The Hooded Men Revisited; Report from QUB / KCL conference

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Dr Natasa Mavronicola, QUB Human Rights Centre.

On Thursday 14 April 2016 we had the pleasure of welcoming academics, practitioners, representatives of civil society and our NHRI, and a number of survivors themselves, to Queen’s University Belfast to revisit the landmark European Court of Human Rights judgment in Ireland v UK (1978). As many of those who follow the work of RightsNI will know, the original judgment involved a finding that the UK government had violated Article 3 of the ECHR in its application of a number of interrogation ‘techniques’ on several internees (frequently referred to as the Five Techniques: wall-standing in a “stress position”, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink), but had subjected the internees to inhuman and degrading treatment and not, according to the majority of the Court, to torture, which attracts additional stigma. The judgment also accepted that the internment of individuals was in principle a necessary departure from the demands of the right to liberty under Article 5 ECHR, on the basis that there existed at the time a public emergency threatening the life of the nation (for the purposes of Article 15 ECHR).

The day commenced with a panel reflecting on the context, significance and legacy of Ireland v UK, chaired by Anurag Deb, with contributions by Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty International), Sarah Kay, Dr Natasa Mavronicola (Queen’s University Belfast), and Clara Reilly (Relatives for Justice). The panel traced the enduring importance of elements of the case, such as the absolute character of the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment under Article 3 of the ECHR, but also highlighted the grave ramifications of the distinction drawn between torture and inhuman and degrading treatment in the Court’s 1978 judgment and the way it shaped legal and political approaches to ‘enhanced interrogation’ in subsequent years, notably in the United States’ War on Terror. Clara Reilly offered unique insights into the work and challenges faced by those defending human rights in the 1970s, including in the context of the case of Ireland v UK and the Hooded Men.

We then had the privilege of hearing first-hand testimony from survivors, with a panel chaired by Darragh Mackin (KRW-Law LLP) and Natasha Simonsen (King’s College London) which included several of the Hooded Men: and Jim Auld, Joe Clarke, Mickey Donnelly, Kevin Hannaway, Francis McGuigan, Patrick McNally, Liam Shannon, and Brian Turley. Joining them were Jim McIlmurray and Father Raymond Murray (whose book titled The Hooded Men is being published in a new edition in May). An audio of this session can be found here.

Following the survivors’ moving testimony, we heard from a panel exploring current developments and prospects in the re-opening of Ireland v UK and in relation to Article 3 ECHR more generally, with contributions by Colin Caughey (NIHRC), Conan Fegan (barrister), Claire McKeegan (KRW-Law LLP), Darragh Mackin (KRW-Law LLP), and Natasha Simonsen (King’s College London), and chaired by Dr Cian Murphy (King’s College London). We heard from Darragh Mackin and Conan Fegan on developments in the issues relating to the case both domestically and at ECtHR level, and Natasha Simonsen provided nuanced insights into the potential routes that the European Court of Human Rights might pursue in considering re-opening the case and preparing a new finding on the facts of the case. Colin Caughey and Claire McKeegan offered an outline of their own work in other areas on which Article 3 ECHR touches, notably the deprivation of citizenship and refoulement, as well as institutional abuse and historical abuse into allegations of such abuse.

The final panel involved a fascinating set of contributions on learning from the Troubles in the context of counter-terrorism. The speakers were Professor Brice Dickson (Queen’s University Belfast), Professor Christopher McCrudden (Queen’s University Belfast), Dr Luke Moffett (Queen’s University Belfast), Dr Cian Murphy (King’s College London), and the panel was chaired by Dr Natasa Mavronicola (Queen’s University Belfast). The discussion included a consideration of the shortcomings of the ECtHR in addressing systemic violations, the issue of human rights abuses by non-State actors, and the potential for resisting abuses and ensuring non-recurrence through accountability and reparations. The extent to which lessons can be learned through litigation of historical abuses was debated, and pathways towards securing human rights in the context of today’s transnational counter-terrorism measures were explored.

The day was packed with debate, and those attending engaged in discussions with panellists throughout the event, as well as in the drinks reception which followed.

