Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill, 1998 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to present the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Bill, 1998, to the House today. It may seem, at first sight, somewhat strange that we, who are fortunate enough to live in a civilised country, with our Constitution and a body of laws designed to protect the fundamental human rights of our citizens, should today discuss a Bill which creates a statutory offence of torture. Our role in relation to upholding human rights is not limited to what happens in our own back yard, for it is also incumbent on us to play our part in the international effort to ensure that everybody can enjoy these fundamental rights, not least of which is protection against torture. Unfortunately, such protection is not universally enjoyed. The horrific images we see all too often on our television screens and the gruesome stories we read in our newspapers are a sad but compelling testimony to this fact.

The international community has provided a framework for international protection against torture. That framework is contained in the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This convention was drawn up to provide an international system under which a person who has committed torture could find no safe haven. The Bill, when enacted, will allow Ireland to play our part more fully in this international effort by enabling us to ratify this important UN convention.

Against this background, the Bill creates a specific statutory offence of torture with a penalty of up to life imprisonment, it allows a person to be tried here in relation to the commission of the new offence anywhere in the world and it prohibits the extradition or expulsion of a person from this State where there are substantial grounds for believing that if the extradition or expulsion were to take place, the person may be subjected to torture.

I wish to expand on the background to the Bill. The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1984 and entered into force in June 1987. In September 1992 the Government authorised the Minister for Foreign Affairs to arrange for the signature on behalf of Ireland of the convention. Ireland signed the convention on 28 September 1992. There is widespread acceptance that Ireland's ratification of the convention is long overdue and it was in that context that, as Minister, I directed that this measure should be included as a priority in the very extensive programme of law reform I have undertaken.

In order for Ireland to proceed to ratify the convention it is necessary to ensure that acts of torture as defined in the convention are offences under Irish law. The main purpose of this Bill is, therefore, the creation of a statutory offence of torture in line with that contained in the convention, thus facilitating our ratification. There is no statutory offence of torture in Ireland at present. However, the courts have held that the unspecified personal rights guaranteed by Article 40 of the Constitution include freedom from torture and from inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, and it should be borne in mind that in the absence of a specific statutory offence of torture, actions which amount to torture may also amount to other offences under our law such as serious assault offences.

In addition, in the context of extradition, it has been held that extradition should be refused if the court is satisfied as a matter of probability that a person would, if delivered into another jurisdiction, be subjected to assault, torture or inhuman treatment. Given that these judgments have applied primarily to acts of physical torture, it is not certain that acts or omissions which could amount to mental torture would be covered equally. In all the circumstances, it is therefore desirable to create a specific offence of torture which includes acts and omissions which inflict both physical and mental suffering and to provide appropriate penalties in relation to them.

Under the Bill and in line with the convention torture will consist of the intentional infliction of severe pain and suffering, mental or physical, on a person for such purposes as obtaining from that person, or another person, information or a confession, punishing that person for an act which he or she, or another person, has committed or is suspected of having committed, intimidating or coercing him or her, or another person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind. However, it will not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions. This too is in line with article 1 of the convention.

It is important to note that the Bill is not limited to acts of torture which occur within the State. Extra territorial jurisdiction will apply to such behaviour which takes place outside the State. In this respect the Bill goes further than the minimum obligation in the convention, which is to establish jurisdiction over offences committed in our own territory or outside the State if committed by or against an Irish citizen. Given that we are dealing with behaviour which is so evidently repugnant to the whole basis of society and democracy, it is only right and proper that we should take this approach.

In view of the seriousness of the offence, a person found guilty of the offence of torture would be liable to imprisonment for up to life. The Bill also contains provisions dealing with offences such as aiding and abetting or attempting or conspiring to commit acts of torture, as well as acts designed to frustrate efforts to apprehend and prosecute persons for an offence of torture. A person found guilty of such an offence would also be liable to imprisonment for life.

Proceedings for an offence of torture, which may only be taken by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, may be taken in any place in the State and the Bill will enable persons charged with the new offence committed abroad to be tried anywhere in the State. The creation of the new offence of torture necessitates the amendment of a number of other Acts. Accordingly, the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1994, is being amended to provide that the new offence of torture will not be considered a political offence and that extradition cannot be denied on that ground. The Defence Act, 1954, is being amended in respect of the jurisdiction of courts martial to deal with the new offence of torture. The Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, is being amended in respect of the procedure in the District Court where a person is charged with torture and to provide that bail may only be granted by the High Court in such cases. To give effect to the convention, the Extradition Act, 1965, is being amended to provide that a person will not be extradited to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she may be subjected to torture. Other provisions in the Bill deal with privileges and immunities for certain bodies which are established under the convention, the commencement of the Act and expenses arising out of its administration.

The convention imposes a number of further obligations on states parties which do not require to be included in legislation. For example, article 10 provides that states parties will ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of police, medical personnel, public officials and others who may be involved in the custody or treatment of any person who is subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment. These are matters that can be dealt with administratively.

I will deal in detail with the sections of the Bill. Section 1 contains standard provisions providing for certain necessary definitions. It defines the terms "public official" and "torture". It states that a public official includes a person acting in an official capacity. The definition of torture, which follows closely that contained in the convention itself, contains a number of elements. In the first instance it includes both acts and omissions by which severe pain and suffering is intentionally inflicted on a person. The pain and suffering may be either physical or mental. The definition further provides that the pain may be inflicted for such purposes as obtaining from the person, or a third party, information or a confession, punishing the person for an act which he or she, or a third party, has committed or is suspected of having committed, intimidating or coercing the person or a third party or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

Torture does not include, however, any act arising solely from, inherent in, or incidental to lawful sanctions. There might be varying views as to how precisely to define the offence of torture, but primarily what is at issue here is to enable the State to ratify the UN convention and, in the circumstances, there are advantages in adhering as closely as possible to the definition which the convention contains.

Section 2 sets out those categories of persons who may be guilty of torture. Under subsection (1), a person who is a public official and carries out an act of torture on a person will be guilty of the offence of torture. This subsection further provides that the nationality of the public official is immaterial, or whether the act of torture was carried out within the State or elsewhere. Subsection (2) provides that a person, other than a public official, who carries out an act of torture on a person at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official, will also be guilty of the offence of torture. It is immaterial what the nationality of the person is or whether the act of torture was carried out within the State or elsewhere.

The practical effect of subsections (1) and (2) is that a public official or person acting at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official, no matter what the nationality of either, who carries out an act of torture on another person, irrespective of where that act was carried out, will be guilty of torture under the Bill. Under subsection (3), a person who commits the offence of torture will be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for up to life. This will make the offence an arrestable one, and will put torture on a par with other very serious offences.

Section 3 creates a number of offences other than the carrying out of acts of torture, but which contribute in some way to the offence of torture or are designed to frustrate efforts to prosecute others for the offence. Thus, any person, irrespective of nationality, will be guilty of an offence if he or she does any of the following – directs, instructs, aids, abets, counsels or procures, within the State or elsewhere, the commission of the offence of torture, attempts or conspires to com mit the offence of torture or tries to obstruct or prevent the arrest or prosecution of a person for the offence of torture.

As in section 2(3), a person who is found guilty of any of these offences will be liable to imprisonment for up to life. Given the particularly heinous nature of what can be at issue, it is appropriate that those who assist in the commission of an offence should also be subject to the same maximum penalty. However, my Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, is currently examining section 3 to ascertain whether some or all the offences in section 3 might be already covered by section 7 of the Criminal Law Act, 1997. Section 7 of that Act deals generally with aiding and abetting and so forth, and among the issues being addressed is whether the 1997 Act would cover such ancillary offences when committed outside the State. Arising from the outcome of these deliberations, I might bring forward suitable amendments on Committee Stage.

Article 3.1 of the convention provides that no party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. This concept is also known as non-refoulement. Section 4, which was drafted on the basis of the wording of the Refugee Act and article 3 of the convention, covers in Irish law the grounds contained in article 3 of the convention, with the exception of extradition which is covered in section 7.

Section 5 (1) provides that proceedings for an offence under the Bill can be taken anywhere in the State and may be treated as if the offence had been committed in that place. The effect of this will be that persons charged with the offence of torture or a related offence which has been committed either in the State or abroad may be tried anywhere in the State. Under subsection (2) of this section, a prosecution for an offence under this Bill may only be taken by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Subsection (3) is included to avoid multiple provisions in legislation relating to extraterritorial jurisdiction. Under section 38 of the Extradition Act, 1965, an offence committed abroad by an Irish citizen is, in certain circumstances, an offence under Irish law. The effect of subsection (3) is that where an Irish national is accused of the offence of torture committed abroad, any proceedings will be taken under the Bill and not under section 38 of the Extradition Act. By virtue of subsection (4), a person charged with an offence under this Bill will be tried in the Central Criminal Court, where the most serious offences known to the law are usually tried.

Section 6 provides for the amendment of sections 169 and 192 of the Defence Act, 1954. Section 169 of the Defence Act, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act, 1990, deals with the trial of certain non-military offences by court martial. Section 169(3) provides that where a person charged under the section is convicted by court martial of certain offences, for example, manslaughter, rape or genocide, that person will be punished accordingly. Paragraph (a) of section 6 amends section 169(3) by adding that where a person is convicted by court martial of an offence under this Bill, the person will be liable to a penalty of up to life imprisonment in the same way as a person is liable to that penalty if convicted in a non-military court.

Section 192 of the Defence Act deals with the jurisdiction of courts martial. Subsection (2) provides that a limited court martial will not have jurisdiction to try certain offences, for example, treason and murder, and subsection (3) provides that a court martial shall not have jurisdiction to try any person subject to military law for certain offences, for example, treason, murder, manslaughter, rape and genocide, unless the offence was committed while the person was on active service. Under paragraph (b) of section 6, the offences created by the Bill will also be excluded from the jurisdiction of courts martial in similar circumstances.

