Human rights judges reject final appeal of Troubles 'hooded men'

  • United Kingdom
  • 09/11/2018
  • The Guardian Law

The European court of human rights has rejected a final attempt by the Irish government to redefine as torture the maltreatment of 14 men interned without trial at the start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Judges at the ECHR refused to refer the case of the so-called “hooded men” to its internal appeal court, the grand chamber. The “hooded men” were mainly republican suspects seized in predawn raids across North Ireland in August 1971.

The authorities in Dublin, backed by human rights organisations, had asked the ECHR in 2014 to revise its original 1978 judgment after large numbers of documents from the years of internment emerged.

The refusal to refer the case to the Grand Chamber marks the end of the right of appeal for campaigners. In March, the ECHR’s main court rejected the request to redefine the maltreatment as torture. The 1978 judgment will now stand as final.

The 14 men were subjected to white noise and put in stress positions after their arrest by British troops.

Seven years later, the ECHR ruled that the men had been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment but fell short of concluding that they had been tortured. The ruling came after a complaint to Strasbourg from the Fianna Fáil government in Dublin at the time.

As well as being subjected to hooding, white noise and stress positions, the men were deprived of sleep, food and water. These techniques were combined with physical assaults and death threats.

Some of the men were taken up in army helicopters with hoods over their heads. They were told they were high up and dropped a few feet to the ground.

One of them was Jim Auld. He was 20 when arrested by British paratroopers outside his parents’ home in west Belfast.

Darragh Mackin, solicitor for a number of the detainees at the Belfast firm KRW Law, said the decision, while disappointing, came as no surprise. The court was “hiding behind nuanced procedure to shield itself from the thorny issue at the heart of this case”, he added.

“This case was always highly supercharged given the potential ramifications of any decision to overturn the original judgment. It is concerning that the court has allowed, for a second time, the injustice that is the first ruling to go unscathed.

“For too long the first ruling has been used for a number of international states as a battering ram against human rights protections, when utilising torturous techniques. These techniques were and are torture. The Belfast high court has said it, the London supreme court has said it. It is disheartening that the European court has instead used procedural gymnastics to avoid saying the same.”

But he said the campaign for justice was not over. “[The ‘hooded men’] now eagerly await the judgment by the court of appeal in Belfast in which the chief constable of the PSNI appealed a decision that requires the identification and prosecution of those individuals who perpetrated and authorised the techniques.”

Francis McGuigan, one of the former detainees, said: “Whilst today is yet another setback, it is by no means the end. We have already received a legal ruling confirming our treatment was torture. “We now eagerly await the court of appeal’s decision, and seeing those responsible held accountable.”

Niall Ó Donnghaile, a Sinn Fein senator in Irish parliament, on Tuesday expressed disappointment at the decision. “It is a great shame and indictment on the European court that they failed to even allow the hooded men, some of whom are advanced in years, this opportunity to assert their case on the international stage,” he said.