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Debates
Thursday, 16 December 2004 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Rule 115)
  

Zimbabwe

President. The next item is the debate on seven motions for resolutions on Zimbabwe.

 
  
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  Bowis (PPE-DE). Mr President, Zimbabwe is a land of tragedy and a land of tyranny. It is a country rich in natural resources and rich in the resources of its people. Both are being devastated by the political tyranny of the Mugabe regime.

People are suffering from hunger and health problems as a result of food and medical aid being withheld from areas that are covered by the opposition parties. Some 9 million people, 75% of the Zimbabwean population, are now said to be living below the poverty line, but the World Food Programme is only able to provide food for 1.6 million people this December. That is the first reason why this is an urgency.

The second reason is that on 3 March there is supposed to be an election in Zimbabwe. That election, on the present prospects, will be neither free nor fair. It is not up to us to decide who the people of Zimbabwe should elect. That is entirely for them, but they must be free to elect whomsoever they wish.

It is up to the neighbouring countries of Africa and to the African Union to make sure that international standards of democracy pertain throughout Africa and throughout the country of Zimbabwe. It is up to the European Union to make sure that we support the monitoring of those elections, giving technical support and financial support, so that we can play our part in the international observer missions. That is also why it is an urgency today.

The third reason is the intolerable attack on the liberty of Roy Bennett, one of their members of parliament, a man who has suffered, whose family has suffered and whose workers have suffered over the months. Mr Bennett pushed a government minister because he was making racial remarks about Mr Bennett and his family. He was then sent to prison, not by the courts, but by a vote in the parliament based on the political division.

I urge that the AU and the EU act today to bring a semblance of justice to the people of Zimbabwe.

 
  
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  Attard-Montalto (PSE). Mr President, I have just returned from a private visit to Zimbabwe. It is interesting to note that the situation on the ground does not appear desperate. However, according to the statistics, the situation is probably worse in other parts of the country which I did not visit.

When debating such countries as Zimbabwe, where human rights are not even discussed because of fear of repression, we must consider the right attitude to take in order to try to influence the powers that be. We know we are dealing with a regime that is not democratic, that has taken tried to use almost all its powers to take away the democratic and fundamental rights of part of its population. On the other hand, we have seen recently that there is a silver lining. The courts, for instance, are striving from a very difficult position to try to retain some form of impartiality.

Sometimes I wonder whether a carrot-and-stick policy might be more appropriate and more fruitful than just passing motions of condemnation. We may pass this motion but what effect will it have? Very little, I think, with a regime like Mugabe's. We must start to think in different terms if we are to be effective when dealing with a regime of this sort.

 
  
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  Hall (ALDE). Mr President, political oppression in Zimbabwe casts a long shadow; it is a cloud that lies over not only those living in Zimbabwe itself but also those who have left to seek asylum in Europe.

In my constituency in the north-east of England, there are Zimbabweans who fear summary death if they are forced to return to their native land. I hope that Member State governments like my own, which think it is safe for asylum-seekers to be returned to Zimbabwe, will take note of the resolution tabled here this afternoon and revise their position.

The situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse, not better. On 9 December 2004, the Non-Governmental Organisations Act came into force. This Act bans foreign human rights organisations and gives the government powers to intervene in the operations of any NGO in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the quality of life for Zimbabweans has plummeted. Life expectancy is now 35 years. Zimbabwe could be self-sufficient in food, but last season it produced only a third of the maize it needs; yet the Mugabe regime is interfering with the international distribution of food.

In the light of this deteriorating situation, it is high time to tighten up targeted sanctions against the regime.

A final point: as we have heard, next March Zimbabwe is due to hold a general election. There are worrying indications that this election may not be held in free and fair conditions. Electoral legislation passed earlier this month did not meet international democratic standards. Good observation of the elections is going to be a vital part of ensuring that they are free and fair. Therefore I hope that we in Parliament, and the Council and the Commission, will provide the maximum possible support for election-observer missions at all levels.

 
  
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  Markov (GUE/NGL). (DE) Mr President, Madam President-in-Office of the Council, Zimbabwe has always experienced periods of complexity and profound division, whether under colonialism, at the time of Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and the ensuing UN embargo, during the war of liberation from 1972 to 1978 and then, following independence, in the first democratic elections, which were won by ZANU under Robert Mugabe.

For me, though, as an East German, it is always striking how often leaders who take office full of lofty ideals then, so to speak, distance themselves from their own original goals and visions and take less and less account of the people’s interests the longer they are in power.

Zimbabwe does, of course, even today have massive problems to contend with. I believe that the only thing we can recommend to Zimbabweans today is to look around them and see how their neighbours have managed it – to look at what South Africa is doing, at what Namibia is doing, at how Angola and Mozambique are trying to establish a balance between the various vested interests in their countries. If there is to be peace, there must be an attempt at mutual understanding, with the use of peaceful means and every interest, even the most diverse, taken into account.

Zimbabwe needs land reform, but there are other ways of going about it. The European Union should not always be, as it were, making recommendations to all and sundry on the basis of our values. Very often, that goes wrong; perhaps you all still recall the European Union’s staunch support for Russia’s President Yeltsin at a time when he was an alcoholic.