Section 7 involves a number of amendments to the Extradition Act, 1965. These arise on account of the requirement in Article 3.1 of the convention that no state shall expel, return or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture. Accordingly, section 7 of this Bill will add a further condition to the relevant sections of the 1965 Act to allow for refusal of a request for extradition where there are substantial grounds for believing that a person may be subjected to torture. Paragraph (a) will include a definition of torture in section 3 of the 1965 Act which will have the same meaning as it has in the Bill.

Section 11(2) of the 1965 Act includes provision that a person shall not be extradited if there are substantial grounds for believing that, if extradited, the person's position may be prejudiced on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion. Paragraph (b) will insert an additional subsection (2A) the effect of which will be that a person shall not be extradited if there are substantial grounds for believing that the person may be subjected to torture.

Section 33(3) of the 1965 Act provides that the Minister shall not make an order that a person is to be surrendered if he or she is of the opinion that it would involve transit through any territory where there is reason to believe that the person's life or freedom may be threatened by reason of the person's race, religion, nationality or political opinion. Under paragraph (c) this will be amended to state that the Minister may also refuse to make an order if there is reason to believe that the person may be subjected to torture.

Section 44(2) of the 1965 Act, as amended by section 8 of the Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, 1987, includes provision that a warrant issued in a place to which Part III of that Act applies shall not be endorsed for execution in the State if there are substantial grounds for believing that the person's position would be prejudiced on account of the person's race, religion, nationality or political opinion. This is amended by paragraph (d) of section 7 to include the belief that the person may be subjected to torture.

Section 50(2)(bb) of the 1965 Act, inserted by section 9 of the Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, 1987, includes provision that a person arrested under Part III of the Act shall be released if there are substantial grounds for believing that the person's position would be prejudiced on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion. This paragraph is amended, by paragraph (e) of section 7, to include the belief that the person may be subjected to torture as a further ground for release.

Section 8 amends the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, in two respects. Paragraph (a) of section 8 inserts reference to offences created by the Bill into section 13(1) of the 1967 Act, the effect of which is that the District Court will not have jurisdiction either to deal summarily with offences created by the Bill or to send the accused forward for sentence in relation to those offences. At present, section 13(1) excludes this jurisdiction in the case of offences such as treason, murder or genocide to which will now be added the torture offences created by this Bill.

Section 29 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, deals with bail in the case of treason, murder, genocide and certain other offences. It provides that bail may only be granted by the High Court in those cases. Paragraph (b) of section 8 inserts a new paragraph into section 29(1) of the 1967 Act to add the new offence of torture to those offences listed. As a result, bail may only be granted by the High Court in the case of a person charged with an offence under the Bill.

Section 9 amends the First Schedule to the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1994, in order to include the offences created by the Bill. The effect of this will be that these offences will not be considered to be political offences and that extradition cannot be denied, therefore, on that ground.

Section 10 amends the Schedule to the Bail Act, 1997, in order to include the offences created by the Bill. The effect of their inclusion will be that the new bail regime, as provided for in the Bail Act, 1997, will apply to offences under this Bill. Under that Act, bail may be refused to a person charged with a serious offence where it is considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence. Serious offences are defined by reference to a Schedule in the Act. It is considered appropriate that the offences created by the present Bill should be regarded as serious offences for bail purposes and this section provides accordingly.

Article 17 of the UN convention establishes a committee against torture to carry out the function of ensuring that states abide by their obli gations under the convention. Article 21 permits the setting up of an ad hoc conciliation commission in appropriate cases. Article 23 states that members of the committee and of the ad hoc conciliation commission shall be entitled to the facilities, privileges and immunities of experts on mission for the United Nations as laid down in the relevant sections of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which is incorporated in the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act, 1967.

Section 11 makes provision in the Bill for the Committee against Torture, and any ad hoc conciliation commission established by the committee, to be accorded the appropriate privileges and immunities as are necessary for them to exercise their functions independently.

Section 12 is a standard provision, which provides that any expenses incurred by any Minister of the Government in the administration of the Act will, to the extent sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of money provided by the Oireachtas. The Bill may give rise to additional costs, for example, the costs incurred in prosecuting persons accused of offences under the Bill. In addition, the convention imposes obligations on states which have ratified it regarding expenses of the committee established under article 17 as well as expenses incurred in connection with meetings of states and the committee. However, there are no grounds for believing at present that any substantial expenditure will arise. Section 13 is a standard provision setting out the short title of the Bill and providing for the commencement of the Act.

In conclusion, this Bill honours an important international obligation. Furthermore, it is a positive indication of the repugnance we feel at unspeakable acts committed most frequently by tyrannical regimes which are sadly still all too prevalent in the world today. It is also a demonstration of our willingness to do all we can to ensure that the perpetrators of those heinous crimes are brought to justice. As recently as last December, we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am pleased that because of the priority which I accorded the measure, it proved possible to publish the Bill prior to that anniversary.

As always, I will follow the debate with great care and interest and will take full account of the contributions. I thank the Deputies for their co-operation.

(Mayo): I welcome the long overdue arrival before the Dáil of the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill, 1998. It is 15 years since the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Ireland signed the convention in 1992. Finally, seven years later, we are about to give legislative effect to the convention. While I commend the Minister for bringing the Bill forward, it is nevertheless over seven months since the Bill was introduced in the Seanad.

It is difficult to appreciate the reason for tardiness time and time again in introducing follow-up legislation in respect of the various conventions to which we sign up. Indeed there are quite a lot of conventions to which we have appended our signature and have still not had them ratified by Parliament. This was particularly evident during the course of the debate on the Immigration Bill, 1999, when Deputy Howlin and I sought to strengthen the protection for asylum seekers by inserting amendments to enshrine protections provided by international conventions and agreements to which Ireland is a party, but the provisions of which were never introduced into domestic law. Our amendments were not accepted by the Minister or the Government because of the fact that, while we are a party to the various conventions and we accept the spirit and the principles they contain, we have not put the necessary domestic legislation in force in the Dáil or Seanad to give them legal effect. This was pointed out forcibly to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights by the various organisations which made submissions to the committee on the proposed Human Rights Commission Bill which is part of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties rightly made the point to the joint committee that there are no international human rights instruments which have been given the force of law in the State. Excluded from domestic law, for example, is the International Bill of Rights, namely, the Universal Declaration, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Declaration of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights, 1993, the various protocols to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom and the European Convention on the Legal Status of Children Born out of Wedlock. These are but a small sample cross section of the various human rights treaties to which Ireland is party but, while applicable in Ireland, they are not part of Irish domestic law. I think we need to emphasise and underline the fact that when we enter international covenants, we should follow up as quickly as possible with the necessary effecting domestic legislation.

The measure before the House today is welcome in that it defines for the first time in our law what constitutes torture. It sets torture in its legal context and puts in place the appropriate measures to deal with those who directly perpetrate, assist, aid or abet torture. The inclusion of mental as well as physical torture is particularly welcome. The exclusion of torture as a political offence for the purposes of the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1994, is also good. The training of front line personnel to deal with torture is a necessary and positive move.

It is sad, however, that as we leave the 20th century and enter the new millennium, the epilogue of the final few years of the old millennium should be littered with human rights atrocities as barbaric as those committed at any time in the past. One must ask whether, in spite of all the scientific and technological advances, humanity has advanced one iota. One must query why it is that in the dying years of the century we have seen political power struggle after political power struggle displaying a total contempt for human life as mass extermination is indulged in under the newly coined expression of "ethnic cleansing". In many instances, this has occurred in areas which have faced it before, where a qualified peace or, at least, an imposed stability was in place for several decades, but when there was a political transition or transfer of power and a spark ignited, there was a reversion to a savagery one had assumed and hoped was a thing of the past.

One must ask also how effective is the raft of international arrangements and conventions which have come on stream, almost on an annual basis, with a view to protecting human rights and fundamental freedom. Why is it that in spite of the dire warnings of the international community and all the protocols and conventions in relation to what will be done to the perpetrators of such atrocities when brought before the international criminal courts, and in spite of all the sabre-rattling in the direction of those who have carried out these atrocities, these conventions, protocols, warnings and legislation are disregarded time and time again?

There is a marked lack of consistency and commitment on the part of the big players on the world political stage. It is quite obvious that strategic self-interests of the super powers are of paramount importance. Self-interest is invariably a factor in the degree of interest they show or in their willingness to act as world political policemen. Elements such as geographical location, natural resources and trade issues are all factors in the degree of urgency and importance shown by the militarily strong members of the international community. The sad net result is that the credibility of the United Nations has been at stake for a considerable period. While the most unspeakable atrocities were committed in Algeria in the last two years, where little babies were thrown into cauldrons of boiling water, all the international community could do was watch and wring its hands in helpless anguish.

In the case of Rwanda, the world community stands indicted for abdicating totally its responsibility. In Rwanda we witnessed an attempt by the United Nations Security Council to create a democracy. Everyone warned there would be trouble and everyone could see it on the horizon. An armed militia was on the loose and a so-called powerful government army claimed to be powerless against the violence of the pro-democracy supporters. In the end the attempt to create a democracy led to the genocide of over one million people.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said recently: "I am haunted by what we did not do in Rwanda". Yet, the Rwandan situation was replicated in the last few weeks in the case of East Timor. The United Nations organised and oversaw elections to enable the people of East Timor to express their political will through the ballot box. There was a massive expression of the popular will reminiscent of South Africa or, indeed, Cambodia where I was an election observer last year. Some 78.5 per cent of the people of East Timor voted for independence and instead of honouring its pledge to the people of East Timor they were totally abandoned. Even the United Nations personnel themselves were abandoned to their fate by their very own mother organisation and were left helplessly and hopelessly trying to shelter the frightened people from the marauding and rampaging militia. These were a people to whom the United Nations had given such categorical assurances that they would underpin whatever arrangement the people democratically voted for. There was no United Nations follow-up plan in place, even though it was patently obvious that the inevitable result would lead to a pro-Indonesian military backlash.

