Sunday 25 September 2016

Defeating terrorism is not about abandoning human rights for the sake of expediency

Colm O’Gorman

Published 25/07/2016 | 17:46

'Defending the deportation decision, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald told this newspaper that the State has a right to protect its citizens' Photo: Gerry Mooney
'Defending the deportation decision, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald told this newspaper that the State has a right to protect its citizens' Photo: Gerry Mooney

On July 4, the High Court granted the Irish authorities permission to deport a man suspected of terrorism in spite of the very real risk that he would be tortured if returned to Jordan.

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The subsequent deportation of this man, who cannot be named for legal reasons but is known as WS, is troubling on many fronts.

Firstly, it represents a serious and deeply worrying departure from the Irish State's attitude toward the absolute ban on torture.

In Jordan, people suspected of involvement in terrorist activity face unfair trials before quasi-military courts.

Torture and ill-treatment of suspects in intelligence and security custody is widespread. We have every reason to believe that this man could suffer serious human rights abuses, including torture.

In Jordan, previous trials of people believed to be involved in terrorism have collapsed because of the widespread use of torture. Yet the Irish Government has not explained why it so confidently decided that WS would not be at risk and deported him.

States, including Ireland, made torture a special case under international law. Unlike other human rights, the ban on torture is absolute. Nothing can ever justify states inflicting torture, or sending people to countries where they are at risk of such treatment.

All forms of torture - the deliberate infliction of physical or mental pain and suffering to achieve a purpose - are despicable. Be it electric shocks, beatings, rape, mock executions, burning, sleep deprivation or mock drownings, the practice can never be condoned.

There is also the 'slippery slope' problem. When it's acceptable for a government to torture suspected 'terrorists', it becomes permissible to torture others. The vast majority of torture victims are not 'terrorists' - they are poor or different or dare to disagree with their governments.

Many are human rights defenders, opposition politicians and journalists who have never advocated or conducted violence.

No one should ever be subjected to this treatment, regardless of what they have been accused of or what their beliefs are.

Defending the deportation decision, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald told this newspaper that the State has a right to protect its citizens.

In fact, under international human rights law, the State has an obligation to protect people in Ireland from threats to their security, including the threat posed by extremist groups and organisations involved in terrorism as defined in Irish law.

It must do so by using the law to full and proper effect - investigating any person believed to be involved in terrorist activity, gathering proper evidence and, if grounds exist, prosecuting them and holding them fully accountable before the law.

We are troubled by the serious questions this case raises about Ireland's capacity to properly address concerns about terrorist activity.

The State first wrote to WS in 2015, telling him that he was believed to be a risk to national and international security and giving him a number of days to voluntarily leave the country. Consider that for a moment; believing that this man was involved in recruiting for a terrorist organisation, the State's only response was to ask him to leave the country. When he did not, he was deported.

It may be tempting to believe this case demonstrates determination on the part of the State to combat terrorism, that because this person has been deported, all is well. I am not convinced this is true.

What has been achieved by his deportation? Does Ireland expect Jordan to try WS for the activities Ireland suspect him of having committed?

If so, how does it know Jordan will not repeat the human rights abuses it has committed against others?

At best, the state has applied a sticking plaster to a much bigger problem - and, until it explains its actions, it has abandoned respect for the absolute ban on torture.

It has sent a signal that putting a person at risk of torture is preferable to the hard work of neutralising an alleged threat through entirely lawful means.

I have colleagues in Amnesty International who regularly put themselves in harm's way to gather evidence of the atrocities committed by extremist groups. We do this because we believe in human rights, justice and accountability.

We do this because we know that security is only possible if there is respect for human rights and the rule of law. We cannot achieve security and respect for the rule of law if the State itself is willing to set those principles aside for the sake of expediency.

We will not defeat terrorism and those who seek to undermine our commitment to democracy, human rights and freedom by abandoning our respect for those values. We cannot safeguard our national security without protecting human rights.

Irish Independent

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