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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 4038

(Question No. 4761)


Mr Staples asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 10 October 1986:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to reports that 32 civilians were killed in northern Nicaragua on 3 July 1986 by a land mine planted by the anti-government Contras; if so, is he able to state whether (a) such an incident occurred and (b) the incident was reported in any Australian daily newspaper or any metropolitan radio or television news or current affairs program.

(2) Has he or his Department any information concerning (a) other specific incidents in the last 3 years in which the Contras have been accused of killing or injuring civilians and (b) Australian media coverage of such incidents.

(3) What is the Australian Government's attitude to the Reagan Administration's (a) support for the Contras and (b) rejection of the mandatory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the Court's decision on 27 June 1986 in favour of Nicaragua.


Mr Hayden —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) (a) Yes. On 3 July 1986 an anti-tank mine exploded under a civilian passenger vehicle carrying 33 people 60 kilometres from the town of San Jose de Bocay in the northern province of Jinotega. 32 People, including 12 children, were killed. Sandinista authorities claimed that the mine had been planted by the Contras and that similar mines had been used in other parts of the country.

(b) I am not aware of the incident being reported by the Australian media.

(2) (a) There have been numerous incidents over the past three years in which the Contras have been accused of killing or injuring civilians, including:

On 25 May 1986, on the same road where the above incident occurred, an anti-tank mine killed nine health workers, including a Spanish paramedic, Ambrosio Mogarron.

One woman was killed and seven other passengers wounded when Contras machine-gunned the ferry ``Rio Escondido'' on its route between Rama and Bluefields on 3 July 1986.

On 11 May 1986, Contras entered a house in the village of La Santos in the province of Chontales and shot and killed a woman and her 10 year old son and wounded three other children.

On 16 February 1986 five civilians (four women and a Swiss man) were killed when Contras attacked the vehicle in which they were travelling near Somotillo in northern Nicaragua. Thirteen other civilians were wounded.

On 28 July 1986, three European technicians and two Nicaraguans were killed when their vehicle was machine-gunned by Contras near Zompopera.

Twenty four civilians were killed when Contras ambushed a truck carrying coffee workers in northern Nueva Segovia province on 5 December 1985.

(b) I am not aware of the details of Australian media coverage of these incidents.

(3) (a) In a public statement on 2 July 1986 I said that the vote in the United States House of Representatives on 25 June to approve US$100 million in aid to the Nicaraguan Contras would do nothing to promote a peaceful settlement of Central America's problems and would escalate tensions in the region. I also said that the aid was not likely to encourage the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua to improve political freedoms, or to negotiate with the Contras.

(b) The United States withdrawal from the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ is a matter of regret to the Australian Government. As the principle judicial organ of the United Nations, the ICJ is of central importance to the international regime of law and justice, playing a role not only as an arbiter of disputes between states but also as a body widely recognised as competent to clarify and develop the principles of international law. Unfortunately, fewer than one third of the nations in the world have accepted the Court's compulsory jurisdiction (for example, neither the Soviet Union nor any of its Eastern Bloc allies have done so). The Australian Government will continue to encourage acceptance by all countries of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court as a demonstration of commitment to the rule of law and an expression of confidence in the Court itself.

As the United States had undertaken to give six months' notice of its withdrawal, it was still subject to the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ in the case brought against it by Nicaragua. While the United States may not agree with the approach taken by the Court in that case, the Court's decision cannot be regarded as capricious or as divorced from established international law. It is fundamental to the rule of law in the international community that the ICJ should be respected and that parties to a case should abide by their obligation to comply with the decision of the Court.