Northern Ireland: Those who condoned or authorized use of torture must be held accountable

Allegations aired last night in a documentary by Irish state broadcaster RTÉ that the UK Government sanctioned the use of torture in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, and failed to disclose relevant evidence to the European Court of Human Rights, underline the failure to deliver a comprehensive mechanism to deal with the past, said Amnesty International.

In 1971, Ireland took the first inter-state case to come before the European Court on Human Rights, alleging Britain had breached the European Convention on Human Rights. The use of torture during internment was central to that case which became known as the “hooded men” case.

The documentary, The Torture Files, was based on investigations carried out by Northern Irish human rights NGO the Pat Finucane Centre and RTÉ. It further alleges that the UK Government did not disclose relevant evidence to the European Court of Human Rights in its defence of the case. 

“Not a week goes by without another drip-fed revelation about Northern Ireland’s troubled past. The fact that it took investigations by a dedicated NGO and journalists to unearth this week’s sorry tale about the state failing to admit to sanctioning torture is a further reminder of the ongoing failure to deal effectively with the past,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. 

“The new allegations about the ‘hooded men’ and other shocking cases underline the need for all parties to come clean about their role in this sordid history. All those responsible for carrying out or condoning acts of torture – a crime under international law – must be held to account.”

Amnesty International’s own research on torture in detention in Northern Ireland in the 1970s – notably in two reports on internment issued in 1971 and 1978 – was an important factor in these cases being brought before the European Court in the first place. 

The organization has called for a comprehensive mechanism to be set up to review the conflict, establish the truth about outstanding human rights violations and determine responsibility. 

Any such mechanism must also examine abuses suffered by those seriously injured, and victims of torture and other ill-treatment, who have too often been excluded from existing processes.