Thousands of people were trucked away to unknown destinations. Their only crime was that they refused to be intimidated by the warning massacres into voting for staying with Indonesia. It was quite obvious that the intention of these massacres was to fire a shot across the bow of people to frighten them. Yet, they went out and expressed wholeheartedly and almost universally across the board, their support for the break with Indonesia. The Indonesian police and army gave the militia guns and a free hand while Jakarta spoke innocently about the trouble being caused by "unruly elements". At least 10,000 innocent people have been slaughtered. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are, as we speak, huddled in the mountains of East Timor, or in West Timor, and have been left without food, sustenance, water or shelter.

The world is appalled as it watches yet another brutal coup being enacted. East Timor is yet another disaster for the international community and particularly for the United Nations. Having obtained total UN assurances and with the agreement of the Indonesian and Portuguese Governments, the people of East Timor were asked to come out and vote for autonomy and a better future. They were asked to put their faith and trust in the United Nations and the international community to oversee and be the custodians of whatever the people voted for. That did not happen, however, so is it any wonder that the people of East Timor should feel betrayed?

Unfortunately, the lessons of the past have not been learned. For United Nations operations to be successful they need to be properly planned. They must have clear mandates and trained peacekeepers on the ground and in place in advance. There must also be assured financing, an effective and integrated United Nations command with the full, undivided and unequivocal support of a united and purposeful UN Security Council. None of these requirements was in place either in Rwanda or East Timor.

To have encouraged the creation of a democracy in East Timor, as in Rwanda, and to have sponsored an independence referendum in East Timor, only then to abandon people who were promised so much, is a stain on the reputation of the United Nations that will never be erased. One must give credit to the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, whose quiet diplomacy eventually succeeded in getting President Habibie and the Indonesian Government to agree to the arrival of an international force. However, for the thousands of people killed – over 10,000 of them – it is all much too late. One must ask whether, together with Milosevic, the perpetrators of such brutality will ever end up before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

While the focus of world attention during spring and early summer was very much on the Balkans and latterly on East Timor, news again seeped out of human rights violations and some of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity in the West African state of Sierra Leone. The New York based Human Rights Watch reported that, while the rest of the world concentrated on Kosovo and East Timor, acts of cruelty as savage as anything seen in Kosovo or elsewhere were being inflicted on the innocent people of Sierra Leone. The ten year old civil war there has seen the displacement of one million citizens and the slaughter of over 50,000 people. The Human Rights Watch group gave graphic accounts of systemic murder, mutilation and rape by the rebel forces who stormed the capital Freetown. The 60 page report documents how entire families were gunned down in the street, children had their hands, arms and legs hacked off, girls were taken away by the rebels to be sexually abused, raped and in some cases gang raped and special units carried out executions of children, in some cases as young as eight years. The general view is that the attacks, or their severity, were not spontaneous but were well planned and systematic. There were frenzies of mutilation for several days, followed by a lull and then another frenzy, indicating the existence of a command structure.

The report also claims that while the rebels carried out much of the slaughter, they were not alone in their savagery. Members of the West African peace-keeping force, ECOMOG, and to a lesser extent the civil defence forces and the Sierra Leone police also carried out atrocities and reprisals, mainly against those believed to be rebels or rebel sympathisers.

While we are often wont to outline the happenings in places as far away as Chad, Kenya, Chile, East Timor and Kosovo, we tend to overlook or fully appreciate the torture and brutality that has gone on in the recent past, and is still going on, in our own country. One recalls the barbaric and degrading treatment meted out to republicans and the republican community by the state authorities in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of internment and, indeed, to those arrested in the post-internment period. In spite of the cease-fire and the peace process, punishment beatings and knee-cappings are still carried out on a weekly basis, yet those responsible have not been brought to book.

I welcome the Bill's sanctions and other tough measures. Hopefully, it will send out a strong message and have a deterrent effect. However, while one is not optimistic, one must nevertheless continue to hope and to persist. Ireland has a special role and must lead the way in putting human rights at the very top of the international agenda.

The Minister mentioned section 10 of the Bill, relating to bail provisions, but when will these provisions actually come into effect? Clover Hill is now open with 400 places on stream. We have additional prison spaces, as well as the women's prison, at Mountjoy. The provisions to restrict bail in certain circumstances, which people overwhelmingly voted for, were passed by the House in 1997. They are part and parcel of section 10, but when will they come into effect?

The Council of Europe's committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment made its second periodic visit to Ireland in September 1998 and its report was sent to the Government on 8 April this year. The expectation is that it will be published along with the official response within six months. Coincidentally, that deadline expires today. When replying to the debate will the Minister tell the House whether the Government has prepared its response and, if so, when can we expect to see the publication of what is an important document? By virtue of the fact that there is a deadline and also in the context of the Bill, it would be useful if we could know what progress has been made in this regard.

We are debating the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill, 1998, in the final months of the 20th century. It is a century in which torture and the denial of human rights have been shameful characteristics. However difficult and daunting the task appears, and is, we must try to establish within the world community international norms of civilised behaviour. That is the fundamental goal of the United Nations and the convention which spawned this important legislation.

Democracy is largely a creature of this century. It is both imperfect and fragile. For much of mankind, the norm is a form of governance that is oppressive and cruel. In recent years we have revisited, through the media and in reality, concepts and entities we thought had disappeared. We have revisited concentration camps in the former Yugoslavia, we have seen rape used as an instrument of war and terror and that innocuous sounding phrase "ethnic cleansing" has been revealed in all its dreadful and awful horror. It has already been stated that for all our technological advances, when we reflect on the state of mankind at the end of this millennium we wonder how much progress we have made in civilising ourselves. The awful reality facing us, particularly in Europe, is that the potential is there in any ethnic or national group to commit the most heinous, barbaric crimes.

Ireland, no less than any other civilised nation, must play its full part in trying desperately to shape a better world and form an acceptable world order. At a time when we can be depressed or even disheartened by the degree of totalitarianism that is evident when we look across the globe, we must realise that change can only come about through concerted international effort. In a way we have reached a crossroads in world history. The dominant political order since the close of the Second World War, namely, the Cold War between the forces of western capitalism and Soviet dominated communism, has come to an end. The dreadful atrocities that were committed to sustain that conflict may no longer be evident but it has not left in its wake a more enlightened or civilised society.

The Bill before the House will enable Ireland to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The statutory offence of torture is created in the Bill in accordance with the definition contained in the UN convention. It has already been stated that this Bill has been a long time coming. Ireland was specifically mentioned for its inaction in ratifying a convention that was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1984 and which entered into force in June 1987. Therefore, a long period has passed since the entering into force of the convention and its ratification by Ireland in the form of the Bill we are now debating. As a former member of Government, I share some of the blame for the unacceptable delay in ratifying treaties that are critically important to the struggle to form the moral international order I have described.

In the debate in the Upper House, the Minister stated further obligations were imposed on Ireland by the convention that were outside the statutory requirements encompassed in the legislation. Article 10 requires states to include education and training in respect of the convention to police officers, medical personnel, public officials and others. I am interested to hear about, and perhaps in his reply the Minister might make specific mention of, the proposals that will be put in place in this regard. What training and focus will be given to the Garda authorities, medical personnel and others regarding the contents of the legislation and those of the UN convention? I say this in the context of an Ireland which is changing culturally and ethnically. However, I am heartened and glad there is no suggestion that the offences encompassed in the legislation would ever be committed by agents of this State. It is important that specific education and understanding of the fears, background, history and customs are part of the training programme available to all agents of this State. I say this in the broadest possible context.

People are arriving into this country all the time and we now have a variety of ethnic and cultural minorities. Some of them are fearful, some come from a background where there is endemic fear of authority and where the forces of law and order are actually forces of repression. We must understand that culture and adopt and amend our policing and civic authorities to ensure that people can live, recreate and interface with the civic society in this country without fear or intimidation. That is a large and serious job because this issue goes beyond cultural and ethnic minorities and embraces other minorities such as those with a different sexual orientation. I hope the new training skills to which I refer are being provided and I would welcome the comments of the Minister in that regard.

An important and critical part of the Bill is the extra-territorial nature of the offences encompassed within it. What must be clearly established in Irish law and public policy is that no individual of any nationality can shelter in this jurisdiction from the consequences of acts of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment carried out anywhere in the world. The Bill defines the offence of torture, not an easy concept to define. The definition closely follows that outlined in the convention. I am slightly concerned, however, about the opt-out clause included in the Bill, namely, the so-called lawful sanctions opt-out. This clause is contained in the UN convention but there is a requirement that the definition should be without prejudice to any instrument or law of wider application. This clear modification of the opt-out provision should be included in the Bill and I will propose an appropriate amendment on Committee Stage to that end.

Section 1 of the Bill provides a clear definition of torture. It states:

"torture" means an act or omission by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person—

(a)for such purposes as—

(i)obtaining from that person, or from another person, information or a confession,

(ii)punishing that person for an act which the person concerned or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or

(iii)intimidating or coercing that person or a third person,

or

(b)for any reason that is based on any form of discrimination,

It further states:

but does not include any such act that arises solely from, or is inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions.

I am concerned about that and perhaps the Minister, when replying, would allay my fears and obviate the need to amend that section on Committee Stage.

I am concerned about another aspect of the Bill, as drafted. The Bill applies to acts of torture and has international application. However, it applies only to acts of torture by or involving the State. The issue of torture perpetrated by an individual on another individual or on another group should be addressed also. It is my understanding that the UN convention allows, under article 1.2, national laws to offer a wider definition than that encompassed in the convention. We should have a broader definition in this legislation and take that base of the convention to be our ceiling because it would be a more acceptable proposal to encompass acts of torture perpetrated by individuals on individuals as well.

A number of amendments to existing legislation are envisaged in the Bill. I welcome the amendment to the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1994, to ensure torture could not be considered a political offence to prevent extradition. A torturer seeking refuge in this country could not use our extradition laws which seek to ensure that people are not extradited for political offences as a shield to prevent that individual facing due process.

