Dáil Éireann - Volume 508 - 29 September, 1999

Priority Questions. - East Timor Conflict.

77. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on his recent visit to East Timor and the current situation; the plans, if any, he has for Ireland to assist with reconstruction following the recent violence; if the Government will seek action against Indonesia under the terms of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in view of the violence inflicted by the Indonesian armed forces and Indonesian backed militias on the people of East Timor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17936/99]

80. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in East Timor. [18179/99]

[23] Ms O'Donnell: I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 80 together.

The Government is gravely concerned at the situation in East Timor, and shares fully the sense of outrage at developments there since the announcement of the outcome of the popular consultation.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, as Personal Representative of the EU Presidency, observed at first hand the ballot which took place on 30 August. He has paid tribute to the outstanding work of the United Nations Mission for East Timor – UNAMET – which organised the popular consultation, and to the men and women from the Garda Síochána and Permanent Defence Forces who were part of that mission. All of those who observed the consultation process were impressed by the way in which the people of East Timor, despite widespread intimidation, registered for the poll and subsequently turned out to vote in overwhelming numbers of 96.6 per cent. In so doing, they expressed clearly their courage and determination to exercise their right to decide their own future.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, as head of the EU Observer Mission, submitted a report to the UN Electoral Commission indicating that the process had been conducted in a free and fair manner, despite the widespread intimidation. He later reported in similar terms to his EU colleagues at their meeting in Finland on 4 and 5 September.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs held a number of high level meetings, both before and after the vote, with President Habibie, Foreign Minister Alatas, and Mr. Xanana Gusmao in Jakarta, as well as with the local authorities and community leaders in Dili. He urged on all the necessity to respect fully the outcome of the ballot.

The result of the ballot, as announced by the UN Secretary General on 4 September, was that 78.6 per cent of the voters favoured independence. However, a deliberate campaign of terror and intimidation aimed at the people of East Timor immediately followed. There have been horrendous reports of atrocities. It is clear many have been murdered, although no precise figures are yet available. Many others were deported, either to West Timor or other parts of Indonesia. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to take shelter in the mountains where they have been suffering extreme deprivation. Houses and facilities have been wantonly destroyed throughout East Timor. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs indicated in his address to the United Nations on 25 September, East Timor now faces a grave humanitarian crisis.

The Government has been taking all possible steps to mobilise international support for military intervention and humanitarian assistance. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the vote, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs personally contacted leading international figures, including the UN Secretary General, President Clinton, the Prime Minister of [24] Australia and a large number of Foreign Ministers. The concerns of the Irish Government were formally communicated to the United Nations Security Council on 6 September, and the Permanent Representative, Ambassador Ryan, put forward, on instructions, the strong views of the Government in the debate of the Security Council on 11 September.

At the meeting of the EU General Affairs Council on 13 September, the Minister for Foreign Affairs called for increased EU pressure on Indonesia and clear condemnation of the violence. This was agreed. The EU also agreed a comprehensive arms embargo against Indonesia. The Council made clear that the EU looked forward to recognising East Timor once the process towards independence had been completed. The Government welcomes these steps and looks forward to their implementation at an early date.

The UN Security Council, in Resolution 1264 of 15 September, established a framework in which the crisis could be resolved and the provisions of the 5 May Tripartite Agreement implemented. It authorised the establishment of a multinational force to restore peace and security, demanded that those responsible for violence be brought to justice, and called for access for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid.

In view of the highly unsatisfactory security situation and the continuing legal responsibility of the Indonesian Government for security in East Timor until ratification in November by the Indonesian Parliament of the transfer of authority to the United Nations, strong pressure is now being exercised on Indonesia to accelerate this timetable. This would result in a clearer mandate for INTERFET and reduce the danger of conflict involving Indonesian forces.

The multinational force – INTERFET – is now being deployed and is gradually widening its area of control and restoring peace. The Government has announced its willingness to contribute 40 members of the Army Ranger Wing, subject to the approval of the House. Detailed discussions with the Australian authorities and other participants are now in hand. The Government will bring the issue before the House at an early date, once proposals have been finalised.

As regards the bringing to justice of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, the Government has fully supported the call of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson, for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry. At a special session of the Commission on Human Rights, which took place in Geneva under Irish chairmanship from 23 to 27 September, the EU put forward specific proposals in this regard. I am glad to report that these proposals were adopted by a substantial majority. This should clear the way for the establishment of the commission of inquiry.

The Government has also taken up in New York the application of the relevant provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Informal consul[25] tations on the procedural and substantive aspects are continuing, taking account of the developments at the Commission on Human Rights and other action under consideration by the Secretary General.

The Government shares the Deputies' concerns about the plight of the displaced persons and refugees. As many as 500,000 people have been forced to leave their homes or have been forcibly removed to camps in West Timor and others parts of Indonesia. Mr. Gusmao has called for international assistance to ensure the safe return of refugees and the Government fully supports this.

The UN civilian mission – UNAMET – is being redeployed on the ground. As East Timor has no functioning civilian administration, the Secretary General is considering bringing forward plans to put the UN interim administration in place, earlier than envisaged in the 5 May agreement, to address the task of emergency reconstruction.

The Government has approved a grant package of £1 million to meet the humanitarian and rehabilitation needs of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people both in East and West Timor. The assistance will meet immediate humanitarian needs such as food, water and medical supplies and will help with initial reconstruction. It will also contribute towards efforts to help those dispersed against their will to other parts of Indonesia. All assistance will be co-ordinated with other donors to ensure an efficient and effective response to those in need. To date £400,000 has been allocated to the UN High Commission for Refugees, the United Nations Children's Fund and to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. These agencies have a presence on the ground and will strengthen their response capability as the situation improves.

The European Community Humanitarian Office has also responded to the crisis on behalf of the member states. To date 5 million euros have been allocated to cover emergency humanitarian aid. Further funding is envisaged based on estimates of needs in light of day-to-day developments.

Proinsias De Rossa: I thank the Minister of State for the extensive reply. At what point did the Government become aware that there was going to be a crisis following the referendum? Does she accept the view expressed by the Finnish Presidency that the European Council of Ministers were caught by surprise by the violent reaction of the Indonesian military forces and the militia backed by them? Surely the Government must have known that this would be the reaction and that it would appear that the United Nations were unprepared or did not make any preparations for responding to that situation?

Ms O'Donnell: The referendum in East Timor took place as a result of the 5 May agreement [26] between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations. Indonesia would not accept the idea of international peacekeepers at that time and it took upon itself the responsibility for security. It must now explain its failure to provide that security in the interregnum following the consultation. However, the referendum would not have taken place without the 5 May agreement. It is important to remember that the people in East Timor wanted that referendum. Notwithstanding the intimidation during the election campaign, which was reported by the Minister in his role as representative, a relative calm existed on the day of the referendum which showed it was possible to turn on and off the violence. The Indonesian Government should now explain why it did not adequately control its troops to ensure that violence did not resume.

This debacle has been a test of the credibility of the United Nations. The Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1264 on 15 September, two weeks following the referendum. During those two weeks horrendous atrocities were perpetrated on the people of East Timor. The response of the international community was not fast enough, although it was considerably faster than in other recent cases, such as Kosovo. While we regret that the resolution was not adopted sooner, the focus should now be on ensuring that those aspects of the resolution are implemented in full.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Higgins, as this question is priority and the Minister is answering two questions, one by Deputy De Rossa and one by Deputy Gay Mitchell, the supplementary questions are confined to those two Deputies.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I thought you said it was no longer in priority time after 20 minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is the next question.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Does the Minister of State share the concerns expressed by Trócaire which has asked for the genocide convention to be invoked and has quoted from a UN report which states that the East Timor situation can more properly be described as genocide compared to that in Kosovo? Does she agree with the statement that it seems to have more in common with the situation in Rwanda in 1994 or with Hitler's Final Solution? Does she share the four objectives of Trócaire – to establish an independent panel of experts and a war crimes tribunal, to obtain support for the UNHCR and humanitarian agencies, to ensure the safe and voluntary return of refugees to East Timor and to disarm and disband the militias?

