Dáil Éireann - Volume 586 - 25 May, 2004

Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.

  138. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to serious and widespread reports of ethnic cleansing in Sudan, allegedly being carried out by the Janjaweed Militia with the support of the Sudanese Government; if he has taken action in relation to these reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15200/04]

  Mr. Cowen: Over the course of the Irish Presidency, the EU has been to the forefront of the international community in trying to address the appalling humanitarian and human rights situation in Darfur. At its meetings in April and May, the General Affairs and External Relations Council declared its serious concern at the humanitarian and human rights violations in Darfur and called on the Government of Sudan to provide unhindered and safe humanitarian access to the region. The actions of the Janjaweed in Darfur are to be utterly condemned and the Government of Sudan must take action now to adequately protect civilians against these violent militias. This is a message that the EU has consistently conveyed to the Government of Sudan.

In response to such pressure, the Government of Sudan has established a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Darfur. We expect the commission to confirm the human rights violations reported by the acting UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and we will be seeking a swift response by the Government of Sudan to its findings.

Action by the EU was instrumental in bringing together the Government of Sudan and the two Darfur rebel groups for peace talks in Chad, which resulted on 8 April in a humanitarian ceasefire. The ceasefire has contributed to a relative improvement in the general security situation which has allowed greater access to internally displaced persons for humanitarian organisations. For the past year, the EU has continually applied pressure to the government of Sudan to provide greater access to Darfur for humanitarian organisations and I welcome the announcement last week by that Government that special permits will no longer be required for agencies wishing to travel to Darfur. It is imperative that this decision by the Government of Sudan is implemented on the ground. We will also press for the immediate lifting of other restrictions which impede humanitarian access.

EU humanitarian assistance to Darfur is likely to be in excess of €10 million for 2004, with a further €4 million for Sudanese refugees in Chad. My Department is in the process of releasing €1 [446] million in emergency funding for Darfur, of which €750,000 will be channelled through the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs. The EU is committed to working closely with the UN to ensure the success of the upcoming donors’ co-ordination meeting on Darfur to be held in Geneva in June. The occasion will be used to send a further strong political message to the Government of Sudan that its inadequate response to the situation in Darfur cannot continue.

The EU and the UN will continue to work closely together on the situation in Darfur. As Presidency, we have asked EU member states who are also members of the UN Security Council to continue to push for a greater level of engagement by the Security Council on the issue of Darfur.

The EU is also working closely with the African Union to establish an African Union ceasefire monitoring mechanism for the Darfur region. The AU is ready to meet with the parties to the conflict in order to establish a ceasefire commission and we have sent a strong message to the Government in Sudan and to the Darfur rebels that such a commission must be established as a matter of urgency. When established, the monitoring mechanism should help strengthen the ceasefire currently in place and contribute to the overall security situation for local populations.

  139. Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the recent horrific Israeli army attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip using helicopter gunships, tanks, bulldozers and other armoured vehicles and including the destruction of water and electricity networks in gross violation of international law, he will use the EU Presidency to propose the suspension of preferential trade with Israel on the basis of persistent and systematic human rights violations, by invoking Articles 2 and 79 of the EU-Israel association agreement. [15728/04]

  Mr. Cowen: I made clear my deep concern over Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip in the statements which I issued on 13, 14 and 19 May. These acts have attracted widespread international condemnation, including from the Secretary General of the United Nations. The Israeli actions in Gaza were also the subject of United Nations Security Resolution 1544, adopted on 19 May.

The question of action by the European Union under the terms of the association agreement with Israel has been raised in this House on a number of occasions. Ireland has no plans to bring forward proposals to suspend the association agreement between Israel and the EU. The Government has, however, on many occasions expressed its grave disquiet at the impact of actions taken by the Israeli Government on the human rights of Palestinians. The European Union has also regularly conveyed [447] its concerns to the Israeli authorities at the human rights implications of its security policies. Together with our partners in the Union, we will continue to press the Israeli Government to respect fully its obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the fourth Geneva Convention, and under Article 2 of the EU-Israel association agreement. The Union once again conveyed its views to the Israeli authorities in a very clear manner at a meeting of the EU-Israel association council on 17 and 18 November of last year.

Notwithstanding our ongoing concerns, the Government is of the view that the suspension of the trade preferences contained in the association agreement would not be the most effective means of inducing a change in Israeli practices. The Government continues to believe that the appropriate approach is through dialogue with the Israeli authorities and by encouraging negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. Furthermore, there is no likelihood under present circumstances that a proposal to suspend the trade preferences would achieve the necessary support from EU member states.