Dáil Éireann - Volume 303 - 15 February, 1978

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Human Rights.

3. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if any representations have been made by him to the representatives of the Soviet Government in Ireland regarding the position of Soviet Jews and the interpretation of the Helsinki Final Act.

4. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received any representations from any organisations regarding the position of Soviet Jews and the official policy of the Soviet Union with regard to applications for exit visas made by Soviet Jews.

5. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress that has been made at the conference in Belgrade resulting from the Helsinki conference on CSCE, with specific regard to interpretation of human rights by the Soviet Union and members of the Warsaw pact.

6. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received any representations regarding the detention of Mr. Yosef Bigun by the Soviet Union authorities; and, if so, if he has made any representations to the Soviet Ambassador in Ireland regarding the position of this man.

7. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received any representations regarding the arrest and detention of Mr. Anatoly Shcharansky by the Soviet Union authorities; and, if so, if he has in turn [1317] made any representations to the Soviet Ambassador in Ireland regarding the position of this man.

8. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he or any member of the Government has made representations to the Soviet Government and the Czechoslovakian Government, either directly through their accredited ambassadors or indirectly through the Irish Delegation at the CSCE talks in Belgrade, regarding the action taken by both these countries against the Moscow Monitoring Group for the Helsinki Final Act and the Prague based Charter 77 Group.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Since I believe that all of the Deputy's six questions bear in one way or another on the current Belgrade meeting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe—the CSCE—I propose with your permission a Cheann Comhairle, to take them together.

The Final Act of the CSCE signed by 35 Heads of Government in Helsinki in 1975 had two main elements. First it contained what might be called a code of conduct, set out in the form of ten principles to govern relations between participating states. One of these principles was that of respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Secondly, the document set out a series of agreed measures designed to improve co-operation in such areas as economic relations, science and technology. There were also provisions governing a number of humanitarian issues as well as aspects of information, education and cultural exchange.

The Helsinki Final Act provided for a review meeting in 1977 and this meeting between representatives of the 35 participating states is still under way in Belgrade. The meeting has a double purpose—to review the extent to which the 35 states which signed the Helsinki document in 1975 have carried out its provisions since then; and to consider further proposals which could lead to better implementation of these provisions.

In these discussions in Belgrade there have been differences of approach by different states to the [1318] human rights issues which are the particular focus of the Deputy's questions. Our view of the importance of these issues is clear and we have made it quite clear at the meeting in Belgrade where we consult closely with our partners in the EEC and with other like-minded delegations. I think it would be useful in reply to the Deputy's questions to indicate the general lines of our approach.

This is based on the belief that the guarantee of these rights to every individual and the actual freedom to exercise and enjoy them in practice are vital to a decent national society. It is natural that we should take this view because of the fact that the denial of political, economic and religious rights was often through our own history a central issue for us in Ireland. We in Ireland have also had a particular historical experience of the tragedies of family separation and exile and we have a corresponding concern to see the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act in these areas implemented.

Of the Deputy's questions, two relate to the position of Jews in the Soviet Union with particular reference to the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. Two other questions relate to the position of specific named individuals who have been detained by the Soviet authorities. I can understand the basis for the Deputy's concern about these matters, which have indeed been a focus for public concern in a number of countries; and I can confirm that I have had representations on these and similar issues from various bodies and from individuals in this country.

I recognise—and I believe the Deputy will accept this—that inevitably there are limits to the extent to which a country such as ours can make effective representations to other countries with very different social systems on issues which do not involve our own citizens. Nevertheless, we consider that if the process begun by the Final Act of Helsinki is to be effective it must be based not only on relaxation of tensions and growing co-operation between states but also in respect for human rights within states.

Ireland, in consultation with its partners in the Community, has made its [1319] views on these issues clear again at the Belgrade meeting. We have made clear that we believe it is important to carry out in practice the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act in all respects including the provisions in regard to human rights and the provisions on such humanitarian issues as family reunification. Beyond referring to this clear public position which we have taken, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to go into detail on other representations which might be made in particular cases. This approach is I believe generally accepted by various groups who have raised these issues with me from time to time and I hope the Deputy will also accept it.

The Deputy's question in regard to the Moscow Monitoring Group and the Charter 77 Group raises the question of the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights and to participate in the implementation of all the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. Our view on this too has been made clear at Belgrade and otherwise. We feel strongly that the governments who signed the Final Act and accepted its human rights provisions must ensure that their own citizens are free to exercise the rights which have been explicitly recognised and that they are free from official intimidation, harassment or arrest—or indeed from any abridgment of their rights merely because they have invoked them.

As to the Deputy's more general question about the progress made at the Belgrade meeting, I can say that the review and discussion of new proposals have been carried out on a reasonably satisfactory basis, with a frank exchange of views on the implementation to date of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act.

This review has shown that the way in which the undertakings accepted in Helsinki in 1975 has been carried out in practice has been satisfactory in some respects but less than satisfactory in others. We recognise however that it is important to see the process of implementing the Helsinki Final Act as a continuing one and we [1320] believe that the effort to continue and improve it is worth while. The Belgrade meeting has been discussing more than 90 new proposals from various participating states aimed at better implementation of the Helsinki provisions; and it is expected that another review meeting may be held in 1980 or 1981.

The Belgrade meeting is now in its final phase—that of negotiating a concluding document. I believe the meeting itself and the exchanges which have taken place there have been useful; and I would hope that it will now be possible for all of the participants to agree on a substantial concluding document. This would reflect adequately the results of the meeting in various areas including that of human rights and incorporate a significant number of new proposals for improved implementation of the commitments undertaken in Helsinki.

Mr. Quinn: I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said in one of the longest replies I have heard in this House. There are a number of questions I would like to raise on it. The first relates to questions Nos. 6 and 7 regarding two individuals, Mr. Yosef Bigun and Mr. Anatoly Shcharansky. Unless I did not hear the Minister properly, he did not make any specific reference to these two questions.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I did, but I said it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail on the representations which have been made in a particular case. I hope the Deputy will accept that—as the people who have made contact with me I believe do accept it —in the interests of the people on whose behalf representations have been made.

Mr. Quinn: While I recognise that diplomacy demands some kind of discretion, does the Minister not feel that unless the voice of the public is heard loudly both in this Chamber and elsewhere, the effect of representations made discreetly to other members who have signed the Hensinki Agreement will be negligible? Does the Minister not agree that it is in the interests of [1321] the people for whom these questions were asked that his answer should be loud and clear, at the same time not endangering any diplomatic position he may have?

Mr. O'Kennedy: The Deputy is proving his own case by insisting as he is doing. I accept that the voice of the public is loud and clear. My position is also quite well known. It is a question of how, within the Helsinki process which is based on the continuance and development of detente, one can do that effectively. I assure the Deputy that within that process my position is quite clear and the Deputy's statement today may be quite helpful.

Mr. Quinn: I do not wish to take up Question Time on this. The matter is reasonably complex and I would like to have it raised on the Adjournment.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will communicate with the Deputy.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Would the impression that I have be correct, namely, that there is not the same enthusiasm for pressing the cause of human rights in the USSR because they are a major power, as there is for pressures such as we bring to bear on countries like South Africa where there are abominable practices?

Mr. O'Kennedy: I do not think that impression is correct.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Is it that there is an air of quite diplomacy about highlighting the problems in the USSR which possibly results only from the fact that they are such a huge power compared with other smaller countries?

Mr. O'Kennedy: The manner in which representations are made will always have to be considered in the light of what their effectiveness will be. We are, after all, engaged in this process in Helsinki in which the USSR and other countries are engaged by way of agreement and consultation. It is rather different from areas where there is no such agreement. and no process of consultation.

[1322] Mr. O'Keeffe: The Minister will keep up the pressure?

Mr. Quinn: A Cheann Comhairle, I did not hear your reply to my request to have this matter raised on the Adjournment. Will you be in communication with me later in the afternoon?

An Ceann Comhairle: I have already said that.

Mr. Moore: Arising out of the Minister's very comprehensive reply, could I ask him if he would advise Members of this House who have been invited to the USSR by the Soviet Government not to accept that invitation as a protest against the persecution of the Jews and other minorities? At least that would be less hypocritical.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I do not think that arises.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate question.