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Scotland: Amnesty warns that Scottish airports are not taking steps to prevent 'torture flights'

Amnesty International today (29 March 2007) warned that Scottish airports are failing to take appropriate steps to ensure that so-called "torture flights" are unable to land on Scottish soil.

The move comes after Amnesty International welcomed the vote by Derry City Council to adopt in principle a new “anti-rendition” policy for use at the council-owned City of Derry Airport. The Council voted this week to endorse a policy drafted by Amnesty International to block any possible use of the Airport for so-called “torture flights”. The Council is instructing the Airport management to work with Amnesty International to agree detailed plans for the implementation of the policy.

Derry airport was one of many originally named as a stopover destination for two Gulfstream private jets, known to have been used in the past by the CIA for so-called “rendition” flights, the illegal practice of abduction, secret transportation and detention of terror suspects.

Subsequently, Amnesty International was able to give the Airport the “all-clear”, after records for the suspicious flights were shown to members of the local Amnesty group. The human rights organisation confirmed that, based on the information provided by the Airport, it seemed clear that the jets were in Derry for legitimate business purposes rather than on unlawful CIA flights.

At the time the local council confirmed their opposition to the practice of rendition and Amnesty welcomes the fact that the local authority has now become the first in Europe to adopt a new anti-rendition policy drafted by Amnesty International. The council has committed itself to urging other airport authorities in the UK and Ireland to adopt similar policies.

John Watson, Amnesty International's Scotland programme director, said:

"The secret transfer of detainees, to secret locations where they may be tortured, undermines fundamental human rights to a safe, fair and open trial. In the absence of a formal investigation into reports of rendition flights landing in Scotland, the next best thing would be for Scottish airports to follow Derry's lead and take steps to ensure that any future flights cannot rely on using Scottish facilities."

He continued:

"Unfortunately what we are seeing is often the opposite, with Prestwick Airport recently washing their hands of responsibility to check aircraft landing there."

Legal advisers to the human rights body, The Council of Europe, have stated that European states must inspect aircraft landing in their jurisdictions if there are "serious reasons" to believe that prisoners bound for torture or secret detention are on board. Yet it is known that the UK Government have not been insisting on these safeguards.

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Notes to editors:

  • Amnesty International has previously reported on over 1,000 flights linked to the CIA, most of which have used European airspace. Even though analysing only a small proportion of the CIA's aircraft fleet, Amnesty International has listed over 150 CIA flights to numerous airports in the UK and Ireland in the past five years.
  • On 23 October 2001, witnesses saw Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed being bundled on board a Gulfstream V, registration N379P, by a group of masked men. The plane flew Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed to Jordan. The following day, the Gulfstream flew to Glasgow Prestwick to refuel, then back to Dulles International near Washington DC. On 18-19 December 2001, according to an inquiry conducted by the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsmen, the Gulfstream V took Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari from Sweden to Cairo. Amnesty International's records show that the plane had made several trips between Cairo and Prestwick earlier in the month, and stopped to refuel at Prestwick after leaving the two detainees in Cairo, where they were reportedly tortured. On 12 January 2002, according to Indonesian security officials, the Gulfsteam V, N379P, took Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni from Jakarta to Cairo. Amnesty International records confirm previous media reports that when the plane left Cairo, it flew to Prestwick to refuel.
  • The European Parliament voted to adopt a report by a renditions committee on February 14th 2007. The report, by the Temporary Committee of the European Parliament on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners (TDIP Temporary Committee), has called for further investigations into allegations that European countries have been complicit in the USA's illegal renditions operation.

The resolution adopted by the Council is as follows:

‘Extraordinary Rendition’ and City of Derry Airport


Reports by the European Parliament and Amnesty International have shown that certain European States have tolerated, and in some cases actively supported, the US-initiated system of ‘extraordinary rendition’ and secret detention.

As a result, people have been detained and transferred abroad, without due legal process, to places where they have been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Some have been handed over for interrogation to states that routinely use torture. Some have been held secretly, including in Europe and many of these cases amount to enforced disappearance, a crime under international law.

Countries that allow CIA planes to cross their air space and use their airports have defended these actions by citing their obligations under the Chicago Convention. They may claim that the State party has no authority to question the reasons for the flight or to board the airplane during the stay in the airport because of the rights guaranteed by the Convention.

However, the Chicago Convention holds that every State has the right to require that an aircraft flying over its territory to land at a designated airport for inspection if there are "reasonable grounds to conclude that it is being used for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of the convention". Given that the practice of rendition violates international human rights law, it follows that transferring or aiding and abetting in the transfer of a detainee in such circumstances cannot be a purpose consistent with the aims of the Chicago Convention, especially considering the internationally recognized, absolute prohibition of torture. The extensive reporting by the media, human rights organisations and parliamentary bodies of specific flight numbers and chartering companies which appear to be involved in rendition, constitutes ‘reasonable grounds’ for suspicion. This would give States the right to stop certain aircraft suspected of being involved in the unlawful transfer of detainees.
The City of Derry Airport was amongst those airports originally implicated in the rendition scandal. It was subsequently given the ‘all-clear’ after the Airport gave Amnesty International Foyle Group access to flight records. Although the records show that City of Derry Airport was not used for the purpose of rendition flights, it is at least possible that it could be used in the future as a landing/refuelling base for jets, which are being used for illegal detention and transfer of prisoners.

In order to prevent this from occurring Amnesty International wishes to recommend the following course of action for Derry City Council to take:

Derry City Council: anti-rendition policy for City of Derry Airport

1. Derry City Council and the City of Derry Airport is totally opposed to the illegal detention and transfer of prisoners and commits itself to doing all in its power to oppose this practice. We want passengers using our Airport to be able to travel with the peace of mind that the airport they are using has not been complicit in torture, abductions, illegal and secret detention, or other violations of basic human rights.

2. Derry City Council aims to prevent City of Derry Airport being used for any role in such illegal practices through the implementation of good practice. We recommend the following, as an example of good practice.
- The Airport will maintain and update a register of aircraft operators whose planes have been implicated in rendition flights, and require them to provide detailed information before allowing them landing or flyover rights. Such information should include: the full flight plan of the aircraft, the full names and nationalities of all passengers on board, and the purposes of their travel.
- If any passengers are listed as prisoners or detainees, more detailed information about their status and the status of their flight should be required, including their destination and the legal basis for their transfer.
- Where there is reason to believe that an aircraft might be used to carry out rendition or associated operations the Airport will notify the relevant law enforcement authorities, and maintain public records of all such notifications.

3. We propose that Derry City Council conduct the necessary consultations and equality impact assessment study and that the Airport Management engage with Amnesty International to draft a detailed policy and bring that forward for approval at the earliest appropriate Council Meeting.

4. In undertaking the above recommendations, we believe that the City of Derry Airport can provide an example for other airports in the United Kingdom and Ireland to follow. Derry City Council will take steps to urge other airports elsewhere, particularly those in public ownership, to adopt a similar anti-rendition policy.

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