Wednesday, 31 March 2004

Ceisteanna (7, 8)

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

7 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent contact with the Government of China on behalf of Falun Dafa practitioners (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9992/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (21 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

The Government takes seriously concerns about human rights in China, including those of Falun Dafa members. The issue of the treatment in China of followers of Falun Dafa has been raised both bilaterally and through the formal framework of the EU-China human rights dialogue, which was established in 1996. Through the dialogue, the EU shares with China its experience in the field of human rights protection and promotion, and urges China to take clear steps to improve the human rights situation generally, and more specifically with respect to the freedoms of expression, religion and belief, which have a particular impact on individual practitioners of Falun Dafa.

The last session of the EU-China human rights dialogue took place in Dublin on 26-27 February. Ireland, as President of the EU, discussed with China a wide range of human rights issues of concern, including individual cases of alleged human rights abuses. Among the cases raised were those of the individuals of concern to the Deputy. A response was subsequently received from the Chinese authorities. This stated that one of the individuals had been sentenced to re-education through labour for two years but had been relatively quickly released on bail so he could seek medical attention. We understand that he is in hospital receiving treatment. The response on the second individual was vague, stating the authorities had no record of the person being admitted to a labour institute.

The cases to which the Deputy refers involve Chinese citizens. They are subject to Chinese law while in their own country and, as they are not Irish citizens, we have no consular function in this matter. However, because of our concerns about the human rights situation in China, we were prepared to raise the cases.

What an appalling abuse of language in a response from the Chinese Government to the Irish Government or to the European Union when it was stated that people are being admitted to a labour institute or that one may be sentenced to two years labour for re-education. For a government to think such language is normal in communicating with the European Union or the Irish Government, on behalf of the European Union, is an indictment in itself. During the February meeting of the EU-China human rights dialogue, did the Minister of State specifically raise with the Chinese authority the Falun Dafa case, and what was its response to the Falun Dafa movement in particular? I know the Minister of State has raised individual cases and I urge him to continue to do so.

All these issues, including individual cases, were raised during that meeting. The Deputy will be aware that the Chinese Government continues to regard the Falun Dafa as an evil cult. The Irish Government is concerned about human rights in China, including those of Falun Dafa members and I will continue to raise such issues during my meetings with Chinese Ministers, as I regularly have done so. The issues were raised both bilaterally and through the European Union channels, notably through the formal EU-China human rights dialogue, which was established some years ago. Through the dialogue, the EU shares with China its experience in the field of human rights. The purpose of the dialogue is to make progress and to put our case in a very clear cut way. I accompanied the Taoiseach on a very important trade mission to China some years ago, during which he raised human rights issues with the highest leadership.

I note the recent amendment of China's constitution to include an express reference to human rights and I hope it will be fully implemented in law and will lead to practical improvements for the people of China. Progress is being made in certain areas but we will continue to raise these issues.

Is the Minister of State aware that people are of the impression that on visits to China we are strong on trade opportunities and weak on human rights? During the recent visit of a large delegation to China, was the opportunity taken to discuss these issues? Did the accompanying Minister raise these issues? Why were these issues excluded from the conversations during the high-level visit to China? Is the WTO concerned with China's compliance with international human rights, which has nothing to do with the relationship of Chinese law to the Chinese constitution, but with international standards? When is it intended to raise these issues again? When will the issue of Tibet be raised? How will the Minister convince people from concluding that the Government is eager to trade with a very large population but is not so eager to advance the case for respect for international human rights?

As I said I accompanied the Taoiseach on state visits to China and was present when the then President Robinson raised human rights issues. President McAleese has raised these issues also. I know that at presidential, prime minister and foreign affairs ministerial level these issues are raised in a very open way. With regard to the activities of trade Ministers——

It was reported on the news that these issues were avoided.

I agree with the Deputy. As a Minister of State with responsibility for human rights, I would prefer if these issues were raised on every occasion but these issues were raised in a very open way on any occasion that I accompanied the then Taoiseach and the then President. That is the way we conduct our affairs and equally the issues were responded to in an open way.

