Action needed in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain
- Category: Defence
Further conflict in states such as Syria, Yemen and Bahrain and the lack of remedial action taken has led Mick to table questions to Minister Gilmore on the issue. As Ireland is not responsible for distribution of arms to these areas, we can only aim to make our stance on the issue known. Mick asked the Deputy to convey to British Prime Minister, David Cameron that Ireland was not in support of their Government's policy of licensing arms to these countries. You can watch the Dáil action here. Mick Wallace: Question 34: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the action he has taken to date and any future action he plans to take in addressing the ongoing disturbances in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, in view of the reports of civilian deaths; his views on the export of weapons to these States by countries such as Britain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. Eamonn Gilmore: I have made clear my strong condemnation of the ongoing violence and serious repression of human rights in Syria, most recently in a statement on 20 December and in my reply to Question No. 47 on 11 January. The UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed by Syrian forces since last March. I am gravely concerned that, despite the presence of an Arab League observer mission since 27 December, the killings of unarmed protestors and widespread human rights abuses continue and I fully support the call from Arab League Secretary General el-Araby for a complete cessation of all violence in Syria. The international community, including the EU, the UN and the Arab League, has reacted to the violence in Syria with a series of robust economic, political and diplomatic measures to compel the Syrian regime to cease its appalling and unacceptable attacks on the Syrian people. I will outline these measures in more detail in other questions on Syria later. However, the important point is that the international community is determined to maintain strong and united political pressure on the Syrian regime until it ends the violent repression against its own people and begins a process of transition. I will be discussing the current situation in Syria with EU colleagues at next week’s Foreign Affairs Council. In Bahrain, while I welcome the positive steps taken by the Bahraini authorities to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, I remain concerned about continuing tensions within the country and allegations of excessive use of force employed by the police against peaceful protestors. These concerns are shared by our EU partners and will be relayed to the Bahraini authorities. In Yemen, presidential elections are scheduled to take place on 21 February following former President Saleh’s resignation in November. His resignation marked the first step in Yemen’s political transition. EU High Representative Ashton has emphasised to Vice President al-Hadi that the transition process must be inclusive and reach out to the large numbers of unemployed young people, the youth movements and other groups. While protests have continued since President Saleh’s resignation, I regard it as a positive that these have not resulted in violent clashes of the kind witnessed prior to the transfer of power. In regard to the export of arms, I fully support the restrictive measures against Syria adopted by the EU, which includes an arms export ban and an export ban on equipment which might be used for internal repression. In regard to the export of arms to Bahrain and Yemen, the decision to transfer or deny the transfer of any military technology is at the national discretion of each exporting state. In 2008, the EU adopted a Common Position which defines the rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment by member states. Under this Common Position, member states assess all licence applications for military exports against eight separate criteria, including the human rights situation on the ground. As a result, I would note that armaments companies in the EU are in compliance with one of the strictest export control regimes in the world. The operation of the Council Common Position is kept under constant review by member states in light of changing circumstances in individual buyer countries. Mick Wallace: The restrictions placed on Syria are welcome. However, it is a pity he has not taken the same robust approach to Yemen and Bahrain where the disturbances might not be on the same scale but the principle is similar. In Bahrain, for example, the US gave a green light to Saudis to go in and crush local peaceful protest, enhance religious sectarianism, organise secret trials and sentence prisoners to death. Bahrain is not a lovely place at the moment. Only last week, the British Government issued licences to allow arms manufacturers in Britain to export arms to Bahrain. It is sad to say that money decides most things. Irrespective of that, they can all say “I wish things were better in Bahrain”, but as long as they continue to export arms to that government what do they expect? They will do anything for profit. I would like to see the Tánaiste expressing his dislike to David Cameron about the idea of issuing new licences for arms to Bahrain at the moment. Eamonn Gilmore: When I attend the House to answer parliamentary questions, I do so on behalf of the Irish Government. The position as far as Ireland is concerned is that we have not issued any licences for the export of military goods. Mick Wallace: I did not say you had. Eamonn Gilmore: Yes but that is the question. My responsibility to this House is on behalf of the Irish Government. To make it clear, the position is that Ireland has not issued any licences for the export of military goods to Yemen or Bahrain in 2011. I acknowledge Deputy Wallace’s support and his comments on the strong position Ireland has taken in respect of Syria, but we are not cutting and dicing here. As far as the Government is concerned, the issues of human rights and democratic rights are not divisible. They are not applied one way in one country and another way in another country. As far as we are concerned, they are universal rights. As the Deputy knows, the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry undertook a comprehensive and impartial investigation into the events at the Salmaniya medical complex and concluded that there was no evidence that any of the medical professionals refused treatment to any injured or sick person based on ethnicity. The commission also found that the allegations that medical personnel provided protestors with weapons were founded. At a court hearing on 28 November 2011, the report was submitted in evidence at the request of the legal team representing the medical professionals. At the most recent hearing, on 9 January 2012, the court deferred consideration of the case to a further hearing on 19 March. All of the medical professionals remain at liberty while the current legal proceedings continue. Incidentally, that was a specific call I made on behalf of this country - that all the medical personnel who had been arrested and detained should be released pending the appeal of their cases. Mick Wallace: The Tánaiste says he is only responsible for Irish issues. However, while he did not set up Guantánamo Bay himself, he has criticised it and was dead right to do so. It is an absolute disgrace that of over 800 people who were thrown into it, only six were convicted, which is a smaller number than the military personnel who have left because of the unfairness of the system there. We might not be exporting any arms to Bahrain or Yemen but, given that the Tánaiste was prepared to express his disquiet about Guantánamo to the Americans, surely he could also complain about the fact that in Yemen today they are using tear-gas canisters with “Made in America” written on them. With regard to Bahrain, it would be nice if the Tánaiste could let Mr. Cameron know that Ireland was always perceived as a neutral country. The Tánaiste has a great opportunity to enhance that and ensure that we are not seen to be taking sides with anyone, and that we disagree with this sort of behaviour by any country. Eamonn Gilmore: As I said earlier, there is a common EU position on the export of military equipment. Eight separate criteria must be met before a country can export either military equipment or equipment used for military purposes to any other country. Those eight criteria include strong human rights criteria. Ireland’s position is that we expect all EU member states to comply with those criteria. The Deputy may be assured that at the Foreign Affairs Council where this issue will be discussed, I will be making that position very clear on Ireland’s behalf.