I welcome the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, envisaged in the Bill where bail would only be granted by the High Court, although I echo the concerns expressed by Deputy Jim Higgins about the actual date of enactment of the changes in the bail laws supported by the people in a referendum some time ago. My party has tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for answer next week to seek a fuller explanation of his timeframe on that. I also welcome the amendment to the Extradition Act, 1965, legislating for the principle of non-refoulement where extradition would be prohibited to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that a person so extradited might be subjected to torture or degrading or inhuman treatment. Those measures, and the Bill as a whole, are welcome and my party will support them at the conclusion of the debate.

The Bill forms part of a comprehensive policy platform. We are aware of the ongoing proceedings in the United Kingdom where General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, is finally being called to account. Notwithstanding the hysterical rantings of a former British Prime Minister, most decent and civilised people would regard that as just and proper. In those proceedings, British law prohibited the extradition of any person for crimes committed prior to the enactment of the United Kingdom's torture Act. In other words, the only crimes or allegations that could be considered under the process of extradition were those committed subsequent to the enactment of the torture legislation in the United Kingdom. The most serious allegations levelled against the dictator Pinochet, that in the immediate aftermath of the coup thousands of people were murdered, could not be taken into account because chronologically they occurred prior to the enactment of the UK legislation.

My concern is that a Pinochet figure could escape extradition for offences committed before the passing of this particular measure. I would welcome the views of the Minister in this regard. I would have a major concern if it were possible for an individual to come to Ireland, having committed awful crimes in Bosnia or elsewhere, and not face extradition because they were committed prior to this legislation being put on the Statute Book. I hope the Minister will assure me that such an unacceptable vista can be avoided.

Much is made of Ireland's position in the arena of human rights. I readily acknowledge the work done on Ireland's behalf by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews. He has done Trojan work in the human rights sphere and in putting Ireland's position as a champion of human rights into focus. We all share a degree of pride in that. Too often, however, we take a strong position on issues or countries in respect of which we have no strategic interest or economic vulnerability. We could do more and this debate should spur us on to do more, even where it will do us harm economically. Larger countries often take an economic or business decision rather than a moral decision in the case of pushing for sanctions or taking action against totalitarian regimes or against instances of major injustice.

The man likely to be East Timor's first democratically elected president, Mr. Xanana Gusmao, was in Ireland this week. His presence here highlights the unanswerable need to hold to account those guilty of heinous offences during the Indonesian occupation of his country. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, has already called for accountability and this is one issue on which Ireland has taken a strong moral line and which we should vigorously pursue. We must support the calls for the establishment of a crimes commission to ensure that those who engaged in dreadful acts of murder and barbarity are called to account. Unless it is accepted internationally that those who commit crimes against humanity will be pursued and prosecuted, such offences will continue to be perpetrated.

This practice is widespread around the globe today. From Africa to South America and from Asia to Europe, instances of brutal crimes are all too common. Some instances have been outlined already by Deputy Jim Higgins. Besides having a very depressing read, one could certainly occupy this House for many hours, if not days, listing the scale of the problems of genocide, torture, inhumanity, brutality and barbarity. However, we on this island cannot be complacent. We cannot believe all that nastiness and awfulness exists somewhere else and that we are somehow immune from it. We have witnessed terrorist actions of the most dreadful kind and we have witnessed State reactions which trampled on human rights and the rule of law. This is a cause for deep concern.

There is another issue that causes me grave concern and which should be at the top of the Minister's agenda. In our own communities we are witnessing the unacceptable phenomena of punishment beatings, threats and community expulsions. In some of our most vulnerable and marginalised communities we have seen self-styled local policing operating on the basis of terrorising their own communities. We must be vigilant and we have to confront that sort of lawlessness.

A colleague of mine gave me an instance of a meeting he was summoned to by a local community group in this city. He arrived at a large community centre where there were several Deputies, including a Minister of State. What transpired was little short of a kangaroo court, where an individual accused of criminal activity was paraded before for judgment of the people – of the mob. This is a direct challenge to our democracy and to the rule of law. If we do not deal with issues like this, instances of torture, as defined in this Bill and in the United Nations convention, will become a feature of this nation as it has become a feature of countries across the globe. We pride ourselves on having a settled democracy, but in my constituency in the past few days arms caches have been discovered which contained three pounds of Semtex and offensive weapons, including a missile launcher. I congratulate the Garda Síochána on the detection work involved in those discoveries, but these issues cause the deepest concern. I am concerned that within all our communities, no matter how settled, civilised or democratic we feel we are, there are forces that would upset the rule of law and our democratic tradition. It is incumbent on all of us not only to be aware of it but to take direct action against them.

I welcome the provisions of this legislation. As I have said, it has been a long time coming. I know it will have a speedy passage through the House and I look forward to the comments of the Minister at the conclusion of Second Stage on the concerns I have raised. I hope this debate will be an impetus to us to seek an international moral world order in which Ireland can play a prominent part and which will improve the lot of all humankind into the new millennium.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Kelleher.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I too welcome the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill. As other speakers have said, it is overdue. We signed the convention in 1992 and seven years is a long time to wait for a measure as important as this. Members have mentioned other conventions we signed that require legislation which we have not got around to. I am not blaming the Minister as that comes with the job and one could not accuse this Minister of not pushing legislation through. His record shows the long list of Bills he has pushed through the House and there are others on the way. He could probably be accused of torturing his officials for the way he has pushed legislation through. However, the point that there are a number of things it would be simple to push through is a good one. If we did so we would be doing a good day's work for ourselves and for people's perception of us internationally.

Unfortunately, many people may ask why a country like Ireland needs a Bill like this. The very idea of torture seems alien to us, but it is the way of the world. Torture is far too common. More and more we live in the global village and we must send out the message that if people engage in these barbaric acts, they can run but they cannot hide. They will be caught and prosecuted.

A number of Deputies mentioned that people may think torture is a stranger to this country, but in Northern Ireland it is not strange. Increasingly, as Deputy Howlin said, it is not strange in certain communities in this State, where the gardaí and the rule of law are undermined in the public meetings he mentioned. In areas where there are problems with drugs or socially unacceptable behaviour, groups of people have decided to take the law into their own hands and often these people cause distress in communities as they do not have to go through any procedures. They threaten people, punishment beatings take place or people are told to get out of the community and not to come back. I hope this does not happen here or in the North of Ireland, but unfortunately there is an element which would like to see this happen. If they can operate like that in these communities they take control and democratically elected politicians, the gardaí and the rule of law are undermined. We should keep a very close eye on this to ensure it does not spread.

Torture is a global problem. One of the most important recent examples is the case taken against General Pinochet, which I do not think any Member of the House regrets. He led a military coup against a democratically elected Government which had been re-elected to a second term in office, short as the first term was. There were problems in Chile at the time, but when he took power, within the first year to 18 months, as Deputy Howlin said, he committed the most appalling crimes. The army there killed and tortured thousands of people. If one talks to people who were there at the time, such as members of churches and trade unionists, the systematic torture that took place was absolutely appalling. Everyone except Baroness Thatcher was delighted at the action taken. I cannot understand how an intelligent woman can argue against this man being charged with crimes he committed against his people over a long period; it seems extraordinary. Deputy Howlin pointed out that he cannot be charged for crimes committed prior to the Act being implemented in England, and perhaps the Minister could outline how our law stands on that point. Could we charge people who committed crimes prior to the implementation of this Bill? People from Kosovo and Yugoslavia may try to come to this country or others in western Europe.

The other topical issue is East Timor and the Amnesty International report on Indonesia and East Timor contains some interesting information. In the Santa Cruz massacre of 1992, 270 people were killed and, in some cases, before their deaths they were tortured by various methods, including beatings on the head, shins and torso with fists, lengths of wood, iron bars, bottles, rocks and electrical cables, being burnt with lighted cigarettes, electrocution, slashing with razor blades and knives, death threats, mock executions, deliberate wounding with firearms, immersion for long periods in water, suspension upside down by the ankles, isolation, sleep and food deprivation, mutilation, sexual assault and rape. This was horrific. The military set up an honorary council to investigate these charges; ten officers were removed from their posts and moved elsewhere and only one man was charged with assault. This is incredible to us, living in a civilised country. Whereas Pinochet has been caught, what can the UN do about crimes such as this? This is only one of many examples in this report of people being tortured and killed, and it makes appalling reading.

The implementation of the Bill is the important thing and, as previous speakers said, the UN record is that it promises certain measures but it does not follow through, which is sad. We in the international community should look at this. I welcome the Bill and ask the Minister to respond to my point about Pinochet. I congratulate him for bringing the Bill to the House and I wish it a speedy and successful passage.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Ryan, for sharing his time and I welcome the publication and introduction of this Bill. While it has been a long time coming, as speakers have said, it is here at long last and the delay was no fault of the Minister. The UN agreed the convention in 1984, it was adopted as a policy in 1987 and we are now debating the Bill.

Over the last few years, particularly in Europe, we have seen horrific and heinous crimes perpetrated against massive numbers of people. As a young parliamentarian I was concerned about the inactivity of Europe and its inability to decide how to deal with problems on our doorsteps. In Bosnia and Croatia the EU was unable to make a single policy decision on dealing with these appalling atrocities. It is only now that we are discovering some of what happened in those dark days. We must examine this issue urgently because, no matter what legislation we pass and what action is taken by countries with huge resources like the US, the EU must have a proper foreign policy so that it can issue a statement and indicate clearly what it wants the UN to do and what action it will take. Thus far we have been unable to do that and we must address this seriously.

While the EU is a single financial bloc in many ways, some countries within it have a foreign policy which is driven by financial interests. We must acknowledge and deal with this quickly. No one thought the events in Bosnia could happen again, people thought it was the final barbaric act of the 20th century as we move into the third millennium, but we now find the same people persecuting the Kosovans. We have difficulties on our doorstep but are singularly unable to deal with them.

Many people slate American imperialistic thinking. I would question some aspects of American foreign policy, particularly in South America, but in Europe the US has had to lead the way in resolving problems. People may ask whether there was a financial factor or why the Americans became involved. I believe the US is a democratic state and in general it tries to uphold what is sees as a democratic society, with freedom of expression, capitalism, etc. Some people in this House and this country are quick to jump on the anti-American bandwagon but that nation has often had to take the lead in resolving problems in Europe which we were singularly unable to deal with.