In this actual instance, we can be confident that the SADC will have influence and find opportunities, and that the African Union can act to move things forward. I am convinced that we, if we support these countries in their efforts to influence Zimbabwe, will be very likely to be able to help the elections scheduled for March to be fair and democratic after all.

 
  
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  Belder (IND/DEM).(NL) Mr President, the Mugabe regime’s strategy of forcing political opponents into line is continuing unabated. For example, the Zimbabwean authorities have forced two newspapers expressing critical views to close in the past 18 months. In addition, Mugabe’s supporters have made, and continue to make, life as difficult as possible for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Undoubtedly with a view to the approaching parliamentary elections in March 2005, the Mugabe regime is increasing the pressure on independent organisations, judging by the Non-governmental Organisations Act adopted in Harare exactly a week ago. In future, these shall no longer be permitted to receive any funding from abroad. If a Zimbabwean civil liberties or human rights organisation has so much as one foreign employee on its staff, it is henceforth termed foreign. Pursuant to the new Act, foreign NGOs cannot be registered and will therefore be banned in the near future.

The aim of this new legislation is clear. After all, numerous Zimbabwean civil liberties and human rights organisations rely on foreign donations. It is obvious that the intention of the Zimbabwean Government is to silence them. According to reports, the NGOs concerned are unwilling to submit to the Government’s attempt to gag them. That is an extremely courageous attitude. The Council and the Commission will have their work cut out to advise and assist them in this.

 
  
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  Ribeiro e Castro (PPE-DE), on behalf of the group. – (PT) Mr President, Mrs Grybauskaitė, ladies and gentlemen, Zimbabwe is unfortunately one of the topics that figure most regularly, most frequently, in these Thursday debates that we hold on pressing human rights problems. This tells us two things: firstly, that the situation remains serious and, secondly, that the measures that we have adopted have not been working.

What we must first condemn is the destruction of a country by an appalling authoritarian regime. As has been mentioned in this House, the poverty statistics are increasingly shocking; Zimbabwe used to be a country that, if properly managed, could not only have fed its entire population, but could also have helped to solve the problems of hunger and need on the African continent and in other parts of the world.

The Mugabe regime, however, despite warnings from the EU and from further afield, continues to increase political oppression and we view the elections scheduled for March with great concern. Either the country undergoes a rapid transformation and offers even the slightest opportunity for debate or those elections will not be free and fair and one doubts whether it will even be worth observing them. Such is the case of Roy Bennette, of persecution perpetrated against Tsvangirai after his visit to this House, of the negative influence – and I wish to draw your attention to this – that the regime can have in the region, where regimes can choose to follow the path of democracy or to slip back into authoritarianism. I was recently in Mozambique, for example, where elections have been taking place. The count has yet to be completed. We became aware, however, that during the election campaign Mozambican voters voted abroad and that opposition parties – those opposed to FRELIMO – were persecuted in Zimbabwe. The conditions are in place, however. Zimbabwe’s destiny can decisively contribute towards consolidating the democracy that we hope for in the region, following the example of South Africa, thereby consolidating democratic aspirations in Mozambique and Angola. It may, on the other hand, represent a step backwards into forms of authoritarianism.

I wish to point out that we have put increasing pressure on neighbouring countries and that we have developed dialogue with the African Union. This demonstrates the important role that that organisation has to play in exerting its form of pressure on Mugabe’s appalling regime.

 
  
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  Van den Berg (PSE), on behalf of the group. – (NL) Mr President, the Zimbabweans are a strong people, and Zimbabwe is a strong country. Following independence, it was also an economically promising country. It is sad to see that around 60% of the population is currently in financial crisis and frequently lives below the poverty line. That clearly says something about the administration of the country and what has gradually gone wrong with it. The sad thing is that Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party, particularly Mugabe’s inner circle, are the perpetrators. There are many in the ZANU-PF party, of course, who are very well aware of the need for outside help, of the need for the economy to develop in a different direction, if the country is to survive.

We know that neighbouring countries have produced many informal contacts and endeavours to achieve a solution, and I think that it is precisely with these that the opportunities for the European Union lie. With the support of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), President Mbeki and all the other contacts, we must increase the pressure, because it is only via the African route and the European Union’s connection with this that we stand a chance of achieving any kind of result.

There is no doubt that the March elections have largely fallen into and been shaped by the wrong hands already, and it will be very difficult to make them fair and open. This renders observation close to pointless. Nevertheless, it is in that democratic process and in civil society that strength is to be found. That strength is still great in Zimbabwe, still non-violent and still oriented towards peace and democratic solutions. I hope that, by using smart sanctions, by taking the path that we, the European Union, are taking, and in consultation with those other countries, we shall do our utmost to take that democratic step there. The alternative path, bloodshed, offers no prospects.

I sincerely hope that we can use all our diplomatic means to increase the pressure to such a degree that Mugabe is surrounded by people who set the dominoes falling. This is necessary if the democratic path is to stand a chance of success there. Indeed, it is my hope that Europe will make full use of all the means at its disposal to this end.

