Committee against Torture begins examination of report of Ireland

MORNING

23 May 2011

The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the initial report of Ireland on the efforts of that country to give effect to the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Sean Aylward, Secretary General, Department of Justice and Equality of Ireland, noted that the Criminal Justice Act of 2000 criminalized the act of torture with full extraterritorial jurisdiction. A public official or person acting at his or her instigation or with their consent or acquiescence, no matter what the nationality of either, who carried out an act of torture on another person, irrespective of where that act was carried out, could be prosecuted in Ireland for torture under the Criminal Justice Act. Also, any person, irrespective of nationality, who attempted or conspired to commit the offence of torture or tried to obstruct or prevent the arrest or prosecution of a person for the offence of torture, whether inside or outside the State, could be prosecuted by the State. In this respect, the Act went further than the minimum obligations of the Convention.

Mr. Aylward went on to say that Ireland had a robust system of national inspections for places of detention. Places of detention were subject to inspection on a regular basis by several statutory bodies which operated under the aegis of a number of government ministries, most notably the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Concrete measures had been taken to address prison overcrowding and sanitation as well as other concerns that had been raised about the Irish Prison System. Positive developments included the modernization of the prison estate, the provision of additional spaces and the investment in rehabilitation services for prisoners. Concrete measures had been taken to upgrade prison capacity, while at the same time they were moving away from prison sentences and towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders. Both of these measures would result in a reduction in the overall prison population and assist in alleviating overcrowding.

Serving as Rapporteur for the report of Ireland, Committee member Luis Gallegos raised a number of issues including the treatment of prisoners with mental disabilities, the use of Irish airspace for political rendition flights in which people could be removed from the territory of the State party to places where they could be subjected to torture, and the treatment of refugees and the return of some asylum seekers to countries where they could be subjected to torture.

Myrna Kleopas, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report, asked for further details about complaint mechanisms for ill-treatment and abuse in detention facilities, violence in prison that was exacerbated by drugs in prisons, overcrowding and prison design, and the use of special observation cells. Ms. Kleopas also asked numerous questions about juvenile detention facilities and the treatment of children in State custody.

The Irish delegation included representatives from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Irish Prison Service, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, the Department of Health and Children, and the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The delegation will return to the Committee at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 May, to provide its responses to the questions raised today.

Ireland is among the 147 States parties to the Convention and as such it must present periodic reports to the Committee on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention.

When the Committee reconvenes this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will hear the replies of Monaco to questions raised by Committee Experts on Friday, 20 May.

Report of Ireland

The initial report of Ireland (CAT/C/IRL/1) notes that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is an independent statutory body established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and represents a model of independent oversight of policing in the State. Neither a member nor a former member of the Garda Síochána can be a member of the Commission. The Commission is chaired by a former Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The statutory objectives of the Commission are to ensure that its functions are performed in an efficient and effective manner and with full fairness to all persons involved in complaints and investigations concerning the conduct of members of An Garda Síochána and also to promote public confidence in the process of resolving those complaints.

Provision was made in the Human Rights Commission Acts 2000 and 2001 for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission. The Commission has been fully operational since July 2001 and is now in its second term of office. Its function involves the ongoing review of the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights. The Human Rights Commission has 15 members, appointed by the Government for a period of 5 years. Its membership is pluralist in line with the statutory requirement that the Commission must broadly reflect the nature of Irish society. In accordance with the legislation not less than 7 of the members of the Commission must be female and not less than 7 must be male.

Ireland now has in place a broad-based anti-discrimination regime in the areas of employment and in the access to and provision of goods and services whether by the private or public sector, including the provision of education and access to accommodation. The Acts prohibit discrimination on nine grounds against those in employment, seeking access to employment or participating in vocational training, and those seeking goods and services. These grounds are gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.

The Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Act 2000 provides for the definition of torture and also creates offences relating to the carrying out of an act of torture by a public official, whatever his or her nationality may be, and whether within or without the State and provides for a penalty on conviction of imprisonment for life. The Act defines torture as: “an act or omission by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person”. The Act also creates related offences of attempting to commit or conspiring to commit the offence of torture or doing any act with the intent to obstruct or impede the arrest or prosecution of another person, including a person who is a public official, in relation to the offence of torture, which again carries a penalty on indictment of imprisonment for life.

Presentation of Report

SEAN AYLWARD, Secretary General, Department of Justice and Equality of Ireland, began by saying that Ireland unreservedly and unequivocally condemned the practice of torture. Its use, no matter how extenuating the circumstances, was repugnant to the whole concept and basis of a civil society. The practice of torture was an affront to democracy; its use had no place in a civilized society and there was, ultimately, no common good that could ever be achieved by its practice. That was their national position and it was also his strong personal view based on a long career in the criminal justice sphere. Ireland had a strong human rights record. The protection and promotion of human rights was central to both their domestic and foreign policies. The practical fulfilment of the rights established and enshrined in international human rights instruments was of paramount importance to Ireland.

Mr. Aylward said that Ireland had ratified the Convention against Torture in 2002, the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Torture in 1988 and since then Ireland had been visited by the Committee on the Prevention of Torture on five separate occasions. The Criminal Justice Act of 2000 criminalized the act of torture with full extraterritorial jurisdiction. A public official or person acting at his or her instigation or with their consent or acquiescence, no matter what the nationality of either, who carried out an act of torture on another person, irrespective of where that act was carried out, could be prosecuted in the State for torture under the Act. Also, any person, irrespective of nationality, who attempted or conspired to commit the offence of torture or tried to obstruct or prevent the arrest or prosecution of a person for the offence of torture, whether inside or outside the State, could be prosecuted by the State. In this respect, the Act went further than the minimum obligations of the Convention; given that they were dealing with behaviour that was repugnant to the whole basis of society and democracy, it was felt that it was only right and proper that they took this approach.

Mr. Aylward went on to say that Ireland had a robust system of national inspections for places of detention. Places of detention were subject to inspection on a regular basis by several statutory bodies which operated under the aegis of a number of government ministries, most notably the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Concrete measures had been taken to address prison overcrowding and sanitation as well as other concerns that had been raised about the Irish Prison System. Positive developments included the modernization of the prison estate, the provision of additional spaces and the investment in rehabilitation services for prisoners. Prison overcrowding was not unique to Ireland, but rather it was an international issue that had been widely acknowledged. The Irish Prison Service also had to accept all prisoners committed by the courts into its custody and it did not have the option of refusing committals. However, concrete measures had been taken to upgrade prison capacity. The Irish Government had also committed itself to ensuring that violent offenders and other serious offenders served appropriate prison sentences while at the same time switching it away from prison sentences and towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders. Both of these measures would result in a reduction in the overall prison population and assist in alleviating overcrowding. The State had been engaged in an ongoing capital improvement programme with almost 600 additional prisoner spaces constructed and brought into use since January 2008.

In terms of cell sanitation, Mr. Aylward said that at present 72 per cent of prisoner accommodation had in-cell sanitation; this figure would rise to in excess of 80 per cent when the extension of the Midlands Prison, currently under construction, was opened in 2012. Currently, a refurbishment project was underway at Mountjoy Prison that would result in an additional 36 formerly disused cells coming on stream by the end of summer 2011, all of which would include in-cell sanitation. In addition, the State had recently awarded a contract for the provision of in-cell sanitation to the remaining 74 cells on the C Wing of Mountjoy Prison and, depending on the findings of a post project appraisal the Prison Service would consider installing in-cell sanitation facilities in the remaining cells of the prison.

