Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Ceisteanna (32)

Seán Crowe


32. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to a report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that found rockets and heavy machine guns fired from Afghan Government helicopters killed and wounded at least 107 boys and men attending a religious ceremony (details supplied); and his views on the concern of the UN with regard to the matter. [21084/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Foreign)

In recent months the war in Afghanistan has escalated rapidly. Significant civilian casualties arose due to attacks by Jihadists and Afghan military operations. In April 2018 the UN stated that rockets and heavy machine guns fired from Afghan Government helicopters killed and wounded almost 107 boys and men attending a religious ceremony in the northern city of Kunduz. Has the Tánaiste seen the report? Does he believe this was a violation of international law and possibly a war crime? What is Ireland doing to assist those affected by the war in Afghanistan?

I thank Deputy Crowe for raising this issue. It is an atrocity. I welcome the report issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The report was prepared in accordance with the UNAMA Security Council mandate. It has the broader aim of minimising the impact of armed conflict on civilians. Independent and impartial monitoring of incidents involving loss of life or injury to civilians is essential for the regeneration of Afghanistan, as is the support that strengthens and protects civilians affected by armed conflict. Ireland strongly supports any initiative that promotes compliance by all parties to the conflict with international humanitarian and human rights law as well as the constitution and laws of Afghanistan.

Ireland urges the Afghan Government to investigate, fully document and conduct a transparent review of the circumstances that led to this incident and to take immediate steps to ensure accountability for those responsible along the chain of command. Since the incident, the Afghan Government has acknowledged that civilian casualties occurred. In this light, I welcome the establishment by President Ghani of a commission to look into the incident as well as a provincial-level investigative committee established by the Governor of Kunduz. The Afghan Government is obligated, as the primary duty-bearer, to protect civilians from harm and ensure accountability for those responsible for violations of international and Afghan law. To prevent unnecessary and unacceptable harm to civilians in future, measures should be implemented to strengthen accountability and transparency within the context of the planning and conduct of military operations.

It is another brutal reminder of the disaster that unwise foreign military intervention can bring. The USA and Britain, along with their NATO allies, have wreaked havoc in that country. The war has rapidly escalated in recent months. According to the UN more than 10,000 civilians lost their lives or suffered injury during 2017. Yet, the conflict has largely slipped off the news agenda.

The UN report on this attack, which killed 107 men and boys, is harrowing. The report was published last week and underlined the risk of a new Afghan military strategy developed with US advisors. The strategy has seen a significant increase in Afghan air power. Helicopters equipped with rockets and other attack aircraft have been deployed to try to break the stalemate with the Taliban. According to the report at least 36 people, including 30 children, were killed and 71 were injured. Moreover, the helicopters continued to attack as people fled nearby roads and houses and there were allegations that the aircraft deliberately targeted civilians.

The attack is clearly a violation of international law. I have listened to what the Tánaiste has said about how the Afghan Government has to be made accountable. Does the Tánaiste agree that providing the Afghan military with such extraordinary air power is unwise given the repeated violations of international law?

The incident took place in the wider context of a continuing deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan. Conflict-related civilian deaths in the first quarter of 2018 are especially alarming. The largest single spike in civilian casualties occurred during a ten-day period in January when Taliban and Daesh forces separately attacked numerous targets in Kabul killing more than 140 people and wounding hundreds. Ireland condemns these terrorist attacks in the strongest possible terms.

There is an obligation on the Afghan Government to try to protect its citizens. To do that, the Afghan Government must have military capacity. The idea should be to allow the Government in Afghanistan to protect itself and its civilians and I am unsure whether disarming it would be a good strategy.

Deputy Crowe should not forget where Afghanistan was before US intervention there. It was a country run by the Taliban. It was a country that had international training camps for terrorists who were sent throughout the world to wreak havoc. Let us not pretend that foreign intervention has caused the carnage in Afghanistan. Clearly, there are complications with it, but extremist thinking and terrorists are the causes of havoc in Afghanistan. We have to support the Afghan Government to protect its people.

We are talking about 115,000 dead and 3 million refugees. Civilians are at the butt end of this conflict. More weapons will bring more war and conflict and that is not going to resolve anything. The problem is that there are constant violations on both sides. The suicide attacks by Jihadists have largely targeted civilians going about their daily lives. These attacks have had a devastating effect.

This is what I am trying to get at. What is Ireland's way? What are we doing to assist the people of Afghanistan? Year after year they continue to live with insecurity and fear. Are we providing aid to those displaced by the war? Are we going to do anything to assist them in efforts to try to end the war? That is where we need to concentrate. Others will supply weaponry and power from the air and so on. I believe we need to say something different and we need a different approach. That is why I am asking these questions. I am not trying to score points.

I accept that. Attacks in recent months have been especially devastating and relentless. In January, the Taliban conducted two attacks. One was on Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel and the other involved an ambulance suicide bomb. Of particular concern is the rising influence of Daesh in the region. The group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on 21 March near the shrine in Kabul that killed 31 people. A suicide bomb on 22 April at a voter registration centre in Kabul killed 57 people. On 30 April, the group attacked central Kabul killing 25 people, including nine journalists. This is what a government and a state have to try to respond to. It is not easy. I believe Ireland can speak out in terms of adherence to international law.

We can try to ensure that when atrocities take place they are properly investigated. We can and do support refugee populations in the region, although our primary focus is on Syria. We have spent more than €100 million supporting refugees in the past ten years or thereabouts.

With six minutes remaining, I am anxious to take another question and make some progress.

Question No. 33 answered with Question No. 29.