Thursday, 6 October 2005
Department of Foreign Affairs
Human Rights Issues
I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 80 together.
In the lead-up to last month's high level plenary meeting of the United Nations in New York, Ireland was a strong supporter of the proposal to establish a standing human rights council which was among the recommendations of the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan. In this context, the decision at the summit to establish a human rights council is one which we view as positive and it was welcomed by the Taoiseach and I in our statements at the UN last month.
Negotiations on the make-up, remit and work practices of the council will soon begin under the chairmanship of the president of the General Assembly, Mr. Jan Eliasson. In my initial reaction to the decision to establish the council, I called on the General Assembly to move swiftly to flesh out the council's modalities and structure. It must be composed and operate in a way which avoids the failings of the past. However, the best features of the Commission on Human Rights, which the council will replace, must be retained.
Under the United Kingdom's Presidency, the EU is co-ordinating its input into the negotiations on the human rights council. Ireland is actively contributing to this process and has underlined certain key points in respect of the council. In our discussions with EU partners, we have stressed that it is paramount that the council should be a standing body with the ability to address serious and urgent human rights situations. It is also essential that the participation in the council by non-governmental organisations and civil society allows at least the same degree of access as they enjoy at the Commission on Human Rights.
In addition, it is crucial that the negotiated outcome should provide for a smooth transition between the Commission on Human Rights and the human rights council. This would apply in particular to issues such as the carry-over of mandates of special procedures from the commission to the council. These special procedures, such as special rapporteurs of the commission, ensure a degree of scrutiny on specific thematic or country situations of particular concern to the global community. The establishment of a robust human rights council, together with other proposed changes, should lead to a stronger and more effective United Nations and to an enhanced focus on human rights issues.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 117 together.
The Government remains gravely concerned regarding developments in Zimbabwe, particularly in the aftermath of the clearance campaign known as Operation Restore Order launched by the Zimbabwean Government last May which has resulted in more than 700,000 people being left homeless. The disastrous humanitarian consequences of this clearance operation have been well described in the report prepared by Ms Anna Tibaijuka, the special envoy appointed by UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to examine the consequences of Operation Restore Order, which she presented last July. This report makes clear that Operation Restore Order was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering and in disregard of international law. I very much regret that the Mugabe Government has failed completely to act on Ms Tibaijuka's recommendations, including holding to account those responsible for Operation Restore Order, and would urge it to do so and to make immediate restitution to all those made homeless or left jobless as a result of its actions.
In the meantime, the political, economic and humanitarian situation within Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, with an estimated 3 million people, or 25% of the population, likely to require food aid in 2005-2006. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, will meet the executive director of the World Food Programme, WFP, on 7 October to discuss the growing humanitarian crisis in southern Africa, including in Zimbabwe. Ireland contributed €500,000 in June to the WFP for emergency feeding programmes in Zimbabwe and is considering a further contribution in response to an appeal for $30 million which the UN has recently launched to assist the victims of Operation Restore Order. The Irish Embassy in South Africa also continues to monitor the situation in Zimbabwe closely and the Irish ambassador will travel to Zimbabwe later this week to report further on the current political and humanitarian situation.
At the end of August, the Zimbabwean Parliament approved a series of constitutional amendments which represent a further serious assault on basic human rights and freedoms in Zimbabwe. These changes allow the Government to nationalise all remaining farm land without any right of legal appeal and to impose travel bans on those suspected of undermining the national interest. In light of these developments, the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe merits attention at the current General Assembly session in New York and I hope the EU will be successful in promoting acceptance of this viewpoint.
International pressure clearly needs to be maintained on the Mugabe Government to alter its current policies. The African Union and Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, clearly can play a potentially useful role in exerting influence on the Zimbabwe Government. I welcomed the initiative of the African Union in requesting former Mozambican President Chissano to act as a mediator in encouraging political dialogue within Zimbabwe and encourage the African Union to continue its efforts, notwithstanding the negative response to date of the Zimbabwean Government.