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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3965

Senator PARER (Minister for Resources and Energy)(11.49 a.m.) —by leave—The Australian government is concerned by the human rights situation in Nigeria and the slow process towards democratisation. We have frequently made bilateral representations to the Nigerian government on individual human rights cases, and Australia strongly condemned the flawed legal process, the imposition of the death sentences and the subsequent execution of Mr Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogonis in November 1995. In response to those abuses, Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth in November 1995, with the provision for expulsion if there was no improvement after two years.

We have conveyed our views regarding human rights abuses to the Nigerian government through multilateral forums. Australia has been closely associated with international attempts, through the United Nations and the Commonwealth, to press the Abacha regime for reform. The Australian government recently co-sponsored a resolution on Nigeria adopted at the meeting of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights. We support the efforts of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, CMAG, formed in November 1995, to examine good governance issues, including in Nigeria, on which we will make recommendations to CHOGM.

Calls for Nigeria's expulsion from the Commonwealth we believe are premature at this time. CMAG will submit recommendations to CHOGM in October 1997 based on the CMAG mission to Nigeria in November 1996 and further submissions. Australia will take full account of those recommendations in deciding appropriate action in relation to Nigeria's membership of the Commonwealth.

Australia has not provided financial or material assistance to Ogoni refugees in Benin, estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at 800 people. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not issued an appeal for these refugees. Australia's humanitarian relief assistance program for Africa is focused on other areas where the needs are significantly greater. We will continue to monitor the refugee situation in Benin and Nigeria.

The government has under constant review Australia's network of overseas posts, including our representation in west Africa. We will continue to support measures to urge the Nigerian government to allow a credible system of democratic government to emerge for the benefit of all Nigerians.