 
  
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  Meijer (GUE/NGL), on behalf of the group. – (NL) Mr President, a legacy of colonial Southern Rhodesia is that much of the Zimbabwean farmland is in the hands of a small group of farmers of European origin. My group supports the wishes of the black majority of the population for the return of most of the land to them. Unfortunately, that wish is being seriously abused by Robert Mugabe, the man once popular as the leader of the successful war of liberation against the colonial occupiers and the racist minority Government of Ian Smith. It was not until the electorate had almost lost its trust in him that he made the long-promised land reform a priority. For Mugabe, the expropriation of large farms is now principally an instrument to reward his old following of freedom fighters at last after decades of delay. Still more, it forms part of a campaign to eliminate political opponents by means of slurs, intimidation and coercion. If Europe isolates this regime, it must do so not on the basis of old colonial interests and old colonial arrogance, but because we want to help every country in the world promote human rights and democracy. That is what this is all about.

 
  
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  Pafilis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Every nation has the right and responsibility to resolve its political problems and no-one, let alone the European Union, Britain or the United States of America, has the credentials to intervene politically, economically or militarily either in Zimbabwe or in any other country. It is precisely because the people of Zimbabwe managed, through huge, bloody battles, to gain their independence from Britain and because they are claiming their land, the richest part of which still belongs to foreigners – mainly Britons – as a result of colonialism, that a new plan of intervention is being prepared, the aim of which is to turn Zimbabwe into a modern colony.

On the pretext of any problems which exist, most of which are due to long-term delays as a result of colonialism, the governments of Britain and other countries are bankrolling the opposition, the leader of which, it should be noted, is accused of the attempted murder of the elected president. A network of so-called 'non-governmental organisations' is being set up, most of which are front organisations which have nothing to do with the grass-roots and social movement; they are there to prepare the ground for intervention.

For the Communist Party of Greece, this motion is unacceptable; even the accusation of arms trading by British agents has been withdrawn. The sanctions must stop. We need to support the people of Zimbabwe in their fight to maintain their independence from neo-colonialism.

 
  
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  Grybauskaitė, Commission. Mr President, we in the Commission understand and take a very serious view of the preparations for the elections in March 2005. The Commission reiterates its attachment to the holding of free and fair elections in that country. The recent introduction by the government of Zimbabwe of a set of electoral reforms which are currently under discussion in the Zimbabwean parliament is an important step. It will have to be assessed whether this will lead to a genuine incorporation into domestic electoral legislation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, as unanimously agreed in the SADC Summit in Mauritius last August.

The Commission remains deeply concerned about the current political and human rights situation and the respect for fundamental freedoms which at this stage would hardly allow for free and fair elections.

A specific matter of concern is the approval by the Zimbabwean parliament, on 9 December, of the NGO Bill, which heavily restricts NGOs' room for action and activities. The Commission fully supports the proposed EU démarches in Harare and other SADC capitals as well as the issuing of an EU declaration expressing concerns regarding the implications of the bill.

The Commission is also worried about the risk of politicisation of the distribution of food aid, mainly in the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections. In the event of clear verification of partisan use, the Commission, together with its partners, including the WFP, may have to envisage suspending food aid operations.

After the March elections the Commission will reassess the situation. Any lifting or easing of EU measures against Zimbabwe cannot be justified at this stage.

The Commission is aware of the deliberate attempts by the Zimbabwean authorities to undermine the visa ban's credibility by multiplying their travels to Europe and has always advocated a strict application of the exemptions provided for in the Council common position of 19 February 2004.

The Commission will continue to explore all avenues to influence the government of Zimbabwe and to pursue an enhanced political dialogue with neighbouring SADC countries, notably South Africa. Continued international pressure on Zimbabwe and especially regional peer pressure is necessary.

 
  
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  President. The vote will take place this afternoon, after the debates.

The debate is closed.

The situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo

President. The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on the situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 
  
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  Posselt (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, comparisons can be drawn between Congo’s present situation and that of Germany during the Thirty Years’ War – a large country in the middle of a continent broken up, with various groups allying themselves with an assortment of neighbouring powers, and decades without peace. That is precisely what has been going on in Congo for decades, with people dying in their millions, vast stretches of land lying waste, and the economy crippled. As was the case in the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War, there will be no resolution unless – as happened with the religious groups then – the ethnic groups can be brought into a peace process that also involves all the neighbouring states.

That is why we see it as important that massive pressure should be brought to bear on the states bordering this country of great lakes, and especially on Rwanda, in order that it may bring stability once and for all and may be deterred from active intervention in Congo, which is already suffering so much. We will not, however, succeed in that by words alone, and so Mr Langen and I have started to develop a holistic strategy which finally interlinks economic policy, foreign policy and development policy. Words alone will be no use to us in this situation; Europe will be able to use its weight only if it makes simultaneous and strategic use of the economic, political and diplomatic options available to it and really gets actively involved in this peace process.

Commissioner, you might well ask yourself what the use is of having this debate on a Thursday afternoon in a Chamber that is not exactly full. I can remember a time when this House debated how Lithuania could become more than a colony subject to Soviet oppression, and today we have a Lithuanian Commissioner in our midst. Of that I am glad, and I am sure that you are well able to handle this issue of peace and human rights in Congo.

 
  
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  Martin, David (PSE). Mr President, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most lethal since the Second World War. The International Rescue Committee reckons that 3.8 million people have now been killed and over a million of those are children. Apart from those killed, 3.4 million have been displaced.