On the Bill, Deputy Ryan outlined incidents of torture. Perhaps the Minister could respond to my concern that, as Argentina was a haven for the Nazis, so Ireland could become a haven for people who committed crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and elsewhere, should we find that this Bill does not apply retrospectively to the passing of the UN convention in 1984.

It is positive legislation but the difficulty is that resources are often not made available. For example, the UN promised an independence plebiscite to the people of East Timor. The people answered that call and voted in vast numbers, but they were tortured, driven from their homes, watched their houses being destroyed, and were forced into the mountains while the UN failed to act. People in non-governmental organisations forewarned about huge problems in this area if the UN did not have a military presence to ensure the elections took place in a fair and free manner, without hindrance, and maintained that presence afterwards in case the Indonesian militias did not accept a result in favour of independence. Everyone on the ground thought this would happen, yet after promising the independence plebiscite and providing some personnel, the UN failed to provide military protection to ensure that those who exercised their democratic right would not be forced from their homes and their country or would not be tortured and killed. Documentary evidence of genocide is still being uncovered.

If we are serious about ensuring this legislation is implemented and sending a strong message to those who commit war crimes and atrocities we must do so in an aggressive manner so that they will be brought to justice. There is not much point in saying Slobodan Milosevic perpetrated crimes against humanity, forgetting it in a few years and allowing him return to civilised society. Those who commit war crimes must be made accountable. The only way to do this is to ensure no safe havens are available to them.

I have serious reservations about financial sanctions. Financial sanctions were imposed on Iraq yet I am confident that none of Saddam Hussein's revolutionary guard ever lacked food or antibiotics. Millions of Iraqis are suffering because of severe sanctions. The regime will never suffer because if it oppresses its people it does not mind if they go hungry. We need to examine how we try to undermine regimes perpetrating torture. Is it beneficial to enforce sanctions? Perhaps it would be more enlightened to use the media to expose such regimes and to encourage people by pointing out what is happening in the free world. Financial sanctions are a form of torture. They have not worked in most cases and lead to greater suffering.

In this country we are no strangers to punishment beatings and torture. For a number of years so-called punishment beatings have been carried out by republican and loyalist paramilitaries in the six counties. These actions are beginning to creep into large cities here. Deputy Howlin who spoke about his constituency and there have been incidents in Cork city where a group of people claiming to be community activists marched on people's houses and intimidated them. Although some of those people have been or will be prosecuted for dealing drugs etc., such actions are still a challenge to the State and the law. This must be looked at. The State has neglected large urban housing estates. We are now acknowledging this and trying to do something about it.

The most important message is that the law is there to be enforced by the Garda or the State, not by individuals who use baseball bats to punish those dealing drugs. This is unacceptable and is a serious matter. It must be dealt with in a forthright manner. While I deviate from the thrust of the Bill, this is an issue of torture. Individuals are setting themselves up as self-styled community policing groups and acting outside the law by punishing and torturing people. I compliment the Minister on the introduction of this legislation. I hope it has a speedy passage and that its provisions will ensure Ireland is seen by the international community as a place where human rights are upheld for everyone.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Perry.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this legislation. This issue is being focused on because of recent developments in East Timor which has been oppressed by Indonesia for many years. I concur with the speaker who complimented the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, on his initiative as regards East Timor. I also compliment Mr. Hyland who has awakened the interest of most politicians in the problems there. I hope East Timor will progress from its elections. Its people has experienced great trauma. It is interesting that the worldwide focus on Indonesia which is a powerful country probably precipitated its decision to withdraw from East Timor and allow a democracy to be established.

This Bill amends the Extradition Act, 1965, which prevents the extradition of anyone who may face torture on returning to his or her country. This is important as due to the strength of our economy and our respected international record on human rights many people who could be tortured in their countries have come here to obtain citizenship. If there is a fear that someone will be tortured on returning to his or her country, his or her request for asylum should be treated favourably. There is a significant number of refugees here from countries such as Somalia and Nigeria and this concern should be uppermost in our minds. I would like to think that given our proud record we would respect their rights and privileges and if they or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform feel there is a possibility they may be tortured when they return home they should not be allowed return to their countries. It would be hypocritical in the extreme for us to pass this laudable Bill and allow that to happen.

This legislation is desirable. However, it is interesting to note that, as has been said, up to one third of the countries in the United Nations have records of torture. I wonder when people sit on such an august body and speak on behalf of their countries while allowing torture to take place whether there is an element of hypocrisy in introducing legislation such as this which implements a United Nations convention against torture. It is important that there is recognition of this by the United Nations. It is recognised that torture takes place in over 114 countries – a massive number. One could probably investigate a great number of countries throughout the world and discover torture taking place, for example, in Latin American countries and Brazil, one of the most powerful countries in the world and the eighth largest nation with a population of about 700 million. Ireland has good trade links with Brazil and a prominent Irish company recently opened a factory there, which is important. However, it is recognised that death squads operate there. If an action is not benign to the political regime of Brazil, people are taken out of circulation, so to speak. This also happens in Colombia, although the focus there is usually on drugs.

Many people go each year to places such as Turkey, which has lovely holiday destinations, although the recent earthquake has focused negative attention on it. Turkey is a full member of NATO and it respects Partnership for Peace to which we will sign up in the near future. However, if people have political leanings which do not gravitate towards the centre of power, they are often tortured. It is important for such countries to clean up their act. That is why it is not too late, seven years later, to ratify the declaration and I compliment the Minister on introducing this legislation. This is important in the context of what has happened recently in Ireland.

We get a lot of literature from Amnesty International. Were it not for Amnesty International, politicians and people would not know that human rights do not exist in many countries. That organisation must be respected. The annual reports published by Amnesty International make interesting reading.

We have a good human rights record. That is why the punishment beatings and acts of torture which have taken place in the North since the peace process are not desirable. When elements in society become guardians of the peace, they drive people, particularly young people, from their homes because they have become involved in criminal activity. It would be wrong if this House did not condemn what is happening there. It is a contradiction to say we have a peace process when such acts are taking place.

There are thousands of political prisoners in India, which is a powerful country, and European countries seem to be helpless in the face of what is happening in the former Yugoslavia. This Bill is timely because we now know that political activities lead to people being tortured in many countries throughout the world. Much work must be done to improve this unsatisfactory situation in many countries.

I welcome this legislation. It is unfortunate we have waited so long to deal with something so important. We always seem to be behind the door in committing ourselves to UN conventions we have signed.

Torture is a global problem of great magnitude. It is carried out systematically in more than 40 United Nations member states and is practised sporadically in many more. Many of the countries which have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture still practise or tolerate the use of torture. Consequently, every day new victims of tor ture are added to the already huge population of torture victims around the world. It is difficult to assess the exact number of victims. However, in January 1997 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that there were 13.2 million external refugees and 4.9 million internal refugees in the world. Many of these, who belong to the opposition or national minority groups, are torture victims. Prior to leaving their homes, they are persecuted and often tortured in police stations, prisons or detention camps. Studies indicate that 20 to 30 per cent of refugees are torture victims.

We should also look at reducing world debt. A number of people have campaigned for the banks to write off Third World debt. Campaigners for urgent debt relief say that huge sums of money are going back to wealthy countries instead of feeding and educating children in the world's poorest nations. The money was originally borrowed in the 1970s and 1980s and was often badly invested or squandered. In many cases, the loan repayments are far beyond the nations' abilities to repay. In its 1997 report the United Nations Development Programme stated that governments in Africa alone, if relieved of their debt obligations, could use the funds to save the lives of millions of children by 2000. Countries cannot borrow additional funds for major investments until they repay the interest or debt outstanding. The banks should write off this debt so that countries can invest in infrastructure and basic services, such as water.

While every country in the world, including the USA and Japan, owes money to someone, 41 countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have been identified as being heavily indebted. Many have struggled for years to repay only the interest on loans that are in some cases decades old. The sums involved are vast. The main pressure group advocating dropping the debt wants $160 billion and $300 billion in unpayable debts wiped out by the end of the year 2000. We should support this call at the start of the new millennium. People in countries with a chequered history and with different Governments have no life. Some of them earn $1 a day. Their hope for the new millennium is for a new start and we should help to promote this.

The debts are mainly owed to three groups – western Governments, global financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and private lenders. The world's wealthiest countries exert great influence over the decisions of the institutions because voting power is set according to financial contributions. At the IMF, for example, the USA has 18 per cent of the votes, while Mozambique has just 0.06 per cent. As a country which has campaigned for human rights and sent people across the world on charitable missions, we should fight to write off world debt.

At the forefront of the campaign to drop the debt is Jubilee 2000, a coalition of non-govern mental organisations and religious groups. We must listen attentively to what they are saying because they are giving their time voluntarily to this cause. They see the inequalities and unfairness people are forced to live with. We are talking about human rights. Half of the nations still practise torture.

At a human rights ceremony to mark the declaration's 50th anniversary, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson – she is doing an outstanding job and we should be immensely proud of her contribution during difficult times this year – noted that institutionally, much has been achieved. The concept of universal and indivisible human rights has attained legitimacy, officially at least. She wanted to know who could fail to be dismayed when we compare the reality of the human rights situation around the world with the idealistic aims of the universal declaration? She stated that "the duty, under Article 14, to respect the rights of asylum-seekers is made subject to financial considerations". This is all about money.

She also said:

We dispense humanitarian aid to the victims of famine and conflict rather than addressing the human rights issues at the heart of their problems. A billion and a half people earn less than a dollar a day and the same number have no access to clean water. We are in danger of reaching a point where the world is divided, not between developing and developed states, but between overdeveloped and never-to-be-developed states.

This is an important statement. Mrs. Robinson blamed "a failure of will on the part of Governments" that spend $800 billion a year on weapons. She said:

We can, and must, do better. The credibility of our institutions of governance is at issue.

