A Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D. at the Adjournment Debate on Afghanistan
The urgent need to end the bombing in Afghanistan so as to allow aid corridors to be established and relief to be brought to the Afghan people who have but four weeks at most, left to receive such aid as will avoid a catastrophic loss of life. - Michael D. Higgins T.D.
Reply by Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs
A Cheann Comhairle,
I know that everyone in this House is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. This concern is shared throughout the international community and every effort is being made at all levels to respond to their plight. The ordinary people of Afghanistan have been the victims of over two decades of violence and of the extremism of the Taliban regime. A generation of Afghans have known little else but conflict, poverty, malnourishment and human rights abuses. From the moment we took up our position on the UN Security Council last January, Ireland has sought to highlight the humanitarian dimension of the situation in Afghanistan.
We all know that the desperate situation of the Afghan people did not begin on the 11th of September or the 7th of October. Indeed, the Taliban regime had been obstructing the efforts of the international community to respond to the humanitarian plight of the people of Afghanistan for as considerable period of time and there were reports as recent as yesterday of the Taliban confiscating UN aid.
Although the suffering of the people of Afghanistan did not begin on the 11th of September, it is the determined goal of the international community that this crisis will bring an end to their misery and provide a new beginning for the people of Afghanistan.
Let me outline briefly the actions that are being taken by the international community:
At the United Nations:
Each week since taking up the Presidency of the Security Council, Ireland has convened consultations on Afghanistan, where we have underlined the urgent need to focus on the humanitarian concerns of the Afghan people. The Security Council is taking a comprehensive approach to Afghanistan, which includes addressing the political, economic, humanitarian and human rights situations.
Secretary General Kofi Annan has appointed a Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi. He has a long and distinguished career in the service of the UN and has overall authority for UN humanitarian and political efforts in Afghanistan. He will be active in encouraging the emergence of a fully representative, multi-ethnic and broad-based Government and will initiate preparations for the development of plans for the rehabilitation of Afghanistan. At Ireland's request, Ambassador Brahimi briefed the Security Council on 16 October on his contacts to date. I had a very valuable discussion last evening with Ambassador Brahimi which enabled me to set out our concerns. I understand that the Ambassador will be visiting the region shortly.
In the course of the Security Council consultations, Ireland highlighted the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and commended the work of humanitarian organisations in the region, including Irish NGOs. We urged Pakistan and Iran to reopen their borders to enable cross-border deliveries of aid and to facilitate preparations for an influx of refugees. We stressed the need for the international community to provide host countries with immediate financial support.
UN agencies are currently delivering an estimated 1000 metric tonnes into Afghanistan each day, but much more - at least twice as much - is needed.
In our role as Presidency of the Security Council, we will be convening further consultation on Afghanistan in the coming days. We are reviewing the situation on a daily basis with our Permanent Representative, Ambassador Ryan and our team in New York, as well as with our other Embassies, including of course Washington. I will be updating our guidance to the Mission in New York following my meeting with NGOs this morning, and the debate in this House. I will also be in further early contact with the key international players, including Ambassador Brahimi. I will be traveling to New York next week, where I will be meeting UN officials responsible for the coordination of humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.
Ireland believes the role of the UN is critical to the ultimate successful resolution of the situation in Afghanistan. That country cannot be allowed to remain a failed state where continuing internal conflicts breed illegal activities and provide a safe haven for terrorists. The UN Security Council has been endeavouring for several years to facilitate the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. The objective is an Afghanistan with a truly representative Government, at peace with its neighbours. As Presidency of the Security Council for the rest of this month, for the remainder of our term until the end of 2002, and beyond, Ireland will remain closely involved in the efforts to bring this about.
At the EU level:
I attended a special meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg yesterday where the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was top of our agenda. We made it clear that emergency humanitarian aid in Afghanistan is an absolute priority of the Union, which undertook to mobilize without delay aid amounting to more than 320milllion euros. 25 million Euro were released to enable the Commission (ECHO) to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs and they will keep the mobilisation and convoying of aid under regular examination
At our meeting yesterday, EU Foreign Ministers also
expressed our concern at the difficulties of access and of convoying humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and expressed our support for the efforts of the UN specialised agencies, of the ICRC and of all humanitarian organisations in seeking practical and flexible solutions:
we also appealed to the countries in the region to facilitate by all means possible the humanitarian operations for hosting fresh flows of Afghan refugees and undertook to assist them in this regard..
thirdly, we agreed on a number of points to guide the Union's future policy on Afghanistan, namely
- the establishment of a stable, legitimate and broadly representative government, expressing the will of the people
the essential role of the UN in the peace plan
maintaining the absolute priority for humanitarian aid:
a plan for the reconstruction of the country
– the regional dimension of the stabilisation of Afghanistan.
To this end, EU Foreign Ministers agreed that the Belgian Presidency, High Representative Solana and the Commission should make immediate contact with the UN SG Kofi Annan and his Special Representative Brahimi to contribute effectively to their efforts.
EU Heads of State and Government will meet in Ghent tomorrow, where they will underline the EU's commitment to respond to the urgent needs of the Afghan people.
On the national level, this Government has given priority to the demands of the Afghan humanitarian crisis. The Government's overriding priority in humanitarian terms is to get aid to the hundreds of thousands at risk within Afghanistan as soon as possible. As I have just outlined, we are making every effort at UN and EU level to give the humanitarian emergency the urgent attention it requires. It is a core component of Ireland's working programme as Presidency of the UN Security Council. I personally raised it in the strongest terms in the course of my recent meetings in Washington and New York. It is being actively pursued in our bilateral meetings with the key UN and regional representatives. Our Permanent Representation to the UN in Geneva is similarly engaged on a daily basis with the relevant UN, Red Cross and other international humanitarian agencies.
In addition to my raising it at yesterday's meeting of EU Foreign Minister's, Minister of State Liz O'Donnell was able to press home the importance of all these humanitarian priorities when she attended the Special Meeting of EU Development Ministers which was held in Brussels on 10th October.
Following the Government's recent announcement of an additional £2.8 million in emergency assistance, Ireland has provided a total of £4 million to the people of Afghanistan this year. This expenditure represents both the gravity of the current crisis and the enormous humanitarian commitment which Ireland and other EU Member States are making to Afghanistan. We now have a clear and pressing challenge - to deliver that aid to those who need it most before winter sets in.
I met this morning with representatives of Goal, Trocaire, Christian Aid Ireland, Concern and Oxfam to discuss with them the ongoing humanitarian crisis and their assessment of situation on the ground. I was again struck by the dedication and determination of Ireland's aid community in responding to humanitarian crises such as this, and I want to put on record yet again in this House our deep gratitude and support for their work.
In the course of my discussions with the agencies this morning, we reviewed the current problems of access and delivery of aid. There are currently a number of aid delivery routes being operated by the World Food Programme and other international agencies. In addition, the Irish aid agencies and other NGOs are making their own efforts to source and deliver aid into Northern Afghanistan via neighbouring countries such as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. While these aid delivery routes are effective in their own right, they remain vulnerable to interruption and have, in some cases, been cut off at different times.
We all agreed this morning that it is vital to ensure secure and safe access for food convoys over the coming weeks. For our part, the government will continue to work on a national level, through the UN and with our EU partners to do all that is humanly possible to draw attention to, and respond to, the emergency humanitarian crisis, and to the medium and long term needs of the Afghan people.
The Government is of the clear view that as any military campaign is pursued against the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime that willingly shelters it, a visible strategy must be put in place for addressing the humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Afghanistan.