Congolese and foreign military groups continue to use violence to conceal the plundering of gold, timber, ivory, tin and other natural resources. Meanwhile, the fragile and ineffectual transitional Congolese government stumbles from political stalemate to military crisis. Both the transitional government and its international partners have failed to deal with the root causes of the conflict. Natural resource exploitation has funded and fuelled the instability in the country and, indeed, has fuelled instability and violence in the Congo for over a hundred years. What should have been a blessing to that country has turned out to be a source of deep sadness and regret and, indeed, a curse. The Congo's natural wealth has been a source of private funding for military and political elites instead of benefiting the vast majority of the Congolese population.

Our resolution rightly calls for a package of measures to tackle this situation. We must take action to ensure respect for the arms embargo; the UN Security Council must impose sanctions, travel restrictions, a ban on financial services, etcetera, on individuals who have participated in the pillaging of Congolese assets; the EU and its Member States must act against companies involved in exploitation; we need a peacekeeping force in the east of the country; and action must be taken to disarm all illegally armed groups.

Only if such measures are taken can we hold out any hope that the elections due next year will make any difference to the tragic situation in that country. The problem in the Congo is neither ethnic nor racial. It is about economics, and only if we tackle economics will we solve the problems.

 
  
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  Hall (ALDE). Mr President, I speak in place of Mr Van Hecke, who has had to leave Strasbourg early as he is travelling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo tomorrow.

The current situation in eastern Congo shows that the Congolese peace process is still very fragile. Indeed, there have been reports of new exchanges of fire yesterday. The ALDE Group warmly welcomed the initiative to draft an urgency resolution on the Congo. Ultimately, however, our group decided not to endorse the compromise resolution. We feel that the compromise text fails to identify the core problem of the continuing instability in the region and of the difficult relationship between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbouring countries, especially Rwanda.

The issue is this: since the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 a large group of extremist Hutus have been hiding in a remote area of the Congolese rainforest in the east of the Congo. After all these years they have still not been disarmed. The presence of these heavily armed militias is a constant threat to the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to security in the entire Great Lakes region. The massacre at the Burundian refugee camp of Gatumba last August was only one in a long series of provocative actions. MONUC, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo, was supposed to disarm and neutralise the rebels, but has failed to do so.

Although MONUC's mandate has been strengthened and there are extra troops, they are poorly trained and there is a serious lack of information and technical assistance. We feel that the joint resolution does not acknowledge that if Rwanda is crossing the border into the Congo to put an end to the activity of the armed gangs, it is happening in the context of MONUC having failed to do the disarming.

We would suggest that the European Union and the Member States need to get more actively involved in the DRC and the Great Lakes region, focusing very much on rapid disarmament of the rebel forces. Perhaps European troops could be used to strengthen the UN peacekeeping forces. The troops from Pakistan, Nepal, Uruguay and other countries that are in the Congo at the moment simply do not have enough experience with military operations in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe has that experience.

We have to consider all the options in order to make disarmament happen. It is by far the most important prerequisite to get the peace process back on track.

In summary, we feel that although the resolution has many points that we support, it is unbalanced. So, with regret, I will abstain.

 
  
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  Lambert (Verts/ALE). Mr President, my Group welcomes the opportunity to discuss the current situation in the DRC, but like others deeply regrets the need to come back to this. In the report on asylum and sustainable solutions that Parliament adopted yesterday, one of the things we agreed was that the European Union's common foreign policy and common security policy needed to focus on conflict resolution and prevention, paying special attention to long-term conflict situations. This is exactly what we have in the DRC where, as has already been pointed out, the desire to control natural resources plays an absolutely key role in the massive displacements of people and in the massive numbers of deaths.

We stress the need for an effective means of arms control and an effective disarmament programme to be put in place. We would also endorse the call made for the UN to deal with those profiteering from the pillage of natural resources, not least through the freezing of bank accounts and actions against companies. We feel perfectly able to do this in the case of what we believe to be terrorist organisations, but seem totally incapable of doing it with those who cause massive numbers of deaths elsewhere in the world.

We also regret the need but welcome the fact that the UN Department of Peace-Keeping Operations has set up a special investigative team to look at the cases of sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by some of its own members in the UN organising mission in the DRC, particularly in Bunia. We know, since this Parliament has discussed it on many occasions, that rape is used as a means to demoralise opponents by demonstrating the people cannot even protect their own families.

This Parliament has recognised on many occasions that victims of rape, child victims of sex abuse, are particularly vulnerable. So we consider it despicable that such crimes are also being committed by those sent to protect an already traumatised population. We look for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, as well as those profiteering from the tragedy in the DRC.

 
  
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  Ribeiro e Castro (PPE-DE), on behalf of the group. – (PT) Mr President, Mrs Grybauskaitė, ladies and gentlemen, the situation in the Great Lakes and in particular in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is an ulcer, a volcano in the heart of Africa that is, sadly, always liable to erupt. Following a conflict that, during its six years, claimed three million lives, but that continues to claim 31 000 lives every month, according to the International Rescue Committee, the signs are that the situation remains unstable and unfortunately extremely unpredictable.