The people asking for debt relief include Bono, who met the Pope recently, others in the artistic world and church leaders. Since 1996 international financial institutions have implemented a programme of debt relief. The initiative for heavily indebted poor countries is most important. The aim of the scheme is to cut, to sustainable levels, the debt of countries which show a sound economic record over a six year period. This is most important because it is not a case of writing off debt for its own sake. Some countries have massive debts which the banks are calling in and the question is, who is against debt relief? The big global lenders, including the IMF and the World Bank, are not against it; indeed, they are pursuing more debt relief. However, they argue that cancelling debt altogether would encourage wealthy countries to stop lending and to cut aid budgets still further. They also insist that they should not be blamed for the debt problem.

The issue in not about apportioning blame, but the problem is that countries cannot pay the money which is outstanding at present. There are ongoing inquiries involving the banks in Ireland which show that when they realise they cannot get money, they write off amounts. The programme includes an assessment period of six years involving new reforming measures being implemented by Governments. This money would be wisely invested for the future and regardless of what financial punters might say, banks have no choice but to write off the debts.

Some conservative opinion has been sceptical about the campaign. The London newspaper, The Times, denounced it as “a senselessly impulsive gesture”, saying that “it could only ever provide a short-term sense of progress”. However, debt cancellation is a solution to the problems of many countries which are in such huge difficulties. In Africa and Russia people live on a dollar a day, but Ireland has a massive economy at present and people are talking about a minimum wage of £4.40 an hour. People all over the world have no standard of living, no sanitary services and no water supplies. Ireland must encourage debt relief because indebtedness is torture. People are tortured by the fact that they do not have a way of life and no prospects of development. Ireland should promote the cancellation of debt by the major world banks.

I am delighted to contribute to the debate. Many Irish people and charitable organisations have readily made themselves available to help people in times of need. However, we constantly hear about atrocities all over the world. Ireland's voice is important and I am delighted the Bill has been introduced. Ireland is recognised abroad as a country which speaks out on principled ideas and our ideals and opinions are respected worldwide. We have much to offer and there is a case for the abolition of debt by financial institutions, which are making astronomical amounts from interest alone, for the new millennium. They must make a statement, they should wipe the slate clean with regard to outstanding debt for the year 2000 and give these nations a new lease of life and new opportunities to develop. New procedures can be implemented and observed by the important institutions involved.

I wish to share my time with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell.

I suspect we have been conditioned recently by television images of East Timor and Bosnia and previously by images from Vietnam regarding our understanding and perception of torture and the deprivation of human rights throughout the world. I commend the Government on introducing the Bill.

The Copenhagen Appeal on 28 June 1994 stated:

I should like to re-emphasise there can be no exception to the prohibition on the use of torture. No exceptional circumstance, be it a state of war, the threat of war or internal conflicts, can justify such an act which violates the most basic rights of the victim and which debases the person who performs it. The impunity enjoyed by the perpetrator all too often merely adds to the moral suffering of the victim.

This is the context in which I wish to deal with the issues addressed in the Bill and our responses as a community. I pay tribute to organisations such as the Irish Refugee Council which has been active in promoting an understanding human rights and the issues surrounding torture. When I spoke to the Irish Refugee Council, I was surprised to learn that, by and large, refugees who come to Ireland tell stories which are difficult to understand. They try to block out their experiences as much as possible, but they still talk about the level of man's inhumanity to man. I understand the torture is generally against males although in East Timor and Serbia recently there was extensive use of rape as a torture weapon. It appeared to escalate beyond all proportion. I compliment the Government on sanctioning a grant of £300,000 to the Rape Crisis Centre in Dublin to promote programmes on understanding the problems of torture victims.

Torture is rarely applied to extract information. In Bosnia and Serbia recently the torture was mainly pursued to deprive communities of leaders who were likely to provide a barrier against the inhuman regime that was trying to overcome the ethnic population. The victims of torture are usually highly educated. In African countries, Romania, Iran, Iraq and Russia, and in Nigeria and Somalia, where I understand it is particularly prevalent, torture victims usually have a third level education and considerable leadership potential. Ireland has dealt with programme refugees. In 1956 we took in Hungarian refugees while in 1979 we took in Vietnamese refugees. Recently, we took in Bosnian refugees. In each case, we did ourselves proud in providing education, health and general support services to these people who left their countries against their will.

Regarding the rights of prisoners, the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in 1955 stated:

No prisoner shall be punished except in accordance with the terms of such law or regulation, and never twice for the same offence. No prisoner shall be punished unless he has been informed of the offence alleged against him and given a proper opportunity of presenting his defence. The competent authority shall conduct a thorough examination of the case. Where necessary and practicable the prisoner shall be allowed to make his defence through an interpreter.

There is recent evidence that this provision is regularly flouted by repressive regimes in Eastern Europe, Africa and South East Asia.

The rules also state:

Corporal punishment, punishment by placing in a dark cell, and all cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited as punishment for disciplinary offences.

There are no circumstances in which we can allow the use of such methods to continue. In 1998, the UN office in Geneva urged all parties to the convention on torture who had not yet accepted its optional provisions to do so as soon as possible, "to ensure that torture is a crime in their domestic law and to rigorously pursue perpetrators whenever the act was committed and to bring them to justice". I am glad that we are doing so by adopting this Bill.

The congress also urged all states "to provide for compensation and rehabilitation of the victims of torture in their domestic law". We are beginning to take on board some of these measures. Dr. Chris Neilson at the Irish Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims and the Irish Refugee Council are beginning to do so and I am pleased they are liaising closely with the Eastern Health Board to provide proper medical and psychological services, a pool of translators and so on.

The UN also called on all states "to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture as fully and as often as they can". Countries which are better off than Ireland have not been doing so. Now that Ireland is relatively wealthy we must play our part in ensuring that UN and other funds are properly supported. The congress further urged that all states "co-operate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture in fulfilling its mandate when requested to do so". One would wonder whether much progress has been made on this issue.

The report presented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 28 June 1994 to the Copenhagen appeal stated:

The Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims of Copenhagen has played a pioneering role in these endeavours and has inspired the creation of a network of such Centres throughout the world. [We are beginning to make a start here.]

I therefore appeal to those Governments that are able to do so to contribute or increase their contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture or to contribute directly to the Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture in Copenhagen and elsewhere in the world. As far as the United Nations Fund is concerned, with some $2.5 million per year, it cannot at present respond to the many requests for assistance that it receives. A doubling of contributions, to $5 million by next year and $10 million by 2000, would make it possible to multiply activities aimed at effacing the physical and psychological effects of torture. It is also important that the work of physicians, psychologists and lawyers assisting torture victims be facilitated.

This morning I received 70 pages of resolutions adopted by the medical profession at various congresses throughout the world. They make interesting reading. We need to go through these resolutions painstakingly to see how we conform and whether we are enabling the medical, legal and other professions to support the victims of torture.

The UN report continues:

I am firmly convinced that, in order to deal effectively with the scourge of torture, the best remedy is prevention. It is therefore essential to strengthen assistance and technical co-operation activities in this area. The training on international human rights standards of the police and armed forces, judges, lawyers and health workers is of crucial importance in that regard.

We are taking much of the report's contents on board, but I am not certain that all of it has been fully understood. The report also states:

The international community is about to enter its third millennium; a complete cessation of the practice of torture would affirm the moral conscience of humanity and would uphold the most fundamental principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ending torture is the beginning of true respect for the most basic of all rights: the intrinsic dignity and value of each individual. I therefore call on Governments and those in a position of power and authority to do their utmost to put an end forever to this inhuman practice and truly affirm their respect for human rights everywhere on earth.

The sentiments in this report are substantially reflected in the Bill. However, I wish to express concern at a practice recently brought to my attention by Amnesty International, namely, the introduction of chain gangs in Bristol County, Massachusetts, USA. This practice is regarded throughout the world as a humiliating and degrading way of treating prisoners and shocks us all. Massachusetts is one of the 12 US states which does not have the death penalty and it is extraordinary that it should introduce chain gangs while waiving the death penalty. I humbly call on the US Administration to look at this inhuman and degrading practice which should not be tolerated in a civilised society. I commend the Bill.

I call the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell. The Minister of State is not replying.

I am not replying, Sir, I am making my contribution to the debate. As Minister of State with special responsibility for human rights I am pleased to see this Bill before the House. We in Ireland often congratulate ourselves on our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. Our responses to crises involving massive and systemic violations of human rights, such as those in East Timor and Kosovo, along with our long-term commitment to African development, are cause for justifiable pride. However, we must be vigilant in ensuring that our own house is in order.

Our delays in passing legislation to enable us to ratify such core international human rights instruments as the convention against torture have led to some questioning of our right to criticise the actions of others when we have not made ourselves amenable to the standards and obligations imposed on us by the convention. I listened carefully to the Minister's opening statement and I join him in urging Deputies to bear in mind that 15 years have passed since we signed the convention. Therefore, the most important issue is to focus our minds on putting this situation right rather than dwelling on the reasons for the delay.

Our legislative record on human rights is under close scrutiny on a number of fronts and for a variety of reasons. It is therefore crucial that we move in a determined and consistent fashion on this and other legislation which will soon come before the House.

Ireland has not ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Deputies are aware of the tremendous changes which have taken place in Ireland in recent years. The development of a multi-cultural society has been one of the most striking of these changes. The emergence of such a society presents challenges and great opportunities. We have seen positive and, sadly, some negative reactions to the arrival of people whose culture differs significantly from that in which most of us grew up. In order to equip ourselves to meet these challenges Ireland, in common with other modern states, must set itself certain standards and be prepared to justify its progress in meeting those standards before international bodies which can bring an objective, searching analysis to our actions or, sometimes, our omissions. That opportunity is provided by the international human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. To appear before the monitoring committees of the conventions against torture and racial discrimination is to participate in a procedure which, through dialogue, should lead to a better understanding of what we need to do to ensure that the provisions of these instruments are scrupulously honoured. Having appeared before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, I can vouch that these exercises in examination do not always lead to a pat on the back for governments.

