Committee Reports::Report - Algeria::04 June, 1998::Proceedings of the Joint Committee



Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs

Dé Céadaoin, 14 Éanair 1998.

Wednesday, 14 January 1998.

The Committee met at 2.35 p.m.

Members present:


L. Aylward,


P. Burke,

B. Briscoe,

A. Doyle,

I. Callely,

M. Lanigan,

A. Deasy,

P. Mooney,

P. De Rossa,

D. Norris.

M. Kitt,



G. Mitchell,



M. O’Kennedy,



D. O’Malley (in the Chair),



A. Shatter,



B. Smith



Also present Senator J. Connor.

Chairman: We have a quorum and are now in public session. The first item on the agenda concerns the minutes of the meeting of 10 December 1997. Is there any matter arising from those minutes? Are they agreed? Agreed. I should mention that we also have the minutes of the meeting of 17 December 1997, but unfortunately they were not circulated in time for this meeting. We can circulate them for the next meeting.

That meeting was with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, in connection with the situation in Algeria. He spoke to the Committee about that and answered questions. Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated since then and there have been some very serious atrocities. A motion from the Committee was agreed at that time and I hope it will be acted upon. I propose to take it up with the Minister for Foreign Affairs to try to ensure that it is acted upon. It has already been conveyed to him because the position there has deteriorated enormously and there have been some awful atrocities within the past week. It is one of the most serious situations that exists in the world, yet nothing is being done to protect large numbers of entirely innocent people who are being attacked and killed in the middle of the night in awful circumstances.

I understand the EU Troika will visit Algeria shortly and I hope it will have some success. It is a matter of great urgency. I understand that Algeria is being discussed by the subcommittee on human rights.

Deputy G. Mitchell: We have called a meeting of the subcommittee and have invited Amnesty International specifically to examine the human rights aspect of the problem. That meeting will take place next week.

Deputy De Rossa: While we are all expressing concern about Algeria, and rightly so, there seems to be no action other than discussions at various levels. Nobody seems keen to do anything. Perhaps the only real weapon we have is our trade with Algeria. This Committee should make a strong plea to the Government to look at the issue of our trade with Algeria, both imports and exports, and the question of the European Union’s trade with Algeria generally. Action at that level must be taken if pressure is to be exterted on the authorities. From what I have seen of the situation, it is clear the authorities are not innocent in this whole affair. We must be serious about this or the atrocities will continue.

Deputy Briscoe: The silence of the United Nations on this matter strikes me as strange. Normally, you would expect the UN Security Council to have met on a number of occasions, but there has been an amazing silence. I would be interested to know what, if anything, the United Nations are doing about this. They seem to be out of the matter as if it was being left to the European Union alone to deal with these things. I have not heard very much coming from the United Nations. There has been an enormous silence. I am curious, to say the least. Maybe someone else has greater wisdom or knowledge than I have about what is happening. Perhaps somebody with greater knowledge on the subject could comment.

Chairman: At its last meeting the committee passed the following resolution: “The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs strongly urges the Government, along with its EU partners, to actively support and encourage the proposed appointment by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights of special rapporteurs on

(a) extra judicial killings, and

(b) torture

in Algeria with a view to their conducting a comprehensive investigation of the situation on these issues in that country and with a view to reporting back to the next session of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights which convenes in March 1998”.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson, has tried to do something. I am disturbed that she has not received much support from the remainder of the organisation, nor from any of the major member states of the UN.

Our trade with Algeria is small.

Deputy G. Mitchell: It is worth approximately £14 million in total.

Chairman: Given this, I am not sure it will make that much difference.

Proinsias De Rossa: It would deliver a strong political message, not only to Algeria but to the rest of the EU. It would also set headlines for action by other member states, acting individually or within the Union. It is frustrating that there is abuse of the basic human right to life with apparent connivance by the Algerian Government. It is also frustrating that we are so impotent in attempting to do something about that. The international bodies appear to be powerless to intervene to any significant extent. It is not as if this only arose in the last few months; it has been ongoing for years, yet we are doing nothing but talking about it. The Government would be right to announce its intention to take that kind of action and to raise it within the EU because it is the only thing to which the authorities in Algeria will respond.

Chairman: A difficulty with trade is that a number of the Mediterranean EU countries are major importers of Algerian gas. They possibly have no alternative sources of supply. That may be influencing their attitude and their apparent disinterest in the very serious situation which is very close to some of them.

Senator Lanigan: I disagree with Deputy De Rossa’s suggestion that Ireland impose sanctions on Algeria. The Government is not mainly responsible for the atrocities although it could be argued that it has contributed by not putting down this movement. However, its task is very difficult.

The imposition of sanctions will not work. The Government is supposedly attempting to govern yet it is being opposed by the most atrocious militia group. Nobody knows from where the impetus for this group arises but it is not being funded from within Algeria.

Senator A. Doyle: Can we be sure about that?

Senator Lanigan: We know as much about that as we do about the extent of the Government’s involvement in the prevention of terrorism. If the same kind of terrorism was ongoing on this island our Government would have a difficult job in eradicating it.

