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 Header Item Agreement with Kazakhstan: Motion (Continued)
 Header Item Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 974 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy] We discussed organising a protest on Kazakhstan independence day in December 2011 in Zhanaozen, which is the provincial capital of the Mangystau region. On that day, tens of workers were massacred when they went out to protest. They were shot down in the streets by state forces and the massacre was captured on video. The Minister, Fianna Fáil Deputies and whoever else wishes can view the footage. Those are the actions of this type of regime.

  Before I visited Kazakhstan, my colleague, former Deputy Joe Higgins, visited some of the country's prisons where he saw the horrific conditions of systematic torture experienced by people who had been arrested on charges such as stirring up social discontent. People in Kazakhstan can be arrested, imprisoned for years and tortured in a brutal way by the regime on the basis of accusations of stirring up social discontent.

  I attempted to visit Kazakhstan again to try to assist in an investigation to uncover the names of those who were killed and undo and expose the impunity afforded to those who ordered the massacre. I was refused a visa on two occasions and was never able to access the country, despite being a member of the European Parliament with a particular focus on the question of Kazakhstan.

  The record of Kazakhstan, as I am sure the Minister of State knows, is horrific in every possible way. In terms of freedom of association, no independent political parties are legally registered in Kazakhstan and workers are not able to organise in trade unions. In the past decade, media outlets have been consistently shut down and anyone who speaks out against the regime is silenced. Perhaps worst of all are the conditions of torture that prevail within the country's prisons.

  I want to mention the human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin, with whom I worked closely in recent years. Thankfully, Mr. Kuramshin finally left prison some months ago, having been arrested and jailed on trumped up charges for six and a half years. I note the Minister spoke in the committee about improving penal conditions. Mr. Kuramshin wrote about the conditions he suffered in prison. I want to read out a few sentences he wrote so that when Members vote to proceed with this agreement, they will know the kind of torture they are endorsing. He stated:

From the date of my last conviction ... I had constantly been subjected to torture. Practically my entire sentence was spent in punishment rooms and solitary confinement.

When I arrived at the correction colony of Ust-Kamenogorsk on the 12th December 2017, I was immediately subjected to cruel beatings by the prison officers of this establishment. I was beaten by dozens of officers all at one time.

When I asked them not to beat my back, the officers used their knees and even began to jump on my back. This caused me great pain and distress. I was then carried into the inspection room. There, in the presence of human rights activists and employees of the prosecutor's office, two knives which had been planted on me were ostentatiously removed. [This was] filmed in order to use against me.

As Mr. Kuramshin noted, this was "a gross breach of the international code of conduct which Kazakhstan is supposed to adhere to." That the European Union would do such a trade deal and the establishment political parties would endorse such a regime tells us everything we need to know.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy As no further speakers are offering, I ask the Minister of State to conclude.

Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Pat Breen): Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen I thank all the Deputies who made a contribution. Many genuine concerns were expressed and we all understand the nature of those concerns. I repeat that we must recall that Kazakhstan is still a relatively young country, gaining its independence in 1991. It is on a reform path but, as we all know, it takes time to build a democratic society. The agreement provides for a broad framework to reinforce political dialogue, providing EU member states with a range of tools for influencing reform, including institutional links that allow for regular discussions.

The agreement updates and augments the existing partnership and co-operation agreement agreed in 1996. It will contribute to modernising the commercial environment in Kazakhstan and increase the ease of doing business for Irish and European firms.

Kazakhstan is a key regional partner for the EU in Central Asia. With the development of a new central Asia strategy next year and the belt and road initiative, the region will only increase in importance over the next decade. I ask Deputies to take note of that.

Kazakhstan works well to engage constructively on a multilateral basis. It works with the OSCE, the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, and the Council of Europe in its legislative reform. We must also note that Kazakhstan sought the opinion of the Venice Commission on several occasions, including most recently on its administrative procedure and justice code.

This agreement covers 29 sectoral areas, among them civil co-operation, co-operation in education, which is extremely important, as the Deputies opposite know, culture, research and innovation. The scope for engagement at all levels provides an ideal platform for Ireland and the EU to encourage change in Kazakhstan.

The EU continues to support Kazakhstan in its efforts to reform. More than 350 projects amounting to €180 million have been funded by the EU, with a particular focus on strengthening the capacity of regional and local government, supporting reform of the justice sector and improving the capacity of the public sector to introduce social and economic reforms.

Some Deputies opposite may believe that delaying ratification of these agreements until such time that progress is made on human rights is the sensible approach to take. They are entitled to make that argument but I argue that this would go against the very essence of what the EU stands for in promoting change through dialogue and engagement. All of us know how important dialogue and engagement was in our country.

Let us not forget that respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms is an essential part of this agreement. If any party is in breach of its obligations on respect for human rights, appropriate measures can be taken in response, up to and including termination of the agreement.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe That has never happened.

Deputy Pat Breen: Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen Please allow me to speak. This is a step that has been carefully considered. While I would prefer to dwell on the agreements with countries such as Georgia that have brought about positive reform, there are times when the EU activates the mechanisms within these agreements when there is a deterioration in the human rights situation. While it rarely happens, it sometimes occurs. I will give the two Deputies opposite an example of that. In 2016, the EU suspended its direct aid to Burundi’s government under the clause of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the bloc and the 77-country African, Caribbean and Pacific, ACP, group guaranteeing the respect of human and democratic rights.

Furthermore, the EU has twice chosen to suspend financial assistance to Moldova, most recently last June. Following the invalidation of elections by three courts in Chisinau, the EU suspended macro-financial assistance based on clear evidence of the violation of political conditionality criteria.

The agreement provides a framework for closer economic co-operation, which can bring about peace, as we have seen in the past. As part of such co-operation, we can continue to emphasise the need to protect human rights and encourage Kazakhstan on its reform path.

I emphasise again that by ratifying this agreement, we will be in a position to add our voice to the EU and the 27 other member states in encouraging Kazakhstan on its path to reform, rather than sitting on the sidelines as others engage. I hope Dáil Éireann will support the motion so that Ireland can proceed to ratify the agreement in the near future. Sitting on the sidelines is not a way forward. Engagement and dialogue are the most important way to improve human rights. We have seen that in the past.

  Question put.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe Vótáil.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 8 November 2018.

Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit at 9.30 a.m. tomorrow to take No. 33a, statements on structural issues at WBS-constructed schools. The statement of the Minister shall not exceed ten minutes and following the Minister’s statement, each party or group in opposition shall have six minutes each, and the six minutes shall consist of alternating questions and answers, each of which shall not exceed one minute. The Minister shall have five minutes in conclusion and the statement, the questions and answers and the concluding reply shall not exceed 57 minutes in total. If the statements conclude before 10.30 a.m., the House shall suspend until 10.30 a.m.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Is the proposal agreed to? Agreed.

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