DÁIL QUESTION TO MINISTER FLANAGAN ON HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES IN TIBET AND UYGHUR NATION

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on movements for self-determination in Tibet and among the Uyghur nation of Central Asia. [19204/15]

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Minister had a very successful visit by the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr. Li Keqiang, and also met his counterpart, the Chinese Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Wang Yi. Progress was made on lifting the 15 year BSE-related ban. These changes and the meeting are important and several years ago we had the visit of the Chinese President, Mr. Xi. Did the Minister raise with Mr. Wang or Mr. Li the situation of the two large so-called autonomous regions of China, Tibet and the Uighur nation?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Government follows events in Tibet and the Xinjiang Uighur region on a very close basis. Ireland, together with EU partners, believes that constructive dialogue between the Chinese Government and representatives of the Dalai Lama is the best way to address differences and tensions in Tibet and to reach a solution that respects Tibetan culture, language, religion and identity. It is important for the long-term peace and stability of the region that the two sides come to an agreement on the future of Tibet. To this end, we continue to encourage a resumption of meaningful dialogue. Ireland respects the territorial integrity of China and recognises the necessity of preventing acts of terrorism, as well as the adoption of counter-terrorism strategies that seek to prevent acts of terrorism. We condemn all acts of violence. However, we also take the view that security forces should practice restraint in exercising their competences to avoid providing fuel for further radicalisation and support the EU’s call on the Chinese authorities to address some of the deep-rooted causes of the frustration of the Uighurs, ensuring their right to practice their own culture, language and religion is respected.

Through the formal framework of the EU-China human rights dialogue, which was established in 1995, the EU continues to share with China its experience in the field of human rights protection and promotion and urge the Chinese Government to take clear steps to improve the human rights situation in that country. At the most recent dialogue, which took place in December 2014 in Brussels, the EU and China held discussions on human rights issues, including the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities. The dialogue allowed the two sides to have a detailed exchange of views on a wide range of human rights issues. There was a specific focus on recent developments in China, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, especially in Tibet.

I had an opportunity at the weekend of raising the situation in Tibet and the matter of human rights with my counterpart from China, Mr. Wang Yi.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I welcome the Minister’s comments. I recall that as a backbencher, he expressed concerns regarding the repression of religious minorities, including Christians in Pakistan. In the case of Tibet, we are dealing with a 60-year history of repression of its people, their Buddhist religion and their profound and ancient traditions. Representatives of the International Campaign for Tibet made a presentation at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva setting out the human rights situation and outlining the growing despair of the Tibetan people. There has been a great deal of outrage recently about what is happening in Crimea. The reality is that in 1958 and 1959 the People’s Republic of China essentially absorbed a millennia-old nation.

The World Uyghur Congress has provided a long list of instances of oppression of the Uyghur people. The International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation states that Uyghurs are subjected to compulsory unpaid labour, including in the construction of a pipeline to export local petroleum resources to other parts of China. The Uyghurs are the only population in China consistently subjected to executions for political crimes, and these executions are both summary and public. A UN training seminar for Uyghur youth took place in Geneva in November, which is a positive development. However, there is ongoing and serious repression of people in the region, which used to be known as East Turkestan. The Uyghur Government, which is in exile in Kazakhstan, is calling on countries such as Ireland, which has its own history of repression, to speak up for it. Will the Minister now take a much more vigorous role in standing up for these two oppressed peoples? It is particularly apt that we should seek to help them at a time when we are reflecting on events in our own history in the period from 1915 to 1923.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: We will continue to raise our concerns on these issues with our European partners. A united EU voice of 28 member states is more appropriate in many circumstances than the voice of one country. Having said that, I personally raised concerns regarding persecution on the basis of religion or belief when I addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last March. Ireland raised these same concerns in interactive dialogues with the council’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief and with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during the 69th session of the Third Committee of the General Assembly in 2014.

Last weekend, the Taoiseach, the Chinese Premier, Mr. Li Keqiang, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr. Wang Yi, and I had a good discussion in a spirit of friendship in which we emphasised Ireland’s deep commitment to human rights, the public concern in Ireland regarding human rights in China and the issues upon which we respectfully disagreed, including capital punishment. We welcomed the resumption of the EU-China human rights dialogue last December and expressed the strong wish that it proceed again this year. I had a useful, open and informal discussion with my Chinese counterpart on these issues. We discussed the situation in Tibet, with particular reference to the humanitarian situation in the aftermath of recent earthquakes in Nepal.

I assure the Deputy that we will avail of every opportunity to raise the concern contained in his question.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: We have been reflecting recently, as we regained our sovereignty, on what happened in our own country. Perhaps it is an appropriate time to vigorously raise the issue of these two small nations. Has the Minister met the World Uyghur Congress or the International Campaign for Tibet or has he any intention of doing so? I know there have been visits by the Dalai Lama and so on, but is that something the Minister would be keen on, given his interest in these areas in the past?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: I assure the Deputy that Ireland and our EU partners will continue to encourage a resumption of the meaningful dialogue with the Chinese Government and other representatives. It is important, while acknowledging and respecting the territorial integrity of China, that we also encourage the Chinese authorities to respect at all times the rights of all persons belonging to minorities and their right to freedom of expression.