Some of those attending have shared their reflections on the event:

‘Queen’s University, in collaboration with King’s University, held an event in Belfast which allowed reflection on the Ireland v United Kingdom case, and an important opportunity for those affected to speak to members of the public about the experiences. The Ireland v United Kingdom case is relevant to everyone – the men directly affected, their families and community members who suffered, and those who are still tortured due to the contemporary legacy of torture and techniques established by the 1978 judgement of this case. The resubmission of this case has real consequences for people of all nations worldwide, not just practitioners and academics, and the event provided a forum for this discussion. Indeed, the Hooded Men who spoke at Queen’s University – those men who suffered torture by agents of the British state, with the approval of the State, noted that they are not seeking justice and truth solely for themselves and the families directly affected in Northern Ireland, but also, for people who continue to suffer as victims of torture at the hands of States, those contracted by States, and non-state actors who carry out torture.’

Dr Alexis Bushnell (Irish Centre for Human Rights)

‘The Ireland v UK event hosted by QUB Human Rights Centre and King’s College London was of great interest to me, as I have studied this landmark 1978 ECtHR judgment at various stages of my master’s in Human Rights and Criminal Justice at QUB. It was inspiring to listen to the testimonies of some of the Hooded Men in person and gain a proper insight into their experiences. These men have fought tirelessly in their quest for justice and for the recognition of fundamental human rights. The 1978 judgment has set a dangerous precedent but Ireland’s application to re-open the case before ECtHR could set a new precedent, hindering the use of such torture techniques in the future. The Hooded Men were clear to emphasise at this event that their pursuit of justice is not only for them but for all those who have been tortured.  Events such as these are important, as they promote healthy discussion amongst academics, practitioners, victims and civil society and shine a light on human rights issues. Every individual who spoke at the event had something unique and interesting to contribute to the discussion and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to ask them questions in a comfortable setting. I thoroughly enjoyed this event and would love to attend others like it in the future.’

Carolyn Ekin, LLM (Queen’s University Belfast)

‘The subject of the ‘Hooded Men’ is something which has been part of the Northern Irish Conflict narrative for over forty years.  I grew up during ‘The Troubles’ and the local stories of those who had been interned both horrified and fascinated me. It provokes a spectrum of reactions in the province, no doubt reflected internationally. Those communities which experienced the force of Operation Demetrius in the early 1970s first hand, and have lived with the consequences of this state action ever since, are in no doubt that such aids to interrogation are in fact torture.  The landmark European Court of Human Rights inter-state case, Ireland v UK, which followed in 1978, was revisited in light of Ireland’s application to re-open the case at this event organised by Queen’s University Belfast and King’s College London. The conference heard contributions from a range of academics, practitioners, victims’ groups and survivors.  This approach made for a robust balance of context, current resonance and potential developments. I found the discussion raised by the survivors regarding the significance of state assurances, apologies and memorials particularly poignant.  Discussion ensued which drew upon the then British Government’s assurance that such techniques would not be used again and yet, just as those methods migrated to Northern Ireland they have been exported to other contemporary conflicts by British military personnel.  The challenging questioned was asked: what is the worth of a well-rehearsed apology when torture cases such as the Baha Mousa case continue today?  The various conference discussions highlighted to me not only the personal importance of this case to the ‘Hooded Men’ but the broader issue of maintaining a focus on, and momentum against, the continuance of state torture.’

Florence McAreavey, PhD (Queen’s University Belfast)

‘I was delighted to attend the ‘Ireland v UK and the Hooded Men’ event at QUB, organised by the QUBHRC in conjunction with King’s College London. The day-long event was billed as an insight into the issue of torture in the context of this particular ECtHR decision. It was extremely well structured, with 4 sessions of carefully selected panellists, each dealing with different but pertinent angles on the issue of torture, in light of the ‘Hooded Men’ case, including the history of torture in the human rights field, the Court’s decision in Ireland v UK, and the potential implications and significance of the reopening of the 1978 decision. The highlight of the day, for me, was hearing personal accounts from the Hooded Men themselves. To have access to such a wide range of relevant speakers; from academics to community activists, from lawyers to the individuals personally involved in the application to the Court, was an absolute privilege. Whilst news stories and articles can provide facts and information, the seminar ‘brought home’ the magnitude of the Court’s decision and gave me access to personalities and information which I simply would not have had through any other medium.’

Maria McCloskey, LLM (Queen’s University Belfast)

QUB JD student Christina Verdirame has shared her thoughts about the afternoon’s proceedings in a blog post.

Photographs from the event can be found here.

Interviews of a number of speakers can be found here.

More information on the QUB Human Rights Centre can be found here.

More information on the KCL National Security Law Research and Policy Initiative can be found here.