The ACP-EU joint parliamentary assembly recently met in The Hague. Our meeting opened, curiously, with the good news of the Dar-es-Salam Conference and of the commitment made there by all Heads of Government to end the conflict. By Thursday, however, when we ended the meeting, our joint Chairman, Glenys Kinnock, had brought us the sad news that the Rwandan army had crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo. We must therefore be more effective in this area in order to stabilise the region. Mr Posselt’s comparison with the Thirty Years’ War was most apt and I hope that he is right, because if so the conflict will come to an end and those regions of the African continent will be as prosperous, stable and modern as Germany is today. This is what we strive for. The African continent must be stabilised in open and democratic societies.

What must we do in this House? We must acknowledge that we are not doing enough as regards the militias of the former government of Rwanda. They are a source of instability and an excuse for permanent instability in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and we must take stronger action to disarm them. We must make it clear that any invasion is unacceptable and that respect for a country’s borders is a principle that must be applied by all countries in the region. We must complete the democratic transformation of the Democratic Republic of Congo and do what we can to stabilise the country; the Congolese army must be reunified, for example. We must strengthen the resources available to the United Nations’ mission in order to guarantee genuine peace and stability in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and to succeed in creating conditions on the ground that do not take us backwards; in other words, conditions that lead all sides to honour the 2003 peace agreements, that lead all sides to honour agreements undertaken in Tanzania on 20 November of this year and that lead all sides duly to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

 
  
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  Krupa (IND/DEM), on behalf of the group (PL) Amongst the many examples of violation of human rights and democratic principles in Africa, the involvement of children in armed conflicts stands out as an extremely serious problem. I wonder whether any debate, even one held in this House, can help to counter poverty in developing countries. Over 5 billion people in such countries live on one or two dollars a day, and a bloody children’s war is being fought in Congo, where over 300 000 children are fighting in military interventions which have killed more than 3 million people in recent years. Does such destruction of childhood through enforced labour, recruitment to the armed forces and sexual exploitation not demonstrate lack of responsibility and failure on the part of the various humanitarian and international organisations?

In order to take measures to prevent tragedies of this kind, it is necessary to begin by identifying their causes. The most fundamental of these is the long-term and wide-ranging exploitation of developing countries by a number of world powers, including European countries. The latter profit from such exploitation while the looted colonies are left even poorer. Congo is devastated, having become the victim of exploiters for whom the country’s abundant natural resources are more important than human lives. I believe that a person’s level of civilisation should be measured in terms of how responsible their attitude is to the weakest, and the same is true for those in power. Yet the weakest among us should not be provided with aid that is merely a sham, and takes the form of moral devastation, contraception and abortion. Much more is needed. Comprehensive care should be provided, and development facilitated. In addition, malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, which are prevalent in the country, should be treated, and family units helped to develop soundly. I also believe that instead of sending armed forces and instructors to Iraq, we should take steps to ensure that peace finally prevails in Congo.

 
  
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  Grybauskaitė, Commission. Mr President, the European Commission shares the concerns of Parliament about the increasing tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and their consequences for the human rights situation in the region.

Indeed, we are very concerned by the threats of Rwanda to use force against the territorial integrity of the Congo in order to neutralise the ex-FAR and Interahamwe troops, and by the multiple reports of military operations by the Rwandan army in the eastern Congo. The humanitarian crisis that these actions generate is an additional reason for our concern.

It is essential to the stability of the region that Rwanda withdraws without delay any forces it may have in the territory of the DRC, and refrain from any action or statement that contravenes international law.

The European Commission is deeply convinced that until the problem of the presence of ex-FAR elements in the eastern DRC is definitively solved, it will undermine peace and security in the region, be a source of instability and a threat to civilian populations.

In this context, the European Commission is convinced that the local government should make use of existing mechanisms, including the Joint Verification Mechanism and the Tripartite Commission, to find a peaceful solution. Furthermore, the Congo should implement without delay its plan, established with the support of the United Nations Organisation’s Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), aimed at accelerating the disarmament and demobilisation of foreign armed groups. It should also speed up the integration and the training of its national army in order to effectively disarm the ex-FAR militias.

Indeed, the establishment of peace and security in the region through bringing together the countries is our priority. In this context, we see the resolution of the ex-FAR issue as essential and inescapable.

The Community is actively supporting the Congolese authorities in the reconstruction of the country through development projects for an overall amount of EUR 0.5 billion.

The European Union is and remains the largest humanitarian aid donor in Congo and will continue its assistance.

 
  
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  President. Thank you, Commissioner.

The vote will take place after the debates.

The debate is closed.

Bhopal

President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Bhopal.

 
  
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  Libicki (UEN).   (PL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, in today’s debate we are discussing issues we do not usually touch upon. The issues we generally debate are important, but they relate to financial perspectives, communications solutions and economic matters. These are all extremely important issues, but they are not tragic.

The three items on the agenda for today’s afternoon debate, and in particular the third item on Bhopal, concern one of the greatest tragedies to have occurred during the past few decades. This item relates to a tragedy in which a gas explosion caused the immediate death of several tens of thousands of people. The consequences of this explosion are unfortunately still being felt today. The institutions and persons to be named shortly are responsible for this sad state of affairs.

