ICCL disappointed by European Court of Human Rights’ decision in Ireland v UK case; highlights need for independent investigation into 1970s interrogation practices
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) today expressed its disappointment over the European Court of Human Rights’ decision not to revise its conclusions in the 1978 case of Ireland v United Kingdom regarding the ‘deep interrogation’ techniques practiced by the RUC in Northern Ireland in 1971 and 1972. The Irish Government had applied to the European Court for a revision of its 1978 finding that five techniques perpetrated against 14 men for a week – wall-standing, hooding, exposure to constant noise, sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and drink – amounted to ‘inhuman and degrading’ treatment, rather than ‘torture’.
The Irish Government argued that, had the Court been aware in 1978 of information now available in public archives (due to the 30-year rule), it would have concluded that the five techniques together constituted torture. The Irish Government pointed to records which demonstrate that, contrary to the assertions of the medical expert chosen by the UK Government at the time of the original hearing, the same medical expert knew that the health effects of the interrogation techniques could be long-lasting and severe. The Irish Government also pointed to a raft of internal UK Government documents which demonstrate that the interrogation techniques were authorised at Ministerial level, that a political decision was taken that there should be no investigations with a view to prosecuting perpetrators, and that there was a concerted effort at an official level to prevent the European Court (and the complainants) from accessing information about the techniques and how they were authorised.
Liam Herrick, Director of the ICCL, said:
‘The European Court’s judgment is deeply disappointing, because it takes a narrow technical approach to the original Court’s reasoning and fails to send a strong message to deter States from abusing the Court’s process in the way that the UK Government did in this case. Today’s decision takes a narrow view of the facts that the original judgment was based on and says that it cannot be sure that the 1978 Court would have changed its position based on the fresh material. Essentially, the Court says that its reasoning under Article 3 of the Convention is more sophisticated now than it was in 1978, and that it cannot intervene at this stage because of the principle of the finality of judgments.’
Maeve O’Rourke, Senior Research and Policy Officer at the ICCL, said:
‘The European Court’s judgment is clear: the same treatment today would be considered torture. Although this decision is a setback for the ‘hooded men’, it must not stop States and human rights advocates from working to eradicate interrogation techniques that deliberately inflict suffering on people who are powerless. That is the essence of torture. Unfortunately, the techniques inflicted by the RUC in the 1970s spread and still persist around the world. The final report of the Brazilian Truth Commission attests to the fact that methods practised by the Brazilian military in torture centres in the 1970s were taught to Brazilian army officials in the UK and based on the techniques used in Northern Ireland. Similar “pressure techniques” are accepted in Israel today – a fact recently criticised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.’
Maeve O’Rourke added:
‘It remains the case that the interrogation techniques which the ‘hooded men’ suffered were absolutely prohibited under the European Convention on Human Rights in the 1970s, because inhuman and degrading treatment is outlawed to the same extent as torture under Article 3 of the Convention. Therefore the men in question, and the families of those who are now deceased, still have a right to an effective investigation which is independent and capable of leading to the identification and prosecution of perpetrators. They are still seeking that investigation. Their experience shows that the passage of time does not diminish the effects of impunity on those who have suffered torture or other prohibited ill-treatment. This is something that was recognised by the UN Committee Against Torture in 2014, when it stated that the right to comprehensive redress and accountability for torture and ill-treatment continues regardless of when in the past the abuse occurred.’