Tuesday, 17 December 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
33. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the EU considered the recent riots in Nigeria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26499/02]
Mr. Cowen: The recent riots in Nigeria were not discussed at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 10  December. However, the overall stability and security of Nigeria continues to be closely monitored by the Council at working group level and by EU embassies in Abuja.
The riots, which started in the northern city of Kaduna and spread as far south as the federal capital, Abuja, were provoked by an ill-advised article in a national newspaper which suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have approved of the Miss World contest, which was due to be held in Nigeria. Accounts of the rioting suggest that it was orchestrated and targeted, with local offices of the newspaper being burned down and Christian churches attacked. Reprisals followed, with mosques being targeted by local Christian youths. In total, more than 200 people died as a result of the sectarian violence. The Irish embassy in Abuja was in regular contact with the Miss World contestants representing Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Inter-communal violence is a serious problem in Nigeria and more than 10,000 people have died in ethnic and religious clashes since the return of democracy in 1999. The Nigerian police force, which was grossly neglected under military rule, has found itself unable to respond adequately to the fighting which regularly erupts around the country. The perceived absence of law and order has led to the formation of vigilante groups in parts of the country. President Obasanjo has acted to counter this rise in vigilantism through the adoption of the Prohibition of Certain Associations Act, 2002.
In May 2002, the EU renewed its common position on Nigeria. The common position notes with concern the rise in political, ethnic and religious violence in the country and the considerable challenges faced by the Government of Nigeria in the areas of security and human rights. Support for institutional capacity building is identified as a key area where the EU can support a democratic culture in Nigeria, specifically through the re-professionalisation of the military and disbanding of paramilitary groups; reform of the police, judiciary and penal systems; and support to Nigeria's capacity to anticipate and prevent internal conflicts. The common position also identifies the elaboration of a poverty reduction strategy by the Nigerian Government as well as economic growth as other key areas which would contribute to Nigeria's development. To help achieve these aims, the EU has committed funds of €552 million in the period from 2001 to 2007.
Mr. G. Mitchell: The Minister referred to vigilante groups in Nigeria. Is he aware of concerns expressed by Amnesty International about the poor morale of the police force and its inability to uphold the law in many parts of Nigeria? Is he further aware that, in the states of Anambra and Imo, vigilante groups known as Bakassi Boys have been approved by the regional Government or regional assemblies and, far from being discouraged, these groups have the formal support  of those whom we would normally expect to uphold the rule of law through the normal police, judicial and legislative processes? Will the Minister ensure that the concerns of Amnesty International in this regard are raised on the next occasion the General Affairs Council considers the situation in Nigeria and will he also communicate these concerns to our ambassador in Lagos?
Mr. Cowen: I will do both. We will make a contribution referring to the report the next time this matter is discussed at General Affairs Council level. I will also bring this matter to the attention of our ambassador, as the Deputy requests.
34. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of newly published material, he will work at the UN Security Council to have redress made to the people of West Papua for UN collusion in the unacceptable Act of Choice in 1969 and urge it to undo the tragedy which has followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26516/02]
The Government remains concerned about the situation in West Papua, in particular the human rights situation there. I am also aware of the questions addressed in a recently published book on the circumstances surrounding the 1969 Act of Free Choice in West Papua. Ireland was not a party to the 1969 Act. The question of a possible UN review of the Act would be a matter for the UN secretariat and the UN Secretary General, and it is our understanding that they do not intend to re-open the issue. Procedurally, any re-opening would also require the support of UN member states and our mission to the UN informs us that there appears to be no significant support for this.
There is also a concern that such a review might prejudice ongoing efforts to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the Government authorities in Jakarta and would not contribute to the amelioration of the current situation of the West Papuan people. In this respect, of primary concern to the Government are the reports of ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua and, in particular, continuing allegations of military and police involvement in such violations.
The EU is developing a political dialogue with the Indonesian Government, which includes a focus on human rights issues. In pursuit of this, a team of EU ambassadors visited West Papua in March of this year and, while there, met leading human rights groups, representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches, members of the West Papua Presidium Council and tribal leaders,  as well as Government representatives and military commanders. We hope this dialogue will grow and develop.
