Tuesday, 23 October 2007
Dáil Eireann Debate
130. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is in a position to comment on the recently published Human Rights Watch report Criminal Politics: Violence, Godfathers and Corruption in Nigeria, and the crisis of governance, lack of transparency and other matters referred to in the report; and if it is his Departments’s position that it can recommend to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that Nigeria is a country to which refugees can be returned with the assurance of all protections under international law. [24990/07]
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Dermot Ahern): “Criminal Politics: Violence, ‘Godfathers’ and Corruption in Nigeria”, Human Right Watch’s report of 11 October 2007, addresses a number of genuine challenges faced in Nigeria. More needs to be done to address corruption and human rights standards in Nigeria and the conduct of Nigeria’s April 2007 elections was a disappointment. These elections, as noted in the report of the EU Election Observation Mission, were marked by many irregularities and by violent incidents that led to numerous deaths and they failed to reach a significantly higher standard that the previous round of elections held in 2004.
It is important to recognise, however, that Nigeria is in a process of transition from a long and traumatic period of military rule that ended only about eight years ago. Nigeria’s human rights record has improved considerably since 1999. During the period in office of former President Obasanjo, a Human Rights Violations Investigation Panel was set up to investigate all gross human rights violations dating back to 1966 while plans were also announced for establishment of Human Rights Steering and Coordination Committees. The Obasanjo Government also took significant steps to address corruption, including arresting or removing many senior officials and politicians who were found to have committed abuses.
Simultaneously, great strides have been made in economic reform and establishing sustainable growth, while Nigeria has played a leadership role in advancing the cause of peace both regionally in West Africa and in Africa as a whole. President Obasanjo was a most effective President of the African Union (AU) between 2004 and 2006. Nigeria is also a major troop contributor to AU and UN missions and will provide the Force Commander for the hybrid African Union-UN mission currently being deployed in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Since his inauguration earlier this year, President Yar’Adua has publicly acknowledged that there were flaws in the 2007 electoral process and has established an Electoral Reform Panel to come up with recommendations to try to deal with some of these flaws. The Human Right Watch report of October 2007 also notes that President Yar’Adua is known for his personal probity and has already demonstrated a commitment to transparency, not least by declaring the value of his private assets in July 2007. President Yar’Adua has also committed to reforming a range of national institutions including the police force.
Alongside other international partners, the European Union and Ireland are committed to working with Nigeria on areas of mutual concern and supporting Nigeria’s efforts to achieve further reform and learn lessons from the 2007 elections. Political dialogue between the EU and Nigeria under article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement will play an important role in this engagement. This dialogue between the Union and both Government and opposition figures has covered areas including democratisation, constitutional and economic reform, human rights, international relations and trade. It was initiated under the Irish Presidency of the European Union in 2004, and Ireland and our European partners are committed to using it to the greatest possible effect.
With regard to the second part of the Deputy’s question, my Department continues to monitor closely the human rights situation in Nigeria and responds to requests for information from other Government Departments as they arise.
131. Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent report by Humans Rights Watch in relation to the violation of ethnic Nepalese children’s rights in contrary to convention on the rights of the child in Bhutan. [24988/07]
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Dermot Ahern): I am deeply concerned by the situation of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, as well as the wider issue of the situation of ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan itself. Of particular concern is the situation of tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese children expelled from Bhutan who have been left stateless and condemned to grow up in limbo in refugee camps in the region. In this context, I greatly welcome the report by Human Rights Watch in May on the issue of Bhutanese refugees and its subsequent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in September.
The situation of the Bhutanese refugees has its origins in the policies of the Government of Bhutan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which resulted in the expulsion of tens of thousands of people from the south of the country to Nepal. These refugees are of Nepalese descent and Hindu, unlike the northern Bhutanese who are predominantly Buddhist. Since that time, up to 103,000 refugees have been confined to seven refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This protracted refugee situation remains a source of regional tension.
Many of the refugees were forced to sign so-called “voluntary migration certificates” when they were expelled, effectively forfeiting their rights to Bhutanese citizenship under the country’s citizenship laws.
Although Bhutan and Nepal agreed in 1993 to set up a high level committee at foreign minister level to work towards a settlement of the refugee issue, little progress has been made. In 2001, the two sides agreed a joint process to verify the nationality of refugees. However, work has been concentrated on only one of the seven camps and the UNHCR has been excluded from the process. There have not yet been any repatriations.
Together with our EU partners, Ireland continues to call upon the governments of both Bhutan and Nepal to invite the UNHCR to participate fully in monitoring a verification and appeals process for the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Ireland urges all parties to work together to find a prompt, viable solution to this situation, which might include voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement. I would equally urge the government of Bhutan to do its utmost to protect the civil, economic and cultural rights of ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan.
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