Seanad debates

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

6:40 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for his presence in the Chamber. We are all struck by what we see on the television, and what we read with regard to the Syrian catastrophe. My reason for speaking today is as a result of my experience during my visit to Rwanda in August. There I saw the fallout of the genocide 18 years earlier, where 1 million people were killed in 100 days and the international community failed to act, in spite of the fact it was asked to provide 5,000 troops. Kofi Annan now admits he was wrong and did not listen. Some 18 years later, people are still devastated. Many of the men were killed, leaving widows and orphans. There are families headed by children. We are looking at a similar situation happening in Syria.

I support many of the views expressed by Senator Mac Conghail. I am concerned that we are happy enough with how the UN is dealing with the situation, but I do not think it is working. The UN is certainly not reacting fast enough. We are fortunate that a man of the deep humanity of Deputy Joe Costello is the Minister of State at the Department dealing with this issue. When the Minister of State responds to the debate will he outline whether Ireland is doing enough, in terms of the weight it can bring to bear on human rights abuses? We have always punched above our weight in the area of human rights. Some 19,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million people are in desperate need of assistance. The Minister of State described the plight of the refugees. To echo his comment, this is a timebomb. The civilian population, including children, are bearing the brunt of the conflict. The Government forces attack indiscriminately. The indiscriminate nature of the bombardments means there is little residents can do to protect themselves. There is clear violation of international humanitarian law. Amnesty has urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in order to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes and other crimes under international law are brought to justice. The families of their victims would then receive reparations. In his speech, the Minister of State said he supported this call. Has Ireland formally referred the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court? Are we just supporting others? We must step up to the plate and show leadership. We must act. If this was happening to Irish civilians, we would want the protection of the international community.

The killing in Syria is government-sponsored. As the independent international commission said, the human rights abuses by the opposition groups are not comparable in scale and organisation to those carried out by the state. This is state-sponsored war. It is similar to what I saw in Rwanda.

On the issue of why the UN is not acting more resolutely to stop this, there is the veto situation with Russia and China, and they have a great deal to answer for in this regard. What contact has the Minister of State had with the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to Ireland to reflect the serious disappointment of the Government with the repeated vetoes used by Russia and China of Security Council resolutions on Syria to resolve this conflict? I understand that we are trying to build trade relations with China, but that does not mean one cannot express one's deep concern about its actions in this regard. We must be very clear about what is right and wrong. Has the Minister raised with the ambassadors the call from Amnesty International and others for arms embargoes, referrals to the International Criminal Court and Ireland's position in that regard?

In summary, is the Minister satisfied that Ireland is doing enough? Ordinary people on the street regularly ask me what they can do. It is an interesting question from the people in Galway. They are really asking on whom they can put pressure. They know they can donate, but it is not enough simply to donate when there is a political crisis in this case and where political interests are put ahead of human rights. Children are being used as human shields, people are being tortured and killed and the displacement described by the Minister means there will be fallout for many years to come. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.


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