EU Foreign Ministers are due to discuss the EU's relations with Indonesia next month. The meeting is expected to address issues such as judicial and legal reforms and the limited progress to date in the area of respect for human rights. Deputies can be assured that the Government will continue to monitor these issues closely.
Mr. M. Higgins: Why does the Government not take an initiative in the Security Council in relation to West Papua? Does the Minister accept that the so-called Act of Free Choice of 1969 was processed through the collusion of the United Nations and that the United Nations has direct responsibility in this regard? If a dialogue on human rights is being constructed with the Indonesian authorities, I presume the Minister is also pressing for the release of the tribal leaders and others who are currently imprisoned in Indonesia. Does he accept the view offered by a retired senior United Nations official that the so-called act of free choice in 1969 was a rigged process forced on the people of West Papua? Why is he not taking an initiative on the Security Council to seek to undo it?
Mr. Cowen: I am aware of the recent publication by Dr. John Saltford on the role of the United Nations in the Indonesian take-over of West Papua. He researched the history of West Papua and the act of free choice as well as the role of the international community in the hand-over of the former Dutch colony to Indonesia. He questions whether the West Papuan people genuinely exercised the right to self-determination guaranteed to them in the UN-brokered Dutch-Indonesian agreement of 1962.
The work of the West Papua action group has also been brought to my attention. There is regular contact between its members and the officials of my Department. I welcome, in particular, such sharing of information and all meetings that can inform our approach.
As I pointed out in my reply, procedurally one requires not alone the initiative of the Secretary General and the Secretariat but significant support from the member states of the UN which is not, apparently, there at present. I will bring the matter to the attention of their representation to see if this is an issue on which we could be more proactive.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Is the Minister aware that of central concern to the West Papua action group is that there be a review of the United Nations' actions and involvement in what transpired? It is not so much the decision as the UN's involve ment. Usually in this House the United Nations is spoken of in glowing terms in regard to its high principled approach. It would seem that in the case of West Papua the usual terms of operation do not apply. A review of the UN's actions and involvement there is urgently required. Will the Minister address this issue during a future Question Time when he has discussed the matter further at the General Affairs Council?
Mr. Cowen: As I have said, this is a matter that cannot be dealt with by this country alone. There is a requirement for sufficient support for such a move to take place. The question has been asked as to what can we do from here on. I have indicated that I will discuss with the representation in the United Nations what we can do to assist the situation in terms of making sure that any injustice that was caused to the West Papuan people might be addressed in some way. Clearly if an injustice was done it would be a matter of concern.
One must respect the territorial integrity of Indonesia. There is also a need to ensure that in promoting decentralisation and greater autonomy for the regions in Indonesia, we do not bring about a situation that would cause greater instability. I hear what the Deputies are saying and confess that their questions were the first indication I have had of any cause for concern in regard to West Papua. I will endeavour to see what can be done. The future EU discussion on Indonesia will provide a basis for further examination of the subject at a later stage.
Mr. Gormley: I appreciate the Minister's frankness in admitting that he will now take a proactive stance following these questions. He indicated that the group has been in contact with his Department. Why was that insufficient to activate the Minister's interest in this matter? Why is it that there is no support among UN members? Has the Minister asked the Security Council members why they are not interested in taking a more proactive role on this issue?
Mr. Cowen: As I said to the Deputy, the indications we received from the representation, and from the body of information available to me in this reply, simply stated the fact that sufficient support is not currently available to move the matter along. I cannot give any greater detail at present but I will try to obtain more information for the Deputies and let them know in a supplementary reply.
The information sharing that has taken place at an official level is for the purpose of making sure we are aware of the positions being taken by interested groups. In terms of dealing with the matter procedurally at the UN, it remains that one requires the support of the Secretariat and a wide involvement by the member states which is not currently available. We will return to this matter on another occasion.
|Last Updated: 10/09/2010 17:18:38||Page of 290|