However, in freely acknowledging the shortcomings which may be evident to detached observers such as the monitoring committees but which, for whatever reason, we ourselves have not dealt with, we enter into an engagement of integrity with the international community to rectify the faults, errors and omissions identified during the process of examination.

The term "international community" has come in for some criticism and even derision in recent times because of the difficulties encountered in securing rapid, effective and co-ordinated action in responding to cases like East Timor and Kosovo. However, I am glad a debate has begun at the UN under the direction of the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, on the need for more efficiency and a more concerted effort by the international community in responding to such humanitarian crises. The dilemma of reconciling the need to protect human rights and uphold the principle of sovereignty and non-intervention is being teased out because of the great international disappointment at the failure of the international community to move more swiftly to prevent horrific loss of life in East Timor. However, the human rights monitoring mechanisms of the United Nations give those countries which have signed up to the core covenants and conventions the chance to stand back from the day to day business of reacting to events and to look at their track records with some degree of detachment.

Human rights also form an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement. In this context, I know the Minister is preparing, with his officials, to bring legislation before the House which will give effect to the commitments we entered into when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The Bill establishing a human rights commission in this jurisdiction and the introduction of proposals on the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law are now overdue.

We must be mindful that we are under scrutiny also in regard to the progress we have made in fulfilling our human rights obligations under the Agreement. We can sometimes be complacent about our human rights record but in the past two years we have set ourselves some formidable tasks in establishing a level of protection of human rights which will be second to none. The setting up of a human rights commission and the possible incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights will not make life easier for the Government and its many agencies. However, that was not our intention. Rather, we are now embarked upon the enactment of a comprehensive body of legislation which will transform the human rights landscape in this country and place the vindication of citizens' rights in their own hands.

The Bill introduced by the Minister today is an important step on that journey. We must take that step and continue along that journey until we have accomplished the goals we have set ourselves in the protection of human rights.

If we could roll our cameras and sound systems forward to the end of the next millennium we might see people in these Houses debating issues and referring to times past. For many years, when we have discussed torture, we have spoken about it in the past tense. We were shocked at the exposure of the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Many of us have read books about the Spanish Inquisition when exquisite – in the most painful meaning of that word – torture was inflicted on people in an effort to make them believe in the one true faith. We who live in this century stand indicted of allowing torture to take place despite our knowledge of what human beings can do to each other. These instances will, perhaps, be spoken of by people in this House in 500 or 1,000 years time and future Members will wonder how such things could have been allowed to happen at the end of the 20th century. It is painful for all of us to realise that, despite our knowledge of what can happen, people are being tortured even as we speak. People are have electrodes attached to them and are tortured because of their political beliefs, their religious beliefs, their ethnicity or because someone in the government of a particular country does not like their actions or their beliefs.

This legislation, welcome though it is, is too narrow in its definition of torture. The Bill declares that "a public official who carries out an act of torture on a person will be guilty of an offence" and goes on to define torture as "an act or omission by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person". I hope the Minister will clarify whether or not a public official who does not himself carry out the act of torture but has it carried out on his orders can be found guilty of an offence. I doubt if Hitler ever attached an electrode to someone's genitals or took a scalpel, cut open a woman's body and removed a living child from her womb without the use of anaesthetic. I doubt if Hitler would ever have been found guilty of such an act but he had many thousands of people carry out horrendous acts of torture on his behalf. I hope this legislation allows for the prosecution of such people.

I travelled to Rwanda within a couple of months of the massive genocide which took place there. Many people who stimulated acts of genocide and torture will never be caught, found guilty of crimes or brought before the tribunal which is sitting in Arusha in Tanzania. These people will escape. Many of them now live comfortably in other countries. Many members of the clergy are living comfortably and are being protected by their orders in other countries. These are people who stimulated or coerced ordinary citizens in Rwanda to take large sharp machetes and hack people to death where they stood. They are acts of torture and genocide. People do not like to speak of these matters because they think acts of genocide and torture are only carried out behind closed doors and do not happen often.

I saw the effects of torture. I remember standing in a food distribution line in Kigali, in Rwanda, when 20 young Rwandans helped me to distribute food, water and blankets to people who were returning from the camps in Goma. As people came to the front of the queue, the evidence of the torture they had undergone was visible on their faces and on their bodies. They had large slash wounds on their foreheads and their heads. One little ten year old boy stretched out one hand, and as I handed him something I said to him, in French, to use both his hands. To my shock, the little fellow took his other hand from under this T-shirt and showed me that he had only one hand. This ten year old had done nothing to anybody and yet a fellow-Rwandan had taken a machete and cut off his hand. The chances are this was someone who knew him. It may even have been a relative, but somebody who knew him had cut that little boy's hand off. I felt appalled by what I had done, the simplicity with which I had almost, in a frustrated way, said to that little boy, "give me both your hands and you can carry what I am giving you." We must face up to the reality that human beings are still doing this type of thing to each other and we must always be vigilant.

As the Minister of State said, we must be vigilant within our own State. I was once in the position the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in now and he will be aware, as I am, at first hand, of the sense that people sometimes get that any punishment is not too much for somebody who has committed a crime against them, that literally all bets are off, if somebody has been robbed or a member of his or her family murdered – it must be the most painful thing to have a member of one's family murdered. I can understand at a human level that one would want the most awful things to happen to the person who did that, but we are a democracy and a civilised people and we must be careful that we live by the rule of law and that whatever punishments we include in our law are punishments that are humane and appropriate to the crime that has been committed. That is why I and many others in this House wanted an end to the death penalty. I do not believe it is right that a state – public officials – should take a person's life. A person who has committed a heinous crime should be locked away for life, but we must also guard against mob rule and a reaction as a result of pain where somebody has suffered terribly.

The definition of torture needs to be expanded in the legislation – maybe the Minister will tell me it has been expanded. Torture is not what we think of as the stereotype torture where electricity and clubs with nails are used or people are hung by their toe nails or their toe nails are pulled out. The term "torture" can also be expanded to include the rape of women prisoners and rape used as a war weapon. Female circumcision is torture. It is an appalling travesty against a woman's body and it is still inflicted on women in parts of the world. It may well be that in some religious practices it is considered right and proper, but I do not see it like that and we must speak out against it.

The placing of mines indiscriminately all over countries is a form of torture. The pilot who flies a plane that drops newfangled mines, which can be showered down as if you were setting seeds, is committing a form of torture because the man or woman who walks into his or her one hectare tiny farm to plant food for his or her family may lose a leg or an arm or his or her life. The dropping of such mines is a form of torture inflicted not only on the person who is maimed or killed by the mine, who is probably the main keeper of a family of eight to ten children, but on the human rights of the people for whom he or she was caring. The destruction of whole areas of land in countries such as Angola, Namibia and Mozambique is a form of torture, mental and physical, to the people of those countries. I hope the UN will realise that because unless we realise what constitutes torture we will continue to cast aside some of the atrocities that are happening and say that they do not come under the definition. My fear is that people who have committed such atrocities, as in the case of East Timor, will walk free because while they come under the definition of genocide they may not come under the definition of torture.

I hope the Government will do what the Taoiseach announced recently – invoke the UN convention against genocide. He got plenty of positive publicity in the papers recently in calling for the invoking of that convention. The Taoiseach said the Government was considering invoking the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, but there seems to be some going back on that now that the UN force has gone in there. We should not go back on that commitment. Let us look at the help many countries are giving us to try to solve the problem in Northern Ireland, to try to prevent the killings we have lived with for the past 30 years, to try to end the torture and punishment beatings that are happening day in and day out. Let us stand up now and say that we will invoke this convention against the Indonesian Government for its actions in East Timor.

It is only a few years since we were appalled and sickened by what went on in Rwanda, and now it is happening again. We all called for action after what happened in Rwanda, genocide of the most enormous nature, and now such genocide is happening again – we do not know the exact figure, but it will be in six figures when the truth is told. Having listened yesterday to journalists who did such an excellent job in East Timor, as soon as the militia had killed somebody, they went in, took the body and destroyed it. Being as crude as I can be, the head count of those who have been killed in East Timor, maybe after appalling torture, will never truly be known. From my travels in Africa and many other countries, I know it is very hard to get an exact fix on the size of the population of those countries. Censuses are very difficult to carry out. People live a nomadic life and sadly many children die, many before they reach the age of five, and they are never recorded in any census or anybody's book. We do not even know they have lived, they have left no mark on the human race except to their family who have buried them.

The Government should have the courage to invoke this convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. Next week and the week after there will be another story and we will forget what has gone on in East Timor. Unless we, as a human race, learn from what happens, we will not be able to stand up and call for this type of legislation to be introduced.

Amnesty International, the International Red Cross and the International Red Crescent have been to the forefront, over the years, in identifying where torture is taking place. I welcome the money the Department of Foreign Affairs is making available to East Timor, but it is very little. An allocation of £300,000 was announced yesterday. Deputy Carey said £300,000 was being allocated to the Rape Crisis Centre, but according to the news headline £300,000 is being allocated, of which £51,000 will be given to the Rape Crisis Centre to enable it to counsel women who have been raped.

We know that rape has been all-pervasive in Europe, in the former Yugoslavia, and that it is still going on. I am deeply concerned that the effect of that kind of torture on women is not understood fully because most of the people who head up the organisations are men. One must talk to and face the women and girls who have been raped – some of them the victims of multiple rapes – as a weapon of war, to understand how utterly appalling it is. It is probably the worst form of torture because it is a very basic human act. To have sex with somebody is a very human act, it is something we all do, but to use that human act as a weapon of war is worse than some other form of torture because a women or a girl – some of them are very young – who has been a victim of this crime will never recover. At least – I do not say this in a light way – if one gets a machete wound and it eventually heals, one can continue and, hopefully, one's mind will not be too severely damaged by it, but the use of rape by soldiers, public officials and people who are fighting in a war is the worst form of torture. The use of rape by public officials and by those fighting in wars is at its worst ever.

