Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Priority Questions.

Human Rights Issues.

2:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government accepts that its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires it to establish by way of verification, and beyond simple assurance, that persons are not being conveyed through Irish airports with the likelihood or risk that they are being conveyed for the purpose of such interrogation techniques as are in breach of such European conventions. [33557/05]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Torture is among the most abhorrent violations of human rights. It undermines the inherent dignity of the person and is, therefore, unacceptable and unjustifiable. Ireland, through a range of legal and policy measures, has signalled its recognition that freedom from torture is a right which must be protected and promoted.

Among the conventions to which Ireland is a party are the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Government is extremely conscious of Ireland's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 3 thereof, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The European Court of Human Rights has held that Article 3 imposes a positive obligation on states to prevent torture. A state is obliged under the convention to take measures when it knows that there are substantial grounds for believing that a person faces a real risk of being subjected to torture. The Government is satisfied that this is not the situation in the use of Irish airports by the US authorities.

On several occasions, the Government has made clear to the US authorities that it would be illegal to transit prisoners for rendition purposes through Irish territory without the express permission of the Irish authorities, acting in accordance with Irish and international law. The US authorities, for their part, have confirmed time and again that they have not done so and that they would not do so without seeking the permission of the Irish authorities. No request for such authorisation has been received from the US authorities to date.

The Government will continue to follow the long-standing practice whereby details supplied to the Department of Foreign Affairs in this area by the US authorities are accepted in good faith as being accurate.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has stated in the House that An Garda Síochána would conduct a full investigation of any case where a credible claim of criminal activity has been made.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Since I first tabled this question, circumstances have changed. As recently as today, the Guardian newspaper carried details of last year's report of the CIA's inspector general. That report suggests that interrogation techniques authorised by the Bush presidency breach commitments given under the UN Convention against Torture. The Minister should regard that as a matter of concern.

Various international sources have verified that a plane, on lease to the US State Department and the CIA, has landed in Shannon on up to 80 occasions. The Minister has relied on assurances from the United States of America, but the UN Committee against Torture regards a simple assurance as insufficient. In the case of Sweden, admittedly, the circumstances were different because an individual was apprehended and removed, but a simple assurance was insufficient.

A debate is currently taking place in the Danish Parliament arising from the fact that the government there has refused permission to use Danish airspace to the same plane that is landing in Shannon. Despite that prohibition, however, the plane has continued to land in Denmark.

Would the Minister agree that compliance with the two European conventions and the UN Convention against Torture requires random or regular checks to be made on planes that are possibly being used for what is called "extraordinary rendition"? This is a serious matter and the ECHR aspect is being raised at the level of the European Commission. Questions are also being asked by the UN Committee against Torture. A simple assurance, such as that referred to by the Minister, is surely no longer satisfactory.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We utterly condemn torture that is meted out in contravention of any of these conventions. When media reports have raised the specific issue of the use of Shannon, I have repeatedly instructed my officials to raise the matter with the US authorities. We have been given categorical assurances on this matter. It is the same situation as pertained over the past 50 years about the use of Shannon, whether it concerned Kosovo, Somalia or other events including Vietnam and Korea.

The alleged use of what are called "black sites" in continental Europe has been raised recently.

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

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Two days ago, Human Rights Watch released a statement providing additional background data about allegations that were supposed to have been made against two unnamed European states. Human Rights Watch said that aircraft alleged to have been involved in the transportation of prisoners by the CIA landed in airports in seven EU member states, namely Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Greece, as well as in Switzerland and Macedonia which are outside the EU. There is no reference to Ireland in the statement. Human Rights Watch went on to say it was highly unlikely that this type of clandestine activity would operate out of a major civilian airport. The statement did not add "such as Shannon", but obviously Shannon would be included in that.

I assure the Deputy that if anybody comes forward with any solid, credible evidence that any such activity is happening on our soil at Shannon, the Government will act on it. As my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, told the House on a previous occasion, a full investigation would take place in the event of such evidence arising. The US Administration has on many occasions given us categoric assurances. The US is a friendly state which has an incredible relationship with this country and for us to do anything other would imply that we do not believe those assurances.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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It is sometimes necessary to be frank in friendly relations with another country. It is important for the Minister to know that those members of Human Rights Watch who watched the plane landing in Shannon provided information that led to the conclusion drawn in the Swedish case. It is the same plane and its flight plan included destinations such as Morocco, Uzbekistan and Egypt, countries in which torture is practised.

When we ratify the optional protocol against torture in 2006 it will be open to outside bodies to arrive in Ireland and seek to examine and convince themselves that people are not being transported in these planes.

The Human Rights Watch report is interesting too about the circumstances in which an individual was removed from Sweden, if the Minister wishes to quote it. The individual's clothes were cut off and he was chained on a mattress while the Swedish authorities looked on in shock. Extraordinary rendition is the focus of this question. It is a major blow to international law. It is outside all the framework conventions. The Minister should think about this.

It is difficult to ask a citizen or me as an Opposition spokesperson, to find the person in chains and a jump suit with a hood over his head, on a mattress in the plane. The only way to be truthful in support of both European Conventions mentioned in the question, and the United Nations Convention, is to say to the Government with which we have friendly relations: "In order to satisfy the international concern and that of our citizens we propose to institute random searches, particularly of this plane, which has nothing to do with the arrangements that existed previously."

The plane in question is on contract to the US state department and is used by the CIA whose inspector general is quoted this morning as saying that what was permitted is outside the UN Convention against torture.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We have jurisdiction only in this territory. We can do nothing else. We can condemn torture if it happens elsewhere, and I would condemn it in Poland and Romania, where it is suggested it happens. No evidence, however, has been tendered to date to lead to a substantial belief, as is required under the European Court of Human Rights, in this issue. I encourage anyone to bring forward credible evidence——

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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There should be random checks in Shannon.