Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Human Rights Issues.
The Government cannot refuse for ever to put an adequate inspection regime in place to prevent the possibility of extraordinary rendition of prisoners transiting through Irish airspace and territory. The Government must fulfil its international obligations in regard to human rights. The Minister cannot say "No" forever.
The Human Rights Commission report entitled, Extraordinary Rendition: A Review of Ireland's Human Rights Obligations, was published yesterday. The commission concluded that diplomatic assurances received from the United States Government with regard to the issue of extraordinary rendition flights passing through Irish territory were not sufficient for Ireland to satisfy its human rights obligation. This is a body that was set up by statute to vindicate human rights and the Government is expected to take its recommendations seriously. An equivalent body operates in Northern Ireland and we expect that recommendations made on both sides of the Border should be taken equally seriously.
The report from the Irish Human Rights Commission also stated that it had obtained evidence that as far back as 2003 the Government had raised concerns with the United States about extraordinary rendition flights suspected of transporting prisoners through Shannon to Guantanamo Bay, but beyond raising the issue with the US Government it had been decided to take no other action. To date, the Government has refused to take action.
Two Council of Europe reports were critical of Ireland's position, as was a European Parliament report, and now the report of the Irish Human Rights Commission, which is a statutory body. All these bodies have expressed grave concern about the use of Irish airspace in regard to the CIA practice of extraordinary rendition. The only response from the Government has been to stubbornly refuse to put in place any inspection regime and stubbornly persist in accepting assurance from the United States Government which are not founded on any evidence the Government has been given.
The only people in this country who believe the Government's position is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the other members of Government. The ordinary people in the street do not believe there has not been some invasion of Irish airspace in respect of extraordinary rendition. The simplest things to do is to dispel the view that is abroad and acknowledge the circumstantial evidence that those four reports to which I referred have produced to date.
The Labour Party rejects the Government's stance on this issue. Human rights are sacrosanct and, given Ireland's reputation on the espousal and implementation of human rights, the Government should respond positively and quickly to the concerns expressed by domestic and international statutory bodies on human rights.
Billy Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister apologises for his absence and hopes the Deputy will understand why he is not here this evening. I wish to state unequivocally that we owe a debt of thanks to the Human Rights Commission for reviewing a matter which has rightly caused much concern across Europe and further afield. So-called extraordinary rendition is a seemingly innocuous term for an horrific and illegal practice often leading to secret detention and torture and to which the Government is completed and implacably opposed. Quite simply, extraordinary rendition has no place in any democratic society which respects, or purports to respect, the rule of law and human rights. In this, the Government, the Human Rights Commission and, I am sure, this House, are at one.
Unfortunately, while we all recognise the evil of extraordinary rendition, I regret to say it would appear that the Human Rights Commission, in its recommendations, has failed to do adequate justice to the seriousness of the issue, the complexity of the necessary responses and the comprehensive actions already taken by the State.
Deputy Costello is correct to draw attention to one of the core recommendations of the commission's report, namely, that the State should introduce an inspection regime as a matter of urgency; that this regime should apply to aircraft from any state in regard to which suspicion exists; and that it should be properly resourced and overseen by an independent body.
These interlinked proposals are made against the following backdrop of established, indisputable facts: that extraordinary rendition has been a most regrettable reality; that international bodies, including the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, suggest that where extraordinary rendition has occurred, it has occurred very far from Irish shores; that at no stage has any evidence emerged, or even a specific allegation been made, that any person has ever been subject to extraordinary rendition through Ireland, a fact acknowledged by the President of the Human Rights Commission; that in arguing that the assurances received from the United States at the highest level are inadequate that extraordinary rendition has never and would never be practised in Ireland, the Human Rights Commission has sought to rely on international jurisprudence relating to a very different type of assurance; and that no other European country has an inspection regime as proposed by the Human Rights Commission.
The practice of extraordinary rendition has been memorably described as a spider's web. To help sweep away such a web, any actions which we take must be based on the rule of law, have a realistic chance of success and deal with established realities rather than unproven assertions. It is precisely for these reasons that the Government, in its programme for Government, has sought to make a meaningful contribution to this issue by making two clear, explicit and unambiguous commitments.
It has committed itself to seeking EU and international support to address deficiencies in elements of the regulation of civil aviation under the Chicago Convention. As Deputies may be aware, this 60-year-old convention provides no requirement whatsoever for the supply of information on passenger, crew or cargo of a transit flight; and the Government has also committed itself to prioritising enforcement of relevant legislation, including the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Act 2000. In particular, Garda investigation and enforcement efforts are being supported by making all necessary resources available for specialised training in the provisions of relevant statutes.
Members of the Garda Síochána already have full power to search civil aircraft in any circumstances where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting illegal activity, such as extraordinary rendition, and to carry out any necessary investigations. To suggest that the Garda Síochána should conduct searches where there are no reasonable grounds for suspicion, which itself amounts to unreasonable grounds in law, is fantastical. In particular, the mere assertion of wrongdoing is clearly and obviously insufficient grounds to merit inspection.
To date, where complaints of alleged unlawful activity concerning the use of Irish airports have been made to the Garda Síochána, Garda investigations have been pursued and, where appropriate, files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In all these cases, no evidence emerged justifying any subsequent legal action.
The Government will continue its longstanding and strongly held opposition to extraordinary rendition. It will do so diligently, with meaningful initiatives and with a view to playing its full part in ensuring the end to this barbaric practice in whatever dark corner of the world it is practised. The issue is too important for ill-conceived measures for which no real justification has been put forward.