The organisations which are to blame for what happened have admitted their guilt, as they have paid out compensation for the deaths of 15 248 people. They have also paid out compensation to 554 895 individuals who have fallen ill or become disabled, whilst attempting to pay such compensation to as few people as possible. Broad estimates suggest that over 100 000 people have suffered as a result of the gas explosion in Bhopal 25 years ago, and millions are still suffering to this day due to environmental pollution. What happened in the aftermath of the event? Following an agreement and various court rulings, the guilty party, Union Carbide Corporation India, paid out USD 470 million in compensation. This would appear to be no mean sum, but the victims of the explosion received less than 10% of the money. The rest went to the lawyers. In passing, it is worth noting that even in Dickens’ tales of 150 years ago, in which he enjoyed describing predatory lawyers, there are no instances of a victim receiving virtually nothing. The money vanished, because in addition to paying the lawyers’ fees, large amounts were allegedly used to pay off corrupt officials.

It is intolerable that everyone has made money from this tragedy except its victims. We are witnesses to a conspiracy, and action must be taken to put things right. This is the aim of the motion for a resolution we are to adopt today. We must endeavour to reassess the damage, so that compensation is paid to those entitled to it. We must ensure that bodies are appointed which can resolve this problem fairly.

 
  
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  Gill (PSE). Mr President, today we remember one of the worst industrial disasters in history. As we have heard, in the dead of night on 2 December 1984, a deadly 40 tonnes of known and unknown poisons leaked into the air. The people of Bhopal tried to escape the poisonous cloud. Their efforts were, however, futile and nearly 4 000 people died instantaneously; to date 25 000 innocent people have died.

These are the bare brutal facts and today the people of Bhopal are still suffering from this horrifying legacy. That is why we cannot just remember, but must act as a community to help another. We need to ask why after 20 years the pursuit of justice has been so difficult for the survivors. We need to ask why the transnational corporation involved denies any continuing liability, either for the state of the Bhopal site or the victims' health.

We need to ask why the site has not been cleaned of toxic waste and continues to pollute the water the surrounding communities rely on. We need to know just how Dow Chemicals can close the door on what was one of the worst industrial disasters in this century.

We also need to ask why so many people are still awaiting adequate compensation. I appreciate the issue of compensation is mired in endless arguments as to the calculations, but this is not a sufficient reason for the people of Bhopal to have to relive the experience day after day.

Whilst I support the major part of the resolution and the sentiment behind it, I do not believe the proposed amendments add anything constructive to this resolution. It is vital when we talk about disasters such as Bhopal that we do not descend into polemics and irrationality. The allocation of blame is all too often misplaced and we often condemn all agents without establishing all the facts.

As chair of Parliament's South-Asia SAARC delegation, I would urge you to keep all these matters in perspective, and the budget of each country is particularly relevant. We must recognise the limitation of certain countries, which may not yet have developed the technologies or know-how to deal with such disasters as quickly and as safely as we have come to expect in our own countries. We must also attempt to see each angle of an issue such as the Bhopal disaster, and we should acknowledge the work that has already been done by the Indian Government and the Madhya Pradesh Government with regard to medical care, economic and social assistance, environmental clean-up, and finally financial compensation.

This short list goes to prove that a lot of work has already been done. I feel it would be unproductive to vilify a government that has made efforts to remedy and address the plethora of problems stemming from Bhopal. Rather, we need to employ all our diplomatic efforts to keep the pressure on the Indian Government to maintain its current efforts in providing compensation and working on detoxification of the area. Nevertheless, if we demand that action is taken and money is spent, we should also be prepared to help in any way we can, including offering technical and financial support.

We must not condemn without first examining what we, as a community, can do to help. We should continue to be constructive and offer the humanitarian, ecological and medical expertise we have to the Government of Madhya Pradesh. This is a role for the Commission, Member States and governments alike. I would urge you, therefore, to pressure all those who can bring any relief to those who have already suffered in Bhopal.

 
  
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  Lynne (ALDE). Mr President, while Dow Chemicals and the Indian Government argue over who is to blame for the Bhopal disaster, the people continue to suffer and die from their two-decade legacy. More than 7 000 people died within days, but inaction has seen 15 000 further deaths which could have been avoided. Even today, 20 years on, neither side seems to care about the suffering, only about their reputations. As many as 100 000 people are suffering chronic and debilitating illnesses, with 10 to 15 people a month continuing to die.

The survivors still wait for justice: compensation and medical assistance in many cases. The plant site, which continues to pollute, will cost an estimated GBP 15 million to decommission, compared with Dow's yearly sales of GBP 16 billion and India's GDP of GBP 320 billion. The Indian Government has also yet to spend USD 330 million of the original compensation given to them by Union Carbide. The pollution in the water supply in nearby slums is also 500 times above the maximum recommended WHO levels.

How can the international community, a multinational company and one of the world's main countries, stand by and watch this happen? Just now it should not be about who is to blame, but who is going to stop the suffering. Bhopal resident, Abdul Jabbar Khan, who runs the Bhopal Women Gas Victims' Industrial Association, said in the Guardian newspaper in the UK: 'In New York after 9/11 there was compensation, punishment and clean-up in just a few months. In Bhopal, after 20 years, we have nothing.'

