Thursday, 23 April 2009

Ceisteanna (9)

Pat Rabbitte


7 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the supply of cluster bombs by Israel, the Russian Federation and Pakistan to the Sri Lankan military. [15383/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

There have been a number of allegations by NGOs relating to the supply of cluster munitions to the Government of Sri Lanka in the conflict with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam, LTTE. In February this year, press reports cited UN sources in Sri Lanka in reporting that cluster munitions were used in an attack on a hospital in which 52 people were killed. However, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs later confirmed that it had no evidence of the use of cluster munitions in this incident.

There is no evidence currently available to confirm the possession or use by Sri Lanka of cluster munitions. The Government of Sri Lanka has denied that it possesses or has used cluster munitions. What seems probable is that we will be able to ascertain the full facts only when the conflict is over and technical experts can be deployed to the scene.

In line with the commitment in the Programme for Government, the Government has worked to achieve a complete ban on the use of cluster munitions. The diplomatic conference in Dublin in May 2008 adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions and Ireland ensured it was among the first to ratify the convention when it opened for signature in December 2008.

The convention has to date been signed by almost 100 countries. Signatories commit themselves to an immediate and unconditional ban on all cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. Each State party undertakes never in any circumstances to use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer cluster munitions, or to assist another party in doing so. I urge all states that have yet to sign the convention, including Sri Lanka, Israel, the Russian Federation and Pakistan, to do so.

I was very happy to attend the signing ceremony of the international convention banning all forms of cluster munitions but the relevance of that to the question I asked is not so clear. The three countries to which I referred, Israel, the Russian Federation and Pakistan are not signatories.

Regarding the NGO reports, the Minister says it is only when the conflict is over that we can establish the facts. What is taking place in Sri Lanka is almost in the category of genocide, a phrase I use carefully. The Government there has announced that a military conclusion to the conflict is now possible and has given an ultimatum of 24 hours for civilians to leave the area of Vanni. What is happening is appalling and is an indictment of the international community. Cluster munitions are being used. I am not a spokesperson for the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam but the human loss of life in Sri Lanka is outrageous and is an indictment of the international community. We know these three countries produce and sell cluster munitions and I believe they have supplied them to the Sri Lankan army.

I agree with Deputy Higgins on the horrific nature of the conflict in Sri Lanka. We brought that to the attention of the Sri Lankan Government. I spoke to the ambassador, who is based in London, in Dublin and we conveyed our views on the undesirable nature of a purely military solution to this situation. Equally, the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam and their methodologies are to be condemned in their use of civilian populations as shields. It is an appalling situation and a humanitarian catastrophe has arisen as a result of the conflict. The UN has a presence on the ground and has accepted the denial of the Sri Lankan Government that it is using cluster munitions. No victims have come forward with injuries consistent with cluster munitions.

No media is allowed in the area, these are only Government statements.

The problem is that in conflict zones claims are made and propaganda is used. Establishing the truth can be a slow process. We must establish the truth and, in the spirit of the convention, along with the EU we will seek to establish the truth of the use of cluster munitions and to provide humanitarian and development assistance to the civilian population. Some €12 million was allocated in 2008 from the UN central emergency response fund. Ireland is the seventh largest contributor to that and has contributed some €5.3 million for humanitarian needs in Sri Lanka.