Amnesty calls for end to use of Shannon for renditions


Ireland will continue to be complicit in acts of kidnap and torture so long as the Taoiseach allows Shannon to be used by the US for rendition flights, Amnesty International said today.

Speaking ahead of the publication of its annual report today, Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, called on Brian Cowen to lead by example and stand up for human rights here and abroad.

Colm O'Gorman
Colm O'Gorman

“Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today. Governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance,” said Mr O'Gorman.

Amnesty International’s Report 2008shows that 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are not allowed to speak freely in at least 77 countries.

“2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments and the ambivalence or reluctance of emerging powers to tackle some of the world’s worst human rights crises, ranging from entrenched conflicts to growing inequalities which are leaving millions of people behind,” said Mr O’Gorman.

“And this is also true for Ireland. We have a tradition of being a leading voice in the debate on human rights internationally. But human rights cannot be just rhetoric. The real test for Ireland, as for every other state, is how we uphold human rights here at home," he added.

Mr Gorman claimed that unless the Taoiseach acted to end the use of Shannon by the US for rendition flights, Ireland would be seen to be complicit in kidnap and torture.

"Ireland must stop relying on diplomatic assurances around the use of Shannon. We must acknowledge, and act on, our responsibility to ensure our airspace is not used to facilitate kidnapping and torture by the US and her agencies," said Mr Gorman.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Kathleen Cavanaugh, chair of Amnesty’s Irish section, said it was a “very dangerous, very fragile time” for human rights.

The world had witnessed “the unpacking and rewriting of the bedrock of human rights,” she said, going on to describe a scenario where countries had lost the political and moral authority “to say stop” because they were themselves complicit in some way. 

Report 2008noted that in February, a European Parliament resolution urged the Government to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the use of Irish territory by CIA-operated aircraft.

The report also referred to an Irish Human Rights Commission review that concluded Ireland was “not complying with its human rights obligations to prevent torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Amnesty International has also called on the EU to investigate the “complicity of its member states” in renditions of terrorist suspects.

In terms of arms trade, the report said the Control of Exports Bill 2007 contained proposals welcomed by Amnesty, but it added that gaps remain, including in the control of overseas licensed production agreements, and in the transit and transhipment of military and security goods.

The Bill did not provide for post-export monitoring of delivery and end-use, the report added.

Mr O'Gorman also said that Ireland must reform and fund mental health services in line with the Government’s strategy, A Vision for Change, and begin legislating for a right to mental health services.

“There is a growing demand from people in Ireland and around the world for justice, freedom and equality. We must continue to use our voices, both individually and collectively, to demand change.”

“The most powerful must lead by example. And where they refuse to lead, smaller nations such as Ireland must be prepared to step up and show such leadership,” he added.

The Amnesty survey noted the expanded role of the Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services beyond residential centres for children in care, to include the inspection and registration of residential services for older people and people with a disability.

But Amnesty said not all these functions had come into force by the end of the year and declared that registration and inspection for these services remained inadequate.

Among its other findings, the Amnesty report renewed criticism of Britain for failing to fully investigate alleged state collusion in killings in the North during the Troubles, its policy of deportations to unstable countries, and secret terror hearings.

The organisation called on China to adhere to its human rights pledges and on Russia to show greater tolerance for political dissent.

Amnesty International secretary general Irene Khan also said she hoped the next US president would shut the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp.