number of parliamentarians could be reactivated.

The failure to apprehend those responsible for killing Mr. Mfayokurera and Mr. Ndikumana highlights the general problem of impunity in Burundi and the need for greater efforts on the part of the Burundian Government to strengthen the rule of law and put in place an effective system of justice in the country, following the long period of conflict from which that country is emerging. This is an issue which the Irish Government has consistently raised in bilateral discussions with the Burundian Government, especially, in the context of the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in 2003. Ireland and its EU partners played a key role in ensuring adoption of a consensus resolution at the recent session of the Commission on Human Rights, calling upon the Burundian Government to ensure that those responsible for serious human rights crimes, such as the murders of Mr. Mfayokurera and Mr. Ndikumana, are brought to justice. The resolution also provides for appointment of an independent expert to continue examining the situation of human rights in Burundi.

It is encouraging that President Ndayizeye signed into law in January 2005 the legislation providing for the establishment of the national truth and reconciliation commission, as required under the terms of the Arusha peace accords of 2000. On 11 March 2005, UN Secretary General Annan recommended to the UN Security Council that the commission should be complemented by the establishment of a special chamber within the Burundian justice system for the purpose of trying those suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since Burundi attained its independence in 1962. The Security Council is still considering the Secretary General's proposals which are intended to help strengthen the judicial system within Burundi. The progress in initiating the truth and reconciliation process in Burundi will hopefully contribute to renewed investigation into the murders of Mr. Mfayokurera and Mr. Ndikumana and to ensuring that those responsible are apprehended and finally brought to justice.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

209 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the status of the investigation into attempts on the life of a person (details supplied) of Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14641/05]

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Mr. Norbert Ndihokubwayo, currently assistant secretary general of the Hutu FRODEBU parliamentary group in the Burundian transitional national assembly, was the subject of two unsuccessful assassination attempts in September 1994 and December 1995. He was a member of the Burundian parliament at that time. Following these events, Mr. Ndihokubwayo fled into exile, though he returned to Burundi in December 2001 and resumed his parliamentary duties. To date, no person has been charged or convicted in connection with these attempts on Mr. Ndihokubwayo's life. I understand that a working group of the transitional national assembly, which replaced the parliament, was established in April 2003 in order to consider, in conjunction with the Burundian public prosecutor and the Burundian Government, how the investigation into the attempted assassination could be reactivated. The case of Mr. Ndihokubwayo highlights the general problem of impunity in Burundi and the need for greater efforts on the part of the Burundian Government to strengthen the rule of law and put in place an effective system of justice in the country, following the long period of conflict from which that country is emerging.

This is an issue which the Irish Government has consistently raised in bilateral discussions with the Burundian Government, especially in the context of the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in 2003. Ireland and its EU partners played a key role in ensuring adoption of a consensus resolution at the recent session of the Commission on Human Rights calling upon the Burundian Government to ensure that those responsible for serious human rights crimes, such as the attempted murder of Mr. Ndihokubwayo, are brought to justice. The resolution also provides for appointment of an independent expert to continue examining the situation of human rights in Burundi.

It is encouraging that President Ndayizeye signed into law in January 2005 the legislation providing for the establishment of the national truth and reconciliation commission, as required under the terms of the Arusha peace accords of 2000. On 11 March 2005, UN Secretary General Annan recommended to the UN Security Council that the commission should be complemented by the establishment of a special chamber within the Burundian justice system, for the purpose of trying those suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since Burundi attained its independence in 1962. The Security Council is still considering the Secretary General's proposals which are intended to help strengthen the judicial system within Burundi.

The progress in initiating the truth and reconciliation process in Burundi will hopefully contribute to a renewed and more successful investigation into the circumstances of the attempted murder of Mr. Ndihokubwayo and to ensuring that those responsible are apprehended and finally brought to justice.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

210 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the status of the investigation into the dismissing from the Parliament of Cambodia of persons, Mr. Chang Song, Mr. Siphan Phay and Mr. Savath Pou; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14642/05]

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I am aware that the governing council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, adopted a resolution on 8 April 2005 concerning the dismissal of Mr. Chang Song, Mr. Siphan Phay and Mr. Savath Phou from the Cambodian Senate in 2001. I understand that their dismissal from Parliament followed on their expulsion from the Cambodian People's Party.

In this regard, Ireland and its EU partners continue to monitor the political situation in Cambodia, including the position of parliamentarians. On 10 February 2005, for example, the EU issued a statement expressing concern at the decision by the Cambodian government on 3 February 2005 to suspend the parliamentary immunity of three members of the opposition, and to arrest one of them.

Ireland, together with EU partners, co-sponsored a resolution on advisory services and technical co-operation in the field of human rights in Cambodia at the recent session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The resolution, which was adopted on 20 April, urged the Cambodian Government to continue to strengthen its efforts to establish the rule of law, including through the adoption and implementation of essential laws and codes for establishing a democratic society. It also called on the Cambodian government to continue to address, as a matter of priority, the problem of impunity and to continue to strengthen its judicial reform efforts. The resolution also called on the Cambodian authorities to continue to create an environment conducive to the conduct of legitimate political activity and to continue its efforts to improve good governance.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

211 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the status of the investigation into the assassinations of persons (details supplied), all members of the Parliament of Colombia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14643/05]

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Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

212 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of the investigation into the death threats against a person (details supplied) in Colombia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14644/05]

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Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

213 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the status of the investigation into the kidnapping of a person (details supplied) in Colombia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14645/05]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 211 to 213, inclusive, together.

Ireland monitors the human rights situation in Colombia along with its partners in the European Union. The General Affairs and External Relations Council at its meeting on 13 December 2004 reiterated the EU's concern over the grave human rights and international humanitarian law situation in Colombia. In regard to the cases referred to by the Deputy, there is strong evidence of the involvement of the right-wing paramilitary group AUC, with allegations of participation by elements of the security forces in at least one instance. In some of the cases, people associated with the AUC or the security forces were detained as suspects but subsequently released or acquitted.

This illustrates the importance of tackling impunity and the need to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for such crimes. However, it is important to recognise that, while all the cases mentioned in these questions appear to have involved right-wing elements, other illegal armed groups in Colombia are also involved in murder, displacements, threats and kidnappings. The Deputy will recall that the left-wing guerrilla group, FARC, has held captive former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt as a kidnap victim since 2002, along with many other civilians. The ELN, another left-wing guerrilla group, has also explicitly stated recently that it will not cease its widespread practice of kidnapping civilians.

In the Colombian peace process, an essential element is the need for a comprehensive legal framework for the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the illegal armed groups, based on the principles of truth, justice and reparation. This was emphasised in the Cartagena declaration which was adopted at a meeting on international support for Colombia on 3 and 4 February 2005 in Cartagena at which Ireland was represented. The Colombian Government has since then introduced a justice and peace Bill in the Colombian Congress, which it argues will provide such a framework. Ireland was actively involved in negotiating the recent chairperson's statement on the situation of human rights in Colombia which was adopted on 22 April 2005 at the 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The statement appeals to the Government of Colombia increasingly to address the issue of impunity and to take action to improve the capacity and effectiveness of the judicial system and to take action where evidence of collusion with the paramilitary forces is found.

My Department will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia, and particularly the progress of the justice and peace Bill, through our embassy in Mexico City, as well as in co-operation with our EU partners with resident embassies in Colombia.

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