Written Answers - Human Rights Issues.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 695 No. 1

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  84.  Deputy Charles Flanagan  Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan   asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin   his policy regarding the issue of the taking of Armenians by Turkish forces in 1919; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41860/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  The Deputy will be aware of the events which resulted in the tragic deaths of very large numbers of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the 20th century. Relations between Armenia and Turkey have long been overshadowed by these events, on which both sides hold different historical interpretations.

However, more recently, there have been positive signs of an improvement in this difficult relationship. I welcome the signature by Armenia and Turkey of protocols on 10 October 2009 in which they agreed to establish diplomatic relations and re-open their common border. This development has the potential to enhance not only relations between the two countries, but also peace and stability in the wider region. Hopefully, as their relationship moves forward and develops, Armenia and Turkey will also be able to come to terms with their shared past. I understand that, as part of the agreement between Armenia and Turkey, it is intended to establish a sub-commission on historical issues.

The Deputy may wish to be aware that on 3 November 2009 the Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister visited Dublin and met with Minister of State Roche and officials from my Department. During her visit the Deputy Minister briefed on the Armenia-Turkey protocols. There was also an exchange of views on Ireland’s experience of conflict resolution in relation to Northern Ireland.

  85.  Deputy Pádraic McCormack  Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack   asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin   if his attention has been drawn to the problems faced by ethnic minorities living in northern Iraq; if this matter has been discussed at EU level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41875/09]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  The disparate ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq have undoubtedly suffered from the instability of recent years. Nineveh, Iraq’s second-most-populous province, has a unique concentration of minority groups. Violent attacks in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and along the Nineveh Plain, a strip of [153]land sandwiched between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan, have underscored how vulnerable minorities there continue to suffer the effects of a bigger struggle within Iraq for land, resources and control. I have noted with concern previously here in this House the serious problems Iraqi Christians have faced in this regard.

A recent report issued by Human Rights Watch has warned that the ethnic minorities living in northern Iraq are facing a human rights “catastrophe”, as Arabs and Kurds vie for control there. The HRW report notes that the ethnic groups face attacks by Sunni Muslim extremists and harassment by Kurdish forces and calls on Kurdish leaders in the north and the Government in Baghdad to improve the protection of Iraqi minorities. I would agree with HRW that the Iraqi authorities, both Arab and Kurdish, need to send a messagethat minorities cannot be attacked with impunity and to work to ensure that they can participate equally in public affairs, without fear of retribution.

The EU has in its contacts with the Iraqi Government consistently stressed its responsibilities to protect all Iraqi citizens, and in particular vulnerable minorities. The Iraqi Government has acknowledged this responsibility and pledged to make every effort to meet it. It will be important for us to continue to urge the Government, beset as it is with many problems, to do everything it can to protect vulnerable groups. However, long term security for Iraq’s minorities is likely to depend on the Government’s success in combating violence throughout Iraq as a whole. Peace and stability in Iraq are vital to the welfare of the Iraqi people and to the prospects for the wider Middle East region. The EU is firmly committed to supporting a secure, stable, democratic, prosperous and united Iraq, with the capacity to play a constructive regional role. The EU has been one of the main contributors of non-military assistance to Iraq with total assistance since 2003 amounting to over €1 billion, including €830 million in Community aid.

On the political level, the EU strongly supported the early return of sovereignty to a democratic Iraqi Government. The Union has offered extensive support to the electoral process, including advice, expertise and financial assistance to the Iraqi Electoral Commission, and to the major task of drafting a new Constitution and key legislation. The EU and the Member States have used their influence consistently to encourage Iraqi political parties, and their leaders, in the process of national reconciliation which is the essential key to the restoration of lasting peace and stability. The EU has also been working closely on the ground with the UN assistance mission in Iraq (UNAMI).

Despite all too frequent reports of violence, it is clear that there has been some progress, albeit slow, in the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq. Nonetheless, the humanitarian needs of the people continue to pose a huge challenge to the international community. The ability of the Iraqi government to address the problems endured by ethnic minorities in Northern Iraq will continue to require the support and encouragement of the international community, including Ireland and its EU partners. One very positive development of note in recent days was the agreement within the Iraqi parliament on a new electoral law which clears the way for parliamentary elections for 21 January 2010, including in the ethnically mixed northern, oil-rich city of Kirkuk where agreement up to now on the electoral law had proved a major sticking point.

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