 
  
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  Meijer (GUE/NGL).(NL) Mr President, since colonial times, the countries of the developing world have been supplying cheap products from the agricultural, mining and small-scale craft sectors to rich countries. They rely on the rich countries in the North for imports of expensive products based on new industrial technology. That makes these countries extremely dependent on imports and exports and results in a trade balance very unfavourable to them. Just like the time when European countries exerted administrative power through military force, this distribution is still leading to permanent poverty and underdevelopment in the Developing World.

It is easy to see, then, why the governments of these countries thought that all new industries were to their advantage, in particular large-scale metal and chemicals industries. These countries had held little attraction for this kind of industry in the past, not only because the workforce was still insufficiently trained, but chiefly because most customers were in richer parts of the world and transporting finished products was expensive. The only industry that took root originated from State-owned enterprises or served only the local market and the tourists.

The need for stronger industry in these countries was and is abused by industries from the rich North because, although these industries want to expand, the southern countries are still not very important as markets whilst their purchasing power remains low. Investment in the South does become an attractive prospect for them, however, if wages are low and, in particular, if environmental and safety requirements there are less exacting or very poorly monitored. This makes it possible for disasters in which many people suffer incurable illness or lose their lives to occur. This danger threatens not only the employees of those enterprises but also the people living in the neighbourhood. Where disasters do happen, enterprises are not willing to bear the costs. The gas explosion twenty years ago in Bhopal and the way in which this was dealt with have a great deal to do with this.

Neither Union Carbide nor Dow Chemical nor the Indian Government are willing to produce sufficient compensation for the 20 000 or more people killed, for more than 100 000 people left with permanent injuries, or for cleaning up the contamination of soil and ground water. A solution must be found, and disasters of this nature must never happen again. Let us Europeans take our responsibility, let us join in making payments if necessary, and most importantly let us lay down rules to ensure that this kind of error is not repeated by European enterprises.

 
  
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  Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE). (ES) Mr President, 20 years have passed since toxic gas escaped from a Union Carbide Corporation fertiliser plant in Bhopal. Nonetheless, its harmful effects and environmental pollution are still affecting the lives of thousands of individuals.

This leak killed over 7 000 people during the night of 2 to 3 December 1984. A further 15 000 people died later as a result of it. The leak is also responsible for chronic illnesses affecting more than 100 000 people.

The Indian Government and Union Carbide or Dow Chemical, the current owner of the fertiliser plant, have assumed responsibility for the impact of the accident on the lives of thousands of people and the environment.

As stated in the resolution the House is to vote on today, an independent investigation of the current situation in Bhopal must be carried out. This could be undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights. Experts must be involved. They should visit India and consider the consequences of Union Carbide’s activities and the Bhopal disaster in terms of pollution of underground waters and the environment. Clearly, this also has consequences for human rights in the affected areas and communities.

In addition, the tragic case of Bhopal highlights the need to require companies to assume the same responsibilities as states in today’s globalised world economy. Companies must be party to international agreements and conventions. Impact assessments need to be undertaken, both as regards respect for human rights and situations of armed conflict and tension.

This is the rationale underpinning the amendments proposed by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. I appeal to honourable Members to study them carefully before deciding how to vote. I should also like to take this opportunity to publicise the proposal made by the School of Peace Culture of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Accordingly, I call on the House and the European Union to promote 3 December as an international day of corporate responsibility and human rights. The aim is for companies to commit to the promotion and protection of human rights the world over.

This special date should be an opportunity for states, international bodies and civil society, amongst others, to reflect on their shared responsibility. All international actors share the duty of creating a fairer and more sustainable world.

 
  
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  Bowis (PPE-DE). Mr President, if you go to Bhopal today – not 20 years ago, but today – you will see thousands of tonnes of toxic waste in piles, pools of mercury, skips of poisoned waste and bags of chemicals lying in the open air, seeping, whenever the rains come, into the puddles, streams and groundwater; and you will see people suffering because they drink that water. They suffer from pains in the stomach, headaches, anaemia and gynaecological problems because they have no alternative but to drink from those wells.

That is the problem we are facing in Bhopal today, and we are facing it 20 years after that catastrophe, when so many people died. The figures range from 3 000 to 7 000 on one night; 15 000 later on and 100 000 people still suffering from debilitating diseases. We are talking about 15 years after the settlement which gave US$500 million to the Indian Government to disburse for compensation and rectification of that landscape. It is still a picture of desolation and danger for those people.

We in this Parliament do not do well when we seek to be judge and jury in these cases. That is why I cannot accept the Green amendments that have been referred to. The motion itself stands well because it calls on the European Union to work with the Government of India to use the money that is available to make sure that there is a clean-up of those sites, treatment of affected people and compensation to those affected; and now, not in another 20 years. That is our message to all those affected: to the European Union; to the Indian Government; by all means, to Dow Chemicals and its responsibilities and to the courts which will be looking at that. But today we seek justice for those people and renovation of the environment in that part of the world and the health of its people.

 
  
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  Mann, Thomas (PPE-DE), on behalf of the group. (DE) Mr President, I am glad to be able to speak immediately after Mr Bowis, who has impressed upon us where we have got to 20 years after 3 December 1984, when gas from a 35-tonne cocktail of highly toxic substances caused 7 000 people to die when their hearts and lungs failed. To this day, some 25 000 have gone down in history as the victims of the biggest chemical accident ever recorded, and some 500 000 are still crippled as a consequence of it.