Turning to anti-human trafficking measures and measures to combat domestic violence, Mr. Aylward said that Ireland was determined to take measures to ensure that it did not become a destination or a transit point in the trade of human trafficking. To this end, the trafficking of human beings was being tackled at several levels and Ireland had adopted a holistic and multi-faceted approach to deal with the issue of human trafficking comprehensively. The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit was established in the Department of Justice and Equality in 2008 in order to ensure that Ireland’s response to trafficking was coordinated, comprehensive and holistic. This unit, together with partners in government agencies and civil society, developed a National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking of Human Beings in Ireland 2009-2012. This Action Plan focused on four main areas: prevention and awareness raising, prosecution of traffickers, protection of victims and child trafficking. Dedicated anti-human trafficking units had also been established in the National Police, the Health Service Executive and the Legal Aid Board to ensure that there was a comprehensive support framework available to victims. In recognition of the seriousness of the crime, the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 provided for penalties of up to life imprisonment and unlimited fines for trafficking in persons for labour, sexual exploitation or removal of organs and made it an offence to sell or offer for sale or to purchase or offer to purchase any person for any purpose. The Act also recognized that targeting the clients of trafficking victims could be an effective means of discouraging demand and section 5 of the law provided for a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment for a person convicted of soliciting a victim of trafficking for prostitution. Ireland had also ratified a number of international instruments to prevent and combat human trafficking.

In the specific area of gender violence, there were currently six government departments and up to 100 non-governmental organizations involved in work relevant to the prevention and alleviation of domestic and sexual abuse. Ireland’s commitment to tackling this type of crime was significantly enhanced with the establishment, in June 2007, of a dedicated office, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, to ensure the delivery of well coordinated “whole government” response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This agency, in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders in government and civil society, had developed the National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual, and Gender-based Violence 2010 to 2014. The National Strategy aimed to provide a strong framework for sustainable intervention to prevent and effectively respond to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The model chosen for the strategy focused on primary and secondary intervention, while placing an emphasis on coordinated impact assessment and the generation of evidence on which policy and service planning was firmly placed. The National Strategy was launched in 2010 following government approval and implementation was monitored by a high level inter-departmental oversight committee. There was ongoing involvement and consultation with key non-governmental organizations in the implementation of the strategy. At the international level, Ireland supported the UN Secretary-General’s campaign to End Violence against Women (UNiTE) and had provided funding to the UN Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women.

Mr. Aylward concluded by saying that Ireland’s deep attachment to the importance of fundamental rights and freedoms for all was grounded in their own historical experience. However, this was not to say that they were complacent about further developing and strengthening human rights both domestically and internationally. To this end, the delegation looked forward to an engaging and constructive dialogue, to listening to the expert opinions, and to responding to any questions raised by Committee members.

Questions Raised by Committee Experts

LUIS GALLEGOS, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Ireland, asked how torture was defined in Irish law because it seemed only to apply to acts performed by public officials or government employees. Could they clarify that? Would Ireland ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention? Due to the national economic crisis, there had been a 32 per cent reduction in the budget allocated to the National Human Rights Commission. Could the delegation talk about conditions of treatment of prisoners with mental disabilities or psychological problems?

How was political rendition being dealt with, in which people were flown out of the country on secret CIA flights and people were possibly handed over and put in situations in which they could be tortured? Was Irish airspace being used for such flights?

Could the delegation also talk about the reduction in the numbers of asylum seekers in the country? There seemed to be a real concern that refugees could be returned to a country where they could be tortured. There was also a low rate of recognition of refugee status and in 2010 98.5 per cent of decisions were negative, whereas before there was a 24 per cent recognition rate of refugee claims. Could they also describe the summary deportation orders that could be issued and how these orders were assessed and what appeals mechanism was available for these decisions?

Mr. Gallegos expressed concern that budget cuts for the National Human Rights Commission affected its independence.

Mr. Gallegos also asked several questions about residential treatment facilities for people with disabilities as well as the imprisonment of people with mental disabilities.