I share her admiration of the Irish UNAMET deputation, including the gardaí who came under fire there. I also express my admiration for the heroism of the Irish Rangers who have volun[27] teered their services. Does the Minister of State share my concern that this is probably the most dangerous task facing the Army since the Congo? I ask her to assure the House that all necessary logistical and equipment support will be in place and that they will have all the resources they need to defend themselves adequately when they arrive in East Timor. When will the Irish Rangers depart for East Timor?

Ms O'Donnell: As regards invoking the genocide convention, Resolution 1264 demands that those responsible for violence in East Timor be brought to justice. Ireland supports the steps already taken by Mrs. Robinson, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, to achieve this. The best approach is for the international community to have the maximum cohesion and weight. Attention and effort should be concentrated on action already progressing. That is why the Government supports the efforts of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Secretary General. Resolution 1264 provides for everything that would be required in this situation from the international community. The Government is concentrating on ensuring that Resolution 1264 and the efforts of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights are fully implemented.

The Government has offered to send our soldiers to assist the Australian led force in East Timor. I agree with the Deputy that this is an extremely dangerous situation. Our capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance depends on the security situation there. At present, the situation is chaotic and insecure with militias still at large and attacking civilians. The danger is they will attack members of the force. Preparations and negotiations are ongoing between the Defence Forces and the Australian authorities and as soon as these plans are in place, the matter will come before the Dáil and permission will be requested to send the Army there.

Proinsias De Rossa: Given that the weapons used by the Indonesian army and presumably the militias supplied by the Indonesian army have come from the United States and the United Kingdom, will the Government ensure that trade will not recommence under any circumstances given the history of the use of those weapons against the population of East Timor?

Will the Minister of State indicate why it is necessary for the United Nations to await Indonesia's transfer of authority to the United Nations when the right of Indonesia to invade East Timor has not been recognised by the United Nations or by Ireland? I understand the practicalities but I wonder about the legalities as it is not the sovereign authority. Surely the United Nations' decision to wait for sanction from the Parliament of Indonesia to act in East Timor is a denial of its rights under the Charter of the United Nations?

[28] While we are concerned to ensure that the authorities in Indonesia are brought to heel, we must ensure that civil society and the democratic forces in Indonesia, which are seeking to establish democracy, will not be penalised by the United Nations or the European Union and that support for these organisations and for the development of democracy will not be stopped.

Ms O'Donnell: At a meeting of the General Affairs Council on 13 September and in interviews afterwards the Minister for Foreign Affairs made it clear that he wished the four month embargo was for a longer period. The embargo now in place is subject to a review at the end of the four month period and can be extended if circumstances so require. Ireland will insist that the situation be rigorously examined as part of that review. It is clear that the provision of arms to the Indonesian state and authorities over the years has been a cause of deep concern to those who were worried about the use of those arms by militias in East Timor. The embargo has been in place since 13 September but we will press for its extension.

As regards the legal recognition of the independence of East Timor, certain basic conditions must be met under international law. It must have a permanent population, the territory must be defined, there must be a recognisable body to govern it and the entity must have the capacity to enter into relationships with other states. While the first and second conditions have already been met, the third and fourth have not, so this is part of the difficulty in recognising the independence of East Timor. Under the 5 May agreement, which provided for the referendum, the next step is to implement its result and as part of this, the United Nations will shortly take over the administration of East Timor in an interim capacity. Its work will include helping the East Timorese to develop their capacity to govern themselves and become independent in the terms I mentioned.

