Northern Ireland: Amnesty calls on UK government to investigate torture of ‘hooded men’

As ‘hooded men’ start judicial review application in Belfast High Court, Amnesty International urges a human rights compliant investigation by the UK 

‘The UK has a long overdue responsibility to establish an independent investigation into the torture of these men, and to hold to account those responsible.”– Patrick Corrigan

Amnesty International has called on the UK government to investigate allegations of the torture in internment in the 1970s of the so-called 'hooded men'. The call comes as  the ‘hooded men’ make an application in Belfast High Court this morning for permission to take a judicial review to challenge the UK government’s failure so far to investigate the torture allegations.

The legal challenge is running parallel to the men’s efforts to have their case reviewed by the European Court of Human Rights, following a request by the Irish government in December 2014.

In advance of the hearing this morning in Belfast High Court, Amnesty renewed its call on UK authorities to ensure that the allegations receive an independent and human rights compliant investigation.

Amnesty International Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan said:

“The allegations against the UK are extremely grave: that they tortured their own citizens, knowing full well the long-term effects of the abuse, that this was authorised at the highest levels of government, and that they then deliberately misled the European Court of Human Rights.

“It is utterly unacceptable that, in 43 years, the UK authorities have never conducted a proper investigation into the abuse and that no-one, not the people who carried out the abuse, nor the people who authorised it, has ever been held accountable before the law.

“The UK, as a signatory of the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights, must establish an independent, effective investigation into the alleged actions of its agents and its decision-makers in these cases and bring to justice those responsible for torture, at all levels.”

Background

In 1971, Ireland took the first inter-state case to come before the European Court on Human Rights, alleging that the UK had breached the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) through the torture and ill-treatment of these men by members of the British army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The use of what Ireland - and Amnesty International - considered to be torture during internment was central to what became known as the “hooded men” case. Archival material uncovered by an RTÉ television programme, The Torture Files, broadcast in June 2014, which revealed that the UK government withheld crucial evidence from the European Court during the hearing. The withheld evidence, Amnesty believes, could possibly have led to a different finding by the European Court in 1978, which ruled that the ‘five techniques’ of interrogation inflicted on the men constituted inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the ECHR, but not torture.

The five techniques were hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water, and were combined with physical assaults and death threats to the men. The RTÉ programme showed that files uncovered from the UK national archive reveal that the British government knew that its core argument, that the effects of techniques used on the “hooded men” were not severe or long-lasting, was untrue. In fact it shows that the government appears to have known at the time of the severe and long-term psychological and physical effects of these ‘five techniques’, and in fact considered them as ‘torture’. The RTÉ programme revealed previously unseen documents which showed that the UK authorities - including senior government ministers - sanctioned the use of the ‘five techniques’ in Northern Ireland, which they had also denied before the European Court. The UK succeeded in persuading the European Court to absolve it of the “special stigma” of a finding of torture by not disclosing relevant evidence and by taking a position that was directly contradicted by its own, internal advice.

On 2 December 2014, the Irish government took an equally unprecedented step of stating that it would seek a revision of the judgment by the court. If accepted by the Court, this would be the first such revision of a judgment in an inter-state case.

There has never been an investigation compliant with Article 3 of the ECHR giving rise to prosecution of any of the state agents involved in sanctioning or carrying out the violations. The Compton and Parker enquiries, established by the UK government, into abuses in internment did not result in any criminal investigations or prosecutions of any of the state agents involved. On 3 July 2014, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris told the Northern Ireland Policing Board that the PSNI would conduct an investigation into the allegations of torture made in the documentary. In October, lawyers for the ‘hooded men’ were notified by the PSNI, in a summary fashion, that the investigation had been concluded and that no evidence was found indicating that the UK government had authorised torture. Lawyers acting for the men have now written to the Metropolitan Police Service to seek an investigation by an external police force.

View latest press releases