The Irish Anti-War Movement


Labour Party President and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs
Monday 17th November 2008

Labour Party President and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs
Monday 17th November 2008

The President of the Labour Party and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, has tabled a Private Members Bill aimed at ensuring that Irish airports are not used to facilitate the illegal transport of prisoners, known as ‘extraordinary rendition’.

“Extraordinary rendition is the term used to describe the extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another and gives rise to particular concerns in the context of alleged transfers of suspected terrorists to countries known to torture prisoners or to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture.

“I am of course hopeful that the election of Barrack Obama and a new administration in the United States will lead to a change of approach and that we will see the closure of institutions like Guantanamo Bay and an end to the use of ‘extraordinary rendition’, which is a clear breach of international law.

“However, regardless of what happens in the United States there is an obligation on this country to ensure that its airports are now used to facilitate serious abuses of human rights.

“The Bill I have tabled, the Air Navigation and Transport (Prevention of Extraordinary Rendition) Bill,  is informed by, and seeks to give practical effect to, the Opinion on the International Legal Obligations of Council of Europe Member States in Respect of Secret Detention Facilities and Inter-State Transport of Prisoners, which was adopted by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) at its 66th Plenary Session in Venice on the 17th and 18th March 2006.

“Section 3 sets out the purposes of the Bill. These are to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable –

o        that persons are not transported by aircraft out of the State in state custody otherwise than in accordance with the laws of the State and the international agreements to which it is a party,

o        that aircraft suspected of being used for the transport of persons in state custody to a place where they may be exposed to the risk of a breach of human rights are not permitted to enter the airspace of the State or, if such aircraft are within the airspace of the State, that all practicable measures are taken to prevent the commission of a breach of human rights within the territory of the State.

Section 4 provides that it is the duty of the State, the Minister for Transport, the Irish Aviation Authority, the Garda Síochána and of every person concerned with the implementation of the Air Navigation and Transport Acts (including this Bill) to advance the purposes set out in section 3. Compliance with that duty is cognisable by the High Court and on appeal by the Supreme Court: in other words, it could give rise to legal proceedings such as an application for an injunction.

The Bill specifically provides that the seeking of diplomatic assurances from other states are not regarded as meeting the requirements imposed by the Bill to ensure that rendition is not taking place.

Section 7 provides that, for the purposes of this Act, certain persons who are authorised under the Irish Navigation and Transport Acts (i.e. a member of the Gardai or other approved person) may exercise powers of entry and inspection of aircraft at Irish airports. These may be carried out on a random basis or as warranted and appropriate.

We know as a matter of established fact that aircraft involved in extraordinary rendition have used Irish airports, and particularly Shannon, and nobody can say for certain that there were not prisoners on these aircraft. Amnesty International, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Council of Europe have all called on the Irish government to put in place an adequate system of inspections. So far they have not done so and, despite the recent belated announcement of a government committee to look at this issue, I do not have any confidence in the willingness of this government to ensure that a proper inspection regime is put in place and that this county is not a party to serious abuses of human rights.

Contact Michael D Higgins – 087-277-4109


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