Senator A. Doyle: The Algerian Government is involved in a nod and a wink situation.

Senator Lanigan: It is not a nod and a wink situation. It is very difficult to resolve. Certain European countries, especially France, will not become involved in resolving the problem. Given past French experience in Algeria their influence in the EU is a cause for the latter not acting as forcibly as it should.

I cannot see what influence the UNHCR can have other than to do as we do and say that atrocities are happening and must be stopped. Mrs. Robinson does not have enough staff to control her office in Geneva. It is a very small organisation with little powers. The UNHCR can issue statements but it will be ineffective.

The UN Security Council has taken action in places where there were many fewer atrocities and problems. We must put pressure on it to act urgently because the situation has virtually gone out of control. There is no point in pretending that the imposition of sanctions by Ireland will solve the problem.

Deputy G. Mitchell: While I share the sentiments expressed by Deputy De Rossa our trade with Algeria is so small it would be ineffective and would punish many people here and may even punish innocent people in Algeria. There appears to be prima facie evidence that many atrocities have occurred beside military barracks with nothing done to deal with the perpetrators. Indeed, some of the perpetrators may be wearing uniform. It appears that people are able to kill at will without the intervention of the military. That is a matter of grave concern.

The work of the CFSP is on our work agenda. People were killed in the most horrific circumstances during the Bosnian crisis. For example, a tool was made which gouged out both eyes at the same time before a person was killed. I attended meetings of Foreign Ministers which spent much time trying to agree on the wording of a proposed démarche. This exercise continued under I-FOR, a UN led operation. It was only with the establishment of S-FOR, a regional arrangement authorised by the UN but led by NATO, that those involved were taken on and told that retaliatory action would be taken.

We want to have our cake and eat it. We are not even prepared to join something as innocuous as the Partnerships for Peace arrangements, although everybody worth mentioning in Europe has joined it. Yet when people are being killed in this terrible way we want to talk about peace keeping and peace making. Others must make the peace without our involvement while we writing our hands and speak from the high moral ground.

I do not direct these remarks at any specific person because I am part of this charade.

The people involved in this violence are only a two hour journey from Paris. The Bosnians live within our Continent. Until we are prepared to make clear the role we are prepared to take in the evolving security and defence architecture, especially in terms of peace making and peace enforcing, nobody in Algeria, Bosnia or elsewhere will be fearful of Ireland or the EU. If they knew we had the capacity to take on peace enforcing they may at least be more reluctant to allow the present scale of atrocities continue. This issue could be addressed when we consider CFSP. We might then be heard with greater moral authority throughout the rest of Europe.

Deputy Shatter: I agree with Deputy Gay Mitchell. In some of the international fora I have attended people have become increasingly cynical about the bleating that takes place in this country, particularly by some Members of the Oireachtas, regarding concerns about conflicts in different parts of the world and the need for intervention when at the same time a Government decision has not been made to join the Partnership for Peace and when, for party political reasons, the concept of Partnership for Peace has been deliberately confused and presented as a NATO organisation. It is an organisation to allow countries with different backgrounds in foreign policy to join together in trying to establish peace in different parts of the world where there are major difficulties.

I have been watching what has been happening in Algeria for many months, as other Members of the committee have. What is happening is an outrage against human rights and is entirely unacceptable. I recall being a Member of this committee during the early stage of the conflict in Bosnia when all sorts of declarations were being made about the EU with individual states calling on the protagonists to do this, that and the other. The Chairman will recall our discussion of the creation of so-called safe havens. I made the point, as did the Chairman, that safe havens would prove to be nothing more than easy targets unless there was real military back-up and protection for those within them.

On occasion we think we are more important than we are. We are talking as one of the smaller islands and as a member state of the EU with an extremely small population in comparison to other member states. The influence we have in these areas is minimal. Success in Bosnia was achieved by the sending in of troops. We did not contribute to that force when it was sent in. The peace was effectively organised through NATO. This is the reality which lead to the Daton accords. We were not part of it.

The conflict in Algeria will not be resolved without international intervention. I remember the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda and the excuse of Ugandan sovereignty being used as a reason why nobody could intervene in what amounted to wholesale massacres. The same excuse was used in regard to Cambodia and the Pol Pot regime which was involved in widespread genocide. The international community sat back, issued declarations, wrung its hands and did nothing.

In the context of protecting human rights and achieving peace, the reality is that in some parts of the world where either tyrants are in control or governments are turning a blind eye to gross atrocities - none of us are quite sure of the degree of complicity, if any, on the part of the Algerian military in what is happening there - all the declarations made by this or any other committee are falling on deaf ears. They are a complete waste of time. What is required is an international decision by a group such as Partnership for Peace, of which we should be a party, that intervention is required to restore order and protect the lives of ordinary people. What is happening in Algeria will be replicated in other countries in years to come until EU states are capable of acting in consort on an international level. I am not pretending that there is a simple solution to the Algerian problem. We are aware of the complexity of the problem and the threat it poses to countries which might try to intervene. There are no simple solutions. However, international handwriting or whimpering by this country when the Government will not decide that we should be part of Partnership for Peace, will be treated less than seriously abroad. Neither is it treated very seriously by people on this island who are concerned about these problems.