Let me remind the Deputy that the Dalai Lama issued a statement on 10 March 2004 which expressed the hope of a significant breakthrough in relations with the Chinese Government and that he has instructed his envoys to continue the process of dialogue with Beijing at an early date. Effectively the Dalai Lama is saying that dialogue can pay off. We will continue to engage in the EU-China human rights dialogue, which is an ongoing process and I was personally involved in that process during the past week. It is wrong to suggest that we shy away from raising these issues. If, as the Deputy suggests, a trade Minister did not raise these issues, I accept his point. However, I agree with the Deputy that it is important that these issues are raised in an open way.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

8 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the treatment of the Kurdish peoples in Turkey, Iraq and Iran; his further views on the representations being made by the EU to Turkey with a view to enhancing the human rights of the Kurdish peoples; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9999/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

There are significant Kurdish minority populations in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and parts of Syria. There are some 14 million people of Kurdish ethnic origin living in Turkey. The Government's concerns about human rights in Turkey, including the situation of the Kurdish population, are raised regularly in official contacts with the Turkish Government and its representatives, and in co-operation with our partners in the European Union. We continue to monitor the human rights situation through the embassy in Ankara and through our membership of international organisations, including the Council of Europe.

I welcome the very significant progress which Turkey has made in legislating for human rights reform during the past two years. Legislation has been enacted which is aimed at strengthening the enforcement of human rights and enhancing the cultural rights of all citizens, including those of Kurdish origin. Nevertheless, the European Union considers that further progress is required. The revised accession partnership with Turkey, which was adopted by the Council in May 2003, provides the framework for an intensive dialogue between the European Union and Turkey on its preparations for accession, including its legislative reform programme. Since the beginning of 2003, progress on the introduction and implementation of political and human rights reforms has also been monitored closely in regular political monitoring meetings between the EU and Turkey.

Representing the Irish Presidency, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, headed an EU ministerial troika delegation which visited Ankara on 8 March for meetings with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. The discussions covered the full range of issues in EU-Turkey relations including progress on political and human rights reforms. The EU emphasised the importance of ensuring implementation of these reforms at all levels of the administration. On the issue of cultural rights, Deputy Cowen pointed to the restrictive nature of the current regulations for broadcasting in languages other than Turkish and the relatively slow progress on moves to permit Kurdish language teaching. The EU delegation was briefed on plans by the Turkish Government to promote the economic development of the south-east region ofTurkey where Kurds form the majority of the population.

I recognise that the Turkish Government is committed to ensuring the full implementation of the reforms, including those directly relating to the rights of people of Kurdish ethnic origin. The progress made will be a significant element of the decision to be taken by the European Council in December on Turkey's fulfilment of the Copenhagen political criteria for EU membership. If that decision is positive, the EU will open accession negotiations with Turkey without delay.

In Iraq, it is clear that the situation for the Kurdish people has improved since the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein. There are five Kurdish representatives in the Iraqi Governing Council and the level of autonomy the Kurdish people enjoyed previously has been retained in the transitional arrangements now in place. These arrangements are set out in the Transitional Administrative Law, signed by the Iraqi Governing Council on 8 March. This will, we hope, open the way for the transfer of power to a sovereign Iraq in which the rights of the Kurdish population will be respected fully.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Government is not aware of any current discrimination against Kurdish people in Iran specifically related to their ethnic origin. However, the overall human rights situation in Iran continues to be a matter of concern. Ireland co-sponsored a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly last December, which expressed serious concern at the continuing violations of human rights in Iran. Among a number of recommendations, the resolution called upon the Government of Iran to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on religious grounds or against persons belonging to minorities.

Speaking on behalf of the EU at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last week, Ireland, as holders of the Presidency, regretted that there has been little improvement in the human rights situation in Iran. As holders of the Presidency, we are working with the Iranian Government to agree dates for the next round of the EU's human rights dialogue with Iran. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Iran, including the situation of the Kurdish minority, through our embassy in Tehran and in co-operation with our EU partners.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The Minister of State will be aware that there are some 20 million to 25 million Kurds in south-eastern Turkey, northern Iran, northern Iraq and parts of Syria. The original plan after the end of the First World War was that it would become a nation state. Clearly with such a concentration in three bordering states, but in four states in total, there is an issue, yet the issue of secession is one which international law and norm creates major difficulties and borders will not change.

