Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Human Rights Issues: Motion.


7:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)

The present Minister stated that point and agrees with me on it. Why were the power and capacity provided by the Act not implemented? The onus has been placed on civilians watching planes to produce evidence to give to the Garda so that actions can be taken, but the onus should be on the State to use its power, capacity and legal authority. The State, which had the responsibility and capacity, did not act. Instead, it sought to shift the onus of producing evidence on to civic-minded citizens.

In the Government's reply to the Article 52 questionnaire of Mr. Terry Davis, it stated that legislation provided protection, but it did not act under this legislation to board planes despite the public concern in Ireland, Europe and internationally and the fact that planes had been shown to have matching numbers with those involved in extra-legal activities in different parts of Europe.

The Government has chosen to rely on what it refers to in its amendment as categorical or general assurances. We know neither the definition of those words nor the difference between them because we have never seen them used in writing. We are told that the assurances are of such an order as to confer importance on us, because only three countries in Europe were given such powerful assurances as we. Is that not interesting? The Irish Government has never sought information why the very aeroplanes on lease for use by the CIA and working in clear breach of international law were landing in Shannon. It never sought information on what these aeroplanes, which were clearly involved in extra-legal networks of flights, some of which had become the subject of proceedings, were doing in Shannon.

We must come to the nub of the matter. The Government will state that diplomatic assurances of the quality it has received are sufficient and that it would be an unfriendly act to require more, but how can it be regarded as unfriendly for a country which has friendly relations with another to state it wishes to honour the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations committee against torture, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission on the legal obligations of the signatories of the ECHR, and to say it wants to be able to show it has implemented the requirements of those bodies?

The Irish Government has decided to place the assurance it received above its clear obligations to the practice and vindication of human rights. Those who have said that diplomatic assurances are inappropriate in this case include all those who have been involved in the debate about torture. I am not naive enough to suggest there are not circumstances in which diplomatic assurances are appropriate, because there are such circumstances, but this is not one of them. The United Nations Convention against Torture and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights are in a special category which allows no derogation. Those who have stated that diplomatic assurances are insufficient include the European Court of Human Rights. As long ago as 1996, the Chahal v UK case made such a finding. The United Nations committee against torture, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission, the report of the temporary committee of the European Parliament and, in December 2005, the Irish Human Rights Commission have all stated as much. Why ignore all these bodies?

When the UN committee against torture issued its finding against Sweden, it emphasised the absence of adequate measures to ensure the enforcement of any assurances. It is interesting to know what happened in that case. The individual was approached and stripped of all his clothing, including his underwear. Incontinence pads were fitted and he was dressed in a yellow suit. One of the people present said they could do three such cases in an hour. The individual was then hooded and moved to an aeroplane, in breach of every single principle of international law, namely, the manner of apprehension, the manner of transporting, the issue of habeas corpus, the right to legal protection, delivering a person inhuman treatment and the delivery of a person through enforced disappearance into an ill-defined and indeterminate place of detention. All are appalling breaches but that is what happens when one puts oneself into the spider's web of rendition.

I repeat that I accept such activities have been condemned by the Irish Government but it has been appallingly deficient in not insisting on inspection and compliance with the codes and protections of international law when it gives permissions. The Government amendment, which I do not accept, states that Mr. Terry Davis, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said Ireland was one of only nine countries that did not need a second questionnaire, so completely did it reply. It omits to point out that the Secretary General also said:

Respect for the Convention imposes positive obligations to ensure respect for the guaranteed rights and freedoms, including preventative measures. In other words, the Convention may also be invoked through an omission to act.

Then comes the powerful sentence: "Not knowing is not good enough." "Not knowing" is what Ireland took refuge in.

Diplomatic assurances were never sufficient, nor will they meet our positive obligations in international law. The UN committee against torture, the European Court of Human Rights and the Venice Commission have all stated that diplomatic assurances are insufficient in the matter of complicity, be it silent or active, in extraordinary rendition. The acceptance of this fact by the Irish Government is one of the requirements of our motion. It is unacceptable that insistence on inspection or monitoring of such conditions as we might impose for the protection of human rights could in any sense be regarded as an unfriendly act. I reject that. We are required to ensure that extraordinary rendition does not occur on our territory or over our airspace. We are required to investigate any claims that such activities have taken place. The burden of evidence in such claims, I emphasise, does not lie with civilians but with the State.

On foot of diplomatic assurances, the State has not sought to board planes or to establish the fact of compliance or otherwise with the permission which it has given for the landing and service of civilian planes which may be used by the CIA for extra-legal purposes. The Irish Government has put itself in the position of not being able to say it can show that it was not silently collusive in the sense of the Marty report. It is important for this motion to be passed so that an investigation can be initiated into the purpose of such landings as have taken place by aircraft whose registration numbers have been associated with extra-legal landings and torture in Europe and elsewhere in recent years. It is necessary to ensure that adequate conditions in terms of human rights and public international law are imposed on such permissions as may be granted in the future, and that adequate monitoring mechanisms are put in place. We need to take such measures seriously to restore our credibility in the international community, a credibility that has been damaged.

The Labour Party calls on the Government to accept its legal and constitutional responsibility to ensure that the territory and facilities of this State are not used for illicit purposes and especially not for human rights' violations by any other state or an agency of any other state. It calls on the Government to support the recommendations outlined in the draft resolution of the legal affairs committee before the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe to establish a credible independent investigation into the existence of any secret and extra-legal arrangements, agreements or understandings, whether formal or informal, between the Irish authorities and those of any other state, including at senior political level, as regards overflights, stopovers and extraordinary rendition.

The Labour Party also urges the Government to use the full powers available under the air transport and navigation Acts and to make such amendments as are appropriate in such Acts for the vindication and guarantee of human rights. It calls on it to use such powers, and powers under the Chicago Convention, to introduce an appropriate regime of inspection of civilian aircraft rather than relying on Garda powers appropriate to crime investigations, and to make it a condition of all permissions for all aircraft that international law and human rights conventions be respected. We call on the Government to outline what further proposals it has to honour its commitments in this regard under constitutional, domestic and international law.

It is of moral importance that, on issues such as this, we are seen to place the principles of law above the principles of expediency. It is important also to be seen to put active principles of compliance above the easy road of rhetoric. It is also important to apply the definition of friendship between countries with which we have a friendly relationship to a purpose in which we encourage them to move within the ambit of international law, which should cover all countries on the planet, rather than seeking through our silence to allow them to continue to develop an alternative system to that established by convention, international law, humanitarian law and by the general principles which have evolved ever so slowly to offer protections to people in any country, in any circumstance. I recommend this motion to the House and ask that it be supported.


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