MYRNA KLEOPAS, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report, said there was a lack of relevant data that would allow the Committee to fully evaluate the implementation of the Convention in Ireland. Was civil society consulted substantively on the preparation of the report?

In terms of recording interviews with people in police custody, data indicated that 98.1 per cent of all interviews were recorded, but what steps were taken to ensure that there were no exceptions to the rule on recording interviews?

With regards to conditions of detention, had the State party taken steps to ensure that detainees had access to outdoor exercise everyday? Ms. Kleopas welcomed the measures that had been taken to address prison overcrowding and sanitation and said there remained a number of concerns about prison conditions and she reiterated the misgivings that had been expressed by groups that believed that construction of very large prisons facilities were not an answer to prison overcrowding. Ms. Kleopas also applauded efforts to find alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders as a way of alleviating prison overcrowding.

Ms. Kleopas then turned to the use of special observation cells, which had been criticized by certain groups. There was a lack of clear policy on the use of such cells and a lack of record keeping on their use. Could the delegation provide information on the use of such cells and measures taken to address these concerns? Inter-prisoner violence was also a big problem. What had been done to address these safety concerns? Safety for staff and prisoners alike were in danger from stabbings, fights and other violence that was almost a daily occurrence. Drugs, overcrowding and facility design also contributed to the problem.

Regarding the detention of children, it was noted that the law did allow for the detention of 16 and 17 year old males in St. Patrick’s Institution, which had been subject to criticisms from the ombudsman’s commission and international bodies. There had been plans to build another juvenile detention facility; was this still the case? What was the complaints procedure available in juvenile detention facilities? What about charges of abuse, including sexual abuse, and flawed education that was incapable of being effective made in the Ryan Report on juvenile detention facilities? What measures had been taken by the State party to ensure victims of such abuse had been redressed?

What was the complaint mechanism for filing grievances against the National Police in terms of allegations of torture and ill-treatment? Why didn’t the ombudsman investigate these allegations, rather than the police themselves? There was also concern about the length of time it took to investigate such reports. Would the ombudsman’s office be strengthened to allow it to perform such investigations? Was there an independent complaints mechanism in prisons that was fair and transparent?

How were deaths in prison investigated, Ms. Kleopas asked? Coroners only had the right to establish the cause of death; they could not investigate the deaths, so how was this done? How were the deaths of children in State custody investigated?

What shelter and rehabilitation centres were offered to victims of domestic violence and was marital rape criminalized? Budget cuts seem to have affected the monies allocated to such services.

Other Committee Experts asked questions related to the extraterritorial provisions of the torture law in Ireland and whether this allowed for extradition of offenders to stand trial in Ireland or whether an Irish national could be extradited to stand trial in another country. Was the Istanbul Protocol used to determine whether asylum seekers had been tortured and did this play a role in their asylum decision? How long could pre-trial solitary detention last? How long could solitary confinement be used for people who were already convicted of a crime?

Did the Human Rights Advisory Committee have access to places of detention and could they make unannounced visits to police stations and other places of detention? Over the period of one and a half years the Ombudsman’s Commission received 4,746 complaints, nonetheless only 37 files was sent to the public prosecutor’s office and only 1 case resulted in a conviction while 25 resulted in disciplinary action. What happened to all the other cases? There had been a consistent increase in the number of prisoners in Ireland, with an increase of almost 40 percent in the number of persons in custody. Why this sudden increase in prisoners and what was the rate of occupancy in the Irish prison system now?

What was the role of the courts in determining the outcome of asylum applications versus those of immigration officials? How were the ages of asylum seekers determined in terms of figuring out who was under the age of 18 and who was not. What was being done to combat racial profiling by police?

Further concerns raised by Experts included budget cuts to key institutions and the effect this had on the protection and promotion in rights. Was the drop in approved asylum applications over the last year a general trend and if so why? Were there any requirements regarding the staff members of the commission that provided oversight of the Irish National Police? How independent was this oversight commission?

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