I have strongly condemned the abduction by the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok on 14 April. I am also appalled by the reported abduction of a further 11 girls on 4 May. Through our development policies and programmes, Ireland is a strong supporter of the rights of women and girls, and in particular the right of girls to education. I have given my full support to the demands of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the High Representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, that the girls be released and that those responsible be brought to justice. I welcome the support now being provided to the Nigerian authorities from a number of our EU partners and from the US, to help find the missing schoolgirls. I also welcome the decision on 22 May by the UN Security Council Al Qaida Sanctions Committee to impose financial sanctions and an arms embargo on Boko Haram. The primary responsibility to secure the safe release of the school girls rests with the Nigerian authorities. I urge the Government of Nigeria to take all appropriate steps to protect their citizens and to ensure that the girls can return safely to their families, and to education.
At its meeting in Brussels on 12 May, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted Conclusions expressing the EU's concern at the recent terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria and the suffering caused to the population. The Council strongly condemned the abduction of the schoolgirls and called for their immediate and unconditional release. It underlined the EU's readiness to support the Nigerian authorities in the resolution of this despicable crime and their ongoing efforts to defeat terrorism in all its forms, in full respect of human rights. The EU is already supporting the Nigerian authorities to strengthen their capacity to provide security and combat terrorism. An EU support programme to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of terrorist suspects will begin later this month. It will include EU technical assistance to counter violent extremism and radicalisation.
Our Embassy in Abuja is working closely with our EU partners and others on the ground and maintaining contact with the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to locate and free the missing schoolgirls. Officials from my Department have also been in contact with the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin to express concern at the ongoing situation and to request regular updates on the actions by the Nigerian authorities to recover the abducted schoolgirls.
At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2014, Ireland highlighted attacks by Boko Haram during discussions with the UN Special Representatives for Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict. Our objective was to draw attention to the ongoing trend of attacks on education around the world and to highlight the importance of ensuring that the right of children to education is upheld during and after conflict.