What, though, was done for the victims? Research has shown that, 15 years ago, compensation to the tune of USD 470 million was agreed on by Union Carbide and the Indian Government. So far, the 100 000 officially registered as victims have received USD 300 each. There are 2 500 houses for widows along with seven hospitals, and many facilities have been built, but what has happened to the rest of the money, some USD 400 million? I have to tell Mrs Gill that we really do have to ask who is to blame for that. The ground is still contaminated. The ground water is heavily contaminated with mercury, and that is not going to go away. Toxic residues are stored in the open air. Small wonder, then, that we end up with the situation that Mr Bowis has described, with chronic illnesses, brain damage, and children born with deformities. If there is to be any substantial improvement in medical provision for the victims, then the Indian Prime Minister, Mr Singh, will have to intervene, and the government should comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling and finally release the funds and enable full compensation to be paid out. Many chemical companies still have production operations in India and in other parts of the world where labour and environmental standards are far below those that apply in the European Union or the USA.

As the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs’ rapporteur on the REACH programme, I can do no other than reiterate the demand made in the working paper: if there is to be comparability, we need rules made by the European Union, and, in the same way, rules laid down as standards by the WTO. Those whose desire for increased profits leads them to allow the minimum environmental requirements without exception are accepting the likelihood of a second Bhopal one day, and that is something that none of us can afford.

 
  
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  Beglitis (PSE), on behalf of the Group. – (EL) Mr President, it has been twenty years since the tragedy in Bhopal in India, with its huge humanitarian and ecological consequences, and I believe that the initiative by the political groups for the adoption of a motion in plenary by the European Parliament is particularly important.

However, it is not enough to jog the memory, it is not enough to condemn what is often the unaccountable operation of multinational companies in developing countries, it is not enough just to state our humanitarian awareness in words. This sort of tragedy may be experienced again by people in some other part of the world if the international community does not move to introduce international mechanisms for controlling the operation of multinational companies, for protecting the environment and for protecting human rights and the rights of workers.

This is where the role of the European Union within the framework of the UN and within the framework of other international organisations may be more efficient. The motion records the problems which still exist and numerous honourable members spoke about them in the area of Bhopal as a whole. However, in my opinion, it does not fully reflect the efforts made by the federal and regional authorities in India over recent years in the fields of medical, economic, social and environmental restitution. Important policies have been implemented which we should not overlook.

To close, I consider that the best way for us to express our sympathy with the victims and their families is for the European Commission to take initiatives in cooperation with the World Health Organisation on the implementation of medical and environmental restitution programmes.

 
  
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  Czarnecki, Ryszard (NI).(PL) Mr President, Mrs Grybauskaitė, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to congratulate Mrs Grybauskaitė on her assumption of office, and to wish her the best of luck.

As Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee’. It is to be welcomed that the European Parliament is concerning itself with regions of the world that are far removed from Europe, and that it is doing so without regard to the requirements of political interest. On the one hand, the European Union has declared a strategic partnership with India, and yet on the other hand, Parliament’s resolution states that the Indian Government has done little to protect people from the effects of the Bhopal disaster. We are discussing the negligence of the Indian authorities, and rightly so, yet we should also make known our views on the liability of the US company that imposed savage nineteenth-century capitalism and failed to observe any of the safety requirements that were mandatory in the USA. The figures are as follows; 7 000 deaths in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and up to 30 000 deaths over the 20 years which followed, with over 100 000 having fallen ill to date. Obviously these statistics cannot express the human suffering, and merely conceal the pain and tears.

Bhopal must act as a warning for governments to put in place rescue systems, and for them not to abandon people. It must act as a warning for international companies to ensure that the desire to make a profit does not replace the desire to promote safety. It must act as a warning for international structures and organisations to provide support to regions hit by disasters. In conclusion, Mr President, it should also act as a warning for us to call to account those who have taken such assistance from us or from anyone else.

 
  
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  Grybauskaitė, Commission. Mr President, the Commission welcomes Parliament's initiative to launch an urgent debate on this issue. It is an important opportunity for us to reflect on the way in which we can offer help to the victims and how to prevent that set of disasters from occurring in future. Let me assure Parliament that the Commission has been ready to support India in dealing with this tragedy and will do so in the future.

Through our decentralised cooperation budget line, we have supported local non-governmental organisations in Bhopal with rehabilitation and skills training for victims of the disaster, as well as giving support to women’s self-help groups.

Through our Health and Family Welfare Programme, we have supported the Bhopal District Hospital, as well as patient welfare societies of district hospitals and community centres in the region. Special assistance was given to the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal for the preparation of an urban reproductive and child health plan.

In addition, the Commission has provided a grant of EUR 10 million for the funding of the Government of India's National Disaster Risk Management Programme.

At the recent EU-India summit held in The Hague, India reconfirmed its interest in pursuing an environment dialogue with the European Union and proposed the organisation of an EU-India environment forum. This forum will be a first step in tackling the enormous environmental problems that threaten both India and the European Union.

Let me finish by expressing our deepest sympathy for all the victims and our firm hope that such a catastrophe will never occur again.

 
  
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  President. Thank you, Commissioner.

We shall now proceed to the vote on these draft resolutions.

The debate is closed.

 
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