The EU has declared that independence must proceed without delay and that the Union looks forward to recognising East Timor once the process towards independence is complete. The significance of this declaration should not be underestimated and Ireland will assist in ensuring independence happens as soon as possible.

In relation to helping the East Timorese in a developmental sense, I had strong hopes, once a peaceful transition to a democratic and independent state happened, that the Government could consider development co-operation programmes in East Timor. Sadly, the conflict and what happened following the referendum has put that on hold because of the security situation. However, the extent of our response by way of humanitarian relief to the value of £1 million reflects Ireland's long standing commitment to East Timor and shows that we will help them now, as the international community is bound to help them, as they move towards independence. [29] However, they will need the long-term assistance of the international community to achieve that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: As the 20 minutes for Priority Questions has concluded, Question No. 79 will be taken in ordinary time.

Mr. G. Mitchell: What about Question No. 78?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are working under the old system of Priority Questions and the third question cannot be taken once the 20 minutes has concluded.

Ms O'Donnell: Is it dropped?

Mr. G. Mitchell: We have taken three questions. We have taken Questions Nos. 76, 77 and 80. Question No. 78 is the fourth question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: My understanding is that Question No. 80 was taken by the Minister of State with Question No. 77.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Question No. 78 is the fourth question. The Minister of State answered three questions. I would appreciate if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would allow Question No. 78 to be taken today and perhaps the position could be clarified for future Question Times.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Hopefully in future Question Time will be back to the new system which is more satisfactory because all the questions are answered. However, it is a matter for the Whips or the subcommittee of the House to move a motion in the Dáil.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Question No. 78 is the fourth question and the Minister of State is prepared to take it. Perhaps it could be agreed to take it in the circumstances.

Ms O'Donnell: I am agreeable to taking it, if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle agrees.

Mr. Gormley: Will Members have an opportunity to ask supplementary questions on Question No. 79 if Question No. 78 is taken?

Mr. G. Mitchell: Yes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Yes. Question No. 79 will be taken in ordinary time.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Can we take Question No. 78?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would prefer to work within existing Standing Orders rather than break them.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Question No. 78 is the fourth question. Three questions have been taken so far. I submit questions on behalf of 55 Deputies and only two questions have been dealt with so far. If this question is taken in ordinary time, all [30] Members will be in a position to ask supplementary questions and it is a relevant matter. The House has been in recess and this is a grey area. I would be happy if it was clarified for the future. However, as the Minister of State is prepared to take it and there is an argument that it is the fourth question, I would appreciate it if it was taken today.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister of State took Question No. 80 with Question No. 77. The 20 minutes period had concluded and Standing Orders are specific that the third question cannot be taken and the fourth and fifth questions on the Order Paper can be taken in ordinary time. One could argue that Question No. 80 should be debated in ordinary time because it was the fifth question. It is better to stay within the Standing Order being used today, which hopefully will be altered at an early stage.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I am dismayed by this development. This question is next in line and I sat patiently waiting for it. I asked one supplementary question on the last question. This is an important matter which relates to faxes, e-mails and telephone calls from this State alleged to have been intercepted on a widescale basis. It is relevant that questions are asked and answered in the House and it is not clear that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's ruling is correct. We were not given any notice that the old Question Time procedure would be used today. The Minister of State is prepared to take the question and surely, with the agreement of the House, it could be taken and Members allowed to ask supplementary questions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Notice was given at the start of Question Time that as a new order had not been moved in the House, we were obliged to take Question Time in accordance with the Standing Order. As the Deputy is aware, the Standing Order has been amended on a number of occasions in the past and hopefully will be amended again to ensure that all Priority Questions are taken. We will move on to Question No. 79.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Can Question No. 82 be taken with that question? It is the same matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will be entitled to ask supplementary questions on this question. I understand the Minister of State is not taking Question No. 82 with this question.

Ms O'Donnell: I am only taking Question No. 79.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister of State is taking Question No. 79 on its own but as it is in ordinary time, the Deputy will be entitled to ask supplementary questions.