Thursday, 21 November 1996
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Enright: The recent decision by the Supreme Court in Israel has very serious implications in that it now grants legitimacy to interrogators using physical force to extract information from prisoners. No democratic country can allow a person to be physically abused while undergoing interrogation.
It is essential that the Irish Government influence the Israeli Government to have this particular judgment of the Israeli Supreme Court examined and legislation brought before the Israeli Parliament preventing such conduct by the police force. A three judge panel made the decision permitting this conduct. One of the judges on the panel was Aharon Barak who, in the past, has shown commendable commitment to civil liberties, which makes this disappointing. I recognise the problems being faced by the Israeli Government, the police force and the Israeli people who have been victims of a succession of suicide bombings in recent years that have led to the deaths of numerous women, children and security forces members throughout Israel. These suicide bombings tend to harden public opinion and the Israeli people understandably want further tightening of security measures. They must, however, be within the law. In a democracy, the rule of law must be applied in a fair and impartial manner. It applies to the man in the street but it equally applies to the police force.
Amnesty International has stated that the methods of interrogation used against Palestinians regularly include physical force, shaking prisoners violently, preventing people from sleeping, tying people's arms and making people stand for long periods with their heads covered. This can go on for days. The person who was detained and whose case led to the Supreme Court decision was Muhammad Abdel Aziz Hamdan. The Israeli police say that he is a member of the Islamic Jihad. I cannot say. It is recognised that the Islamic Jihad is part of the extremist Palestinian group. These people's conduct is deplorable and not to be condoned but the rule of law must prevail.
We, as a democratic Government, highlighted abuse by our neighbours in mistreating Irish prisoners in British jails and brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. This is not right and cannot be permitted in any jurisdiction with which we have diplomatic relations. We should use our influence to ensure that such methods of interrogation are not permitted.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): The Government is concerned by reports of the ill-treatment of prisoners in Israel, particularly the recent decision of the Israeli Supreme Court that Secret Service investigators can use physical force in the questioning of a Palestinian detainee as well as previous decisions to permit the Israeli security services to use physical pressure in the interrogation of suspects.
There have also been recent disturbing television reports of an incident involving beatings and abuse of prisoners by Israeli security forces. I am pleased, however, to note that the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, has reacted strongly to this incident and promised that the full rigour of the law will be applied against the soldiers involved.
While Ireland and its partners in the European Union freely acknowledge Israel's legitimate security concerns, they cannot be used to justify measures which are contrary to the norms of international law and respect for human rights. In the case of the incident to which I have referred, not even the soldiers involved would appear to have claimed that the men whom they so severely maltreated posed any kind of security threat.
Israel is a democracy and has a rule of law. It clearly enshrines respect for human rights in its legislation and has ratified a number of relevant UN conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It has to be said that it is also an open society which permits human rights organisations to operate freely and that such organisations in Israel are very vocal. We fully expect Israel to live up to its commitments in the international instruments and to the standards which it has freely set itself of a normal democratic society.
Apart from the treatment of prisoners, the Government is also concerned by the fact that a large number of Palestinian prisoners are still in detention, despite Israel's undertaking under the terms of the Interim Agreement which it signed with the Palestinians in 1995 to release, as a confidence building measure, those prisoners in three stages. The European Union's Council of Ministers in their declaration of 1 October called on all sides to the Middle East peace process to fulfil all their commitments under the first phase of the Interim Agreement in a timely fashion including the release of Palestinian prisoners. The Union believes that any failure to fully implement the terms of the Interim Agreement in relation to prisoners and, with the closures and the continued growth of settlements, mistreatment of prisoners can only serve to create resentment among the Palestinian population. This resentment creates a fertile breeding ground for those groups who use violence to oppose the Middle East peace process.
 The Government is also concerned in this context with the continued detention of a large number of other prisoners, most of whom are Lebanese held in poor conditions in prisons in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon.
I remind the House that the European Union has close political and economic links with Israel and that the Union is committed to maintaining and depening this relationship. In this context and on the basis of a common commitment to the furtherance of the Middle East peace process, a new generation Euromediterranean Association Agreement was signed with Israel on 20 November, 1996. The new Agreement, like the others which have been signed with Tunisia and Morocco and the others which are being negotiated in the context of the Barcelona process with Mediterranean countries, is based on an open acknowledgment that respect for the principles of democracy and human rights will guide the domestic and external policies of both parties and that these principles constitute an essential element of the Agreement. It is our  sincere hope that the EU's relationship with Israel can be consolidated through the early ratification of this new Association Agreement by all EU member states.
The Government expects that Israel, like other states with which the European Union hopes to make such Euromediterranean Partnership Agreement, will agree to freely engage in discussions with the Union on human rights issues. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs has met with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Levy recently in the context of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. In these meetings he has stressed the EU concerns about the treatment of the Palestinians and the future of the peace process. The Union will continue to underline to the Israeli Government the importance of improvements in human rights, including concrete steps to improve the treatment of prisoners and the early release of Palestinian prisoners.
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