Chairman: I do not wish to enter a full scale debate on Algeria as we discussed it fully the last day.

Deputy De Rossa: My proposal has raised an interesting debate about Algeria and a whole range of issues, including neutrality, Partnership for Peace and NATO. This is a smokescreen to some extent. We are talking about the sovereign power of the State to trade or not to trade with Algeria. Does the State believe it should be trading with Algeria while there are atrocities being carried out in which it is clear the authorities are involved to some extent? This is the issue, not whether we act as members of NATO, the UN or the EU. As a gesture to the rights of the Algerian people, we should decide not the trade.

The argument has been put forward that we only export goods to the value of £30 million and that ending our trade would have no impact. I am certain that if the amount was £300 million, the reverse argument would be made, namely that ending trade would have an appalling impact on the Irish people trading with Algeria. The argument based on value, therefore, is not sustainable. Changes in trade arrangements should be on the basis of something being right or wrong. The question is whether we trade or not with a State which is clearly involved to some degree in the genocide of its own people. This is a serious issue. It is wrong to cloud the issue by talking about Partnership for Peace and saying what we will not do. We can have an interesting debate on Partnership for Peace and why SFOR appears to be successful where IFOR was not. I have my own views on this matter and I would like the opportunity to put them forward some day. However, focusing on this is clouding the issue.

I have made a proposal and it should be dealt with in a serious manner. The committee should ask the Government to stop trading with Algeria and to encourage the EU to do likewise.

Deputy G. Mitchell: I understand the frustrations and I am not opposed to the idea. I understand that Algeria is one of the biggest providers of potassium, a major ingredient in agricultural fertilisers. We have to look at the possibility of banning imports as well as exports. We would need much advice before doing this. I am not suggesting that Deputy De Rossa’s suggestion should be ruled out: we should consider it.

Deputy De Rossa: Algeria is not the only producer of potassium.

Deputy G. Mitchell: No, but we always go for the soft options which may punish our own workers and workers in Algeria rather than those behind the atrocities. We need to take advice on the issue, but I am not ruling it out.

Senator Connor: I was not present for the previous discussion on Algeria as I was not entitled to be. However, I was here last year when the Algerian Ambassador in London came before the committee. He answered the questions put to him. I raised the issue of the civil war with him. Before taking action we should hear from somebody of his stature. I do not know whether it would be possible to invite him to come before the committee to answer questions in the light of recent reports from the country. The situation is much worse now than a year and a half ago when he last appeared before the committee.

We should not take any action. I have listened to the reports in the international media and nobody has definitely said that the Algerian Government is involved in the massacres. Although suspicion is strong, they are not taking the action. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs met his Algerian counterpart and Deputy Andrews described him as a strong and decent man. I do not know exactly what was meant by this description.

We should try to get somebody from the Algerian embassy to talk to us.

Chairman: The sub-committee on human rights has taken up the matter and it can examine the issue. We had a full meeting on the issue last month.

Deputy M. Kitt: I would welcome a member of the Algerian embassy coming before the sub-committee on human rights.

The Chairman referred to a meeting in March. Is that a meeting of the General Assembly?

Chairman: No. I referred to the Commission on Human Rights which meets in March every year in Geneva. The General Assembly meets in December.

Deputy M. Kitt: The response from the United Nations has been disappointing and I was concerned that we would have to wait another two months for action. The motion proposed by the Chairman at the last meeting is good but we must-----

Chairman: The idea was that these two groups would be sent by the UN Commission on Human Rights to Algeria in sufficient time to enable them to report to the commission’s meeting in March. However, they have not yet gone to Algeria even though it was proposed by Mrs. Robinson in early December. It is regrettable that they have not been able to go. They have not been admitted by the Algerian authorities.

Deputy M. Kitt: That is regrettable. I agree with Deputy De Rossa with regard to sanctions but when I previously proposed the imposition of sanctions in the case of Nigeria, the then Tánaiste said they could not be imposed unilaterally but only in the context of action by the European Union. I would support contacting the European Union with regard to sanctions in this case. If there is to be consistency with our response to human rights abuses in other countries, we should take the same action against Algeria.

Chairman: Item 2 refers to Northern Ireland——

Prionsias De Rossa: Will the Committee make a decision on this?

Chairman: We made the decision at the last meeting.

Prionsias De Rossa: What about my proposal of sanctions?

Chairman: No. This discussion arose from the minutes and a substantive motion on the issue would be required. It should be dealt with by the sub-committee on human rights which will discuss this matter next week.

Deputy G. Mitchell: If Deputy De Rossa wishes to submit a motion, it could be put on the agenda.

Chairman: It could be put down for the sub-committee meeting next Wednesday.