Has the European Union made special efforts to work with Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria on the manner in which they would address issues of concern to the Kurdish people? Is the Minister of State aware of the Commission's report on the EU-Turkey relationship for 2003 which concluded that by accelerating the pace of reform over the years, Turkey has made determined efforts and significant progress toward achieving compliance with the Copenhagen criteria, to which he referred? The report referred to the guaranteeing of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. Did the report look specifically at Kurdish rights in Turkey? If so, what was said on the matter?

The Helsinki European Council of December 1999 decided that Turkey was a candidate country for membership of the European Union. The Council laid down certain criteria according to which a candidate country must achieve stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for the protection of minorities. The EU has adopted specific measures. At the Copenhagen Council of December 2002 a clear commitment was given that if the European Council meeting of December 2004 decided Turkey had fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU would open accession negotiations without delay. Clearly, the European Union's approach has focused very much on accession. An opinion on the matter will be delivered in the near future.

To answer the Deputy's question, the issue of the Kurdish minority has been an EU priority in its discussions on Turkish accession.

Is the Minister of State satisfied that this matter will be decided at the December summit on the basis of the Copenhagen criteria alone rather than on other factors? Has the attention of the Minister of State been drawn to an article in today's issue ofLe Monde? In it, a leading Deputy in President Chirac’s UMP party says one of the best ways for it to recover in the European elections ground lost in the regional elections would be to come out clearly against Turkish membership, regardless? Does the Minister of State agree that this is probably a widespread opinion among people seeking to exploit opposition, regardless of the Copenhagen criteria, to Turkish membership to curry favour with domestic electorates?

I agree this is a crucial issue in the context of accession discussions. Progress made will be a very significant element in the decision to be taken at the European Council in December on Turkish fulfilment of the Copenhagen political criteria for EU membership. I have referred to the details of the criteria. If the decision is positive, the EU will open accession negotiations without delay. I agree it is unfortunate that people are exploiting the issue. While Turkey is an important country in the context of the development and growth of Europe, there are important issues to consider. Ireland takes very seriously its commitment on human rights and, in particular, the treatment of minorities. The Government will raise these issues continuously during the Presidency and beyond.

The accession of Turkey to the European Union would bring the borders of the Union to Syria, Iran, Iraq, Armenia and Georgia. We have heard recently the suggestion that Israel should apply for membership of the EU. There were reports on the matter today. Will the Minister of State confirm that the application by Turkey is being considered seriously and that the Council of Ministers is not leading the country down a cul-de-sac?

Hear, hear.

Will he further confirm that Turkish accession is genuinely on the agenda and being dealt with transparently?

I ask a question which has been asked already. I put it bluntly to the Minister of State that the view that Turkey is not a European state is being widely canvassed. Its basis is an anti-Islamic prejudice against the present Turkish Government.

On what basis does the Minister of State conclude that the position of the Kurds in Iraq is better? In how many of the five countries across which the Kurdish population is distributed is the Kurdish language recognised? I understand that even under the current reforms, the Kurdish language is not recognised nor is the right to educate through it. I stress that it has nothing to do with Turkey's application to join the European Union.

There are five Kurdish representatives on the Iraqi governing council and the level of autonomy previously enjoyed by the Kurdish people has been maintained in the transitional arrangements now in place. The arrangements are set out in the transitional administrative law signed by the Iraqi governing council on 8 March. We hope this will open the way to the transfer of power to a sovereign Iraq in which the rights of the Kurdish population will be respected fully.

It is important to ensure that the European Union plays a significant role in the development of a proper democratic representative system.

Does the Minister of State favour their right to secede?

Deputy Gay Mitchell asked how serious the European Union is about Turkish membership. The reforms which have been put in place by Turkey include legislation providing for the abolition of the death penalty, the abolition of torture and ill-treatment of people in custody, the lifting of restrictions on broadcasting in minority languages, judicial reform, civilian control of the military and prison reform. That constitutes a raft of reforms.

That is not the question I asked.

As far as the Irish Presidency is concerned, the European Union is serious about Turkish membership.