We must remind ourselves that as a small country we have benefited from those countries who are willing to look after our problems. While we have a good record in helping countries where torture, rape and genocide has occurred, we must have the courage to speak up at bodies such as the UN.

At a AWEPA conference on refugees in June 1997 in South Africa, a Burundian MP spoke very movingly of what happens when torture, genocide and the rule of democracy breaks down. Referring to his country he said:

The lack of protection and the respect of human rights and fundamental liberties is an obvious and direct cause for Burundians to go to exile. Horrors, killings, massacres and assassinations have been committed against innocent citizens, particularly during the 1993 and 1997 crises. More than 20 members of the Parliament of the sitting legislature were killed between '93 and '96.

The Government took up office in 1997. I ask the Minister to imagine the horror if there was torture and genocide in this country which had denuded the Government or Opposition benches of 20 elected Members? It is necessary to think about it in those terms. Some 20 members of the Burundian legislature were killed between 1993 and 1996 and thus far, no legal action has been instigated against the perpetrators. The MP went on to say:

Prisons are full of more than 9,000 political prisoners. Old people, children and women are innocently killed with impunity during the army-FDD confrontations. Humanitarian assistance is not enough, either inside the country or in places of refugee. Schooling and health care are almost absent. A lot of refugees die in exile. Three members of Parliament have recently died in Tanzania and Congo.

That list of horrors occurred not during the time of the Nazis or the Spanish Inquisition but two or three years ago, at around the time the Government took up office. We must be mindful of the nearness and ever-pervasive use of torture, genocide and punishment and the lack of human rights.

In enacting this legislation I hope the Government will do what the Taoiseach appeared to indicate and have the courage to stimulate the use of the convention against East Timor on the prevention of punishment and the crime of genocide. Otherwise, in a month or a year we will be debating another atrocity and saying it happened before in East Timor, Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo, the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill, 1998, because it will finally establish that Ireland will not accept or tolerate torture, will not harbour torturers and will not put anybody at risk of torture by sending them back to another country. The Bill allows us to recognise that torture is the gravest violation of human rights and we, as a civilised society at the end of this century, should be doing all in our power to prevent it. We have a very good record in this regard since the foundation of the State but it is proper that it should be written into law and I welcome the Bill for that purpose.

Torture is, unfortunately, used worldwide to suppress opposition, but it is always used against minorities and very vulnerable groups. The minorities include women in some cases, young people and especially those who hold different political or religious views. Often human rights activists, those who stand up for justice, are tortured most. That this exists and that we have allowed it to continue for so long is a sad indictment, not only on developing countries and those led by dictators, or those in transition from dictatorship to democracy, but also on most of the western and democratic world.

Through the centuries we have always heard of torture. Our knowledge of it in Ireland goes back to Cromwell. It has always been evident, but with technological advances the kind of physical torture exerted on people today cannot be traced and the mental and psychological pain inflicted on people can never be measured.

The UN Convention on Human Rights, which sought to outlaw torture, was signed only after ten years of debate. That raises questions about the commitment of some countries to outlaw torture throughout the world. Our signature to the convention and the introduction of this Bill at least show our commitment, irrespective of the fact that it has taken some time.

The Bill creates a specific offence of torture, which is especially welcome because it brings within the jurisdiction of the Irish courts those responsible, irrespective of their nationality or of the jurisdiction in which the torture was carried out. Regardless of where in the world the torture was committed, the perpetrators can be brought to justice here. The fact that they can get life imprisonment is an indication of the seriousness with which we judge torture.

Given what Deputy Owen said, I am especially interested to note that under section 3, the Hitlers and other dictators who sit in their offices, and majors at the base who aid and abet torture, can also be brought to justice. Not only that, but they can be held equally liable to the same penalty as other perpetrators. Too often the foot soldiers are held to blame when they are often working under the orders of the leader.

The definition of torture is that set down by the UN. I am interested to note that it encompasses not only physical and emotional torture but also inaction and neglect. Torture by neglect could mean ignoring a plea for medical attention, treating somebody in a degrading manner or not attending to their needs by turning a blind eye. That could happen in a police station or anywhere throughout the world. In accepting these aspects the definition is broad in so far as it covers actions and inactions, physical and emotional.

The Bill is also welcome because it brings us a step further to implementing the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission report on non-fatal offences against the person, which says that the creation of a specific offence of torture gives concrete effect to the principle that it constitutes a serious violation of the right to bodily integrity and merits punishment in our criminal courts. Anything in our legislation which recognises human rights and which can ensure that people are brought to justice for violating them is a welcome step in the right direction.

A number of different groups worldwide – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others mentioned in this debate – work to protect human rights, outlaw torture and bring cases to our attention. The last report of Amnesty International said that despite all the talk and our knowledge and awareness of human rights and torture, people are still being repeatedly tortured and ill treated in 117 countries throughout the world. They are not being tortured by neighbours or opposition groups but by security forces and state authorities in their own countries. It says that 41 countries, including the US, had proven cases of torture, ill treatment, lack of medical care and cruel and degrading prison conditions. All these have been confirmed or suspected of leading to people dying in custody. These are people who are in the hands of the authorities which the public would trust.

There are another 31 countries where people have disappeared. This constitutes a torture not only on the persons themselves but on their families. We have seen evidence of extrajudicial executions, unfair trials and death sentences. Ireland has abandoned the death penalty and I join the calls on other countries to abandon it also. It serves no purpose but adds an ill to another ill.

Human rights abuses are carried out in a deliberate and systematic way. They are carried out in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. We could list many more countries but these are the ones which have come to our notice because they are the countries from which we have received refugees. We have also received reports from Irish aid agencies which operate in these areas. We have close links with many countries throughout the world and we should raise questions about their practices. India, for example, has thousands of political prisoners and we constantly hear reports of torture and of people being denied medical treatment. I particularly wish to refer to religious practices against women in India, to which Deputy Owen also referred. The violation of a woman's body is the greatest torture and it seems to happen as if it were part of that country's culture rather being seen for what it is, a violation of human rights and the torture of young women.

Sometimes civil war in a country is offered as the reason for torture taking place. Civil war is not an excuse for a country such as Colombia, for example, where security forces and paramilitary groups, with the support of the state, carry out abuses and where death squads are sent to dispose of people whose only offence is to oppose the government. It is impossible to bring a case against them in court so the easiest option is to make such people disappear or to kill them.

Since I was elected to this House, I have had the privilege of visiting China and Iran, two countries where I question the abuse of human rights. In China, we raised the human rights issue and the reports we had received. We were not given honest answers and I was not satisfied. However, it is important that Irish delegations continue to raise these questions with the Chinese, who are anxious to secure investment and to demonstrate that they are democratic, and to show that we will not tolerate these abuses. We should not forget that it is only ten years since the events in Tiananmen Square. Looking at film footage of that event, which was recently shown again on television, one is reminded that democracy is a long time coming to China and will also be a long time taking effect.

Brazil is the eighth largest economy in the world. Are some of the more powerful countries too slow to react to human rights abuses in countries such as Brazil because of the strength of their economies? More particularly, one can look to the situation in East Timor. I commend the work of the Government, particularly of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, in highlighting the issue of East Timor. However, I read today that the UN is now talking about moving into East Timor and administering the area at a cost of £1 billion. Could that have been avoided if the UN had moved in more quickly? I accept that a country must invite the UN to come within its borders and that invitation was eventually forced from the Indonesian Government. However, it was too late. The damage was done – torture had been inflicted and human rights were violated. We must take a moral stance. We will play our role; it will not be long before the blue berets are in East Timor. However, we cannot stand over the genocide taking place there and we must constantly highlight it.

That is equally true of our dealings with countries such as Turkey which is seeking full membership of various European bodies. I question whether Turkey is a fully functioning democracy when all we hear is reports of torture. Is that country upholding human rights? Our knowledge of these countries is gleaned from immigrants and refugees, and many of the refugees are victims of torture. It is not easy to recover from torture. The psychological stress and the long-term effects require assistance and rehabilitation. I hope the Minister, in his work with the refugees, will ensure that this care and attention is given, particularly to women. I commend the allocation of funding to the Rape Crisis Centre. However, there is a need to train health personnel to recognise where torture has taken place, to give them the skill to deal with it, to give them the information about where cases can be referred and to help them ensure that the victims can be assisted.

Ireland prides itself, on the basis of Article 40 of the Constitution, on upholding human rights. There is a prohibition of inhumane treatment in this country. Indeed, the Judges' rules for prisoners clearly set out guidelines for the interrogation of prisoners, taking of statements, confessions and so forth. The Minister's initiative in providing for the videotaping of evidence will ensure that there never can be any questions in this regard in the future.

However, do we have to look far in this island to see torture taking place? Punishment beatings take place in Northern Ireland. A punishment beating is a torture and it is not acceptable. It is not acceptable under the British-Irish Agreement and it is not acceptable from the point of view of basic human rights. A close eye must be kept on this matter. The British-Irish Agreement aims to protect and strengthen human rights and the human rights commission is a step in that direction. There were many submissions to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights from various bodies on that issue. This Bill, in conjunction with the other measures being introduced, will ensure that human rights are upheld and violations such as torture will not be tolerated.

Ireland is moving towards meeting all the steps in Amnesty International's 12 point programme against torture. We have fulfilled many of them. The first point is official condemnation and Ireland has done that through signing the convention. We particularly fulfil it today in ratifying the convention. Amnesty International seeks limits on incommunicado detention; in other words, people must be allowed to make contact with others to seek help. That is the case when people are arrested in this country. There should be no secret detention centres, something Ireland can also stand over. There should be proper procedures for interrogation and custody. I have already referred to these and welcomed the Minister's initiatives in that regard.

Another point in the programme is independent investigation of reports and that no statement extracted under torture can be used in legal proceedings. There are very strict rules in this country regarding the type of statements that can be admitted in court. Torture should be prohibited in law and that is the step we are taking today by creating the offence of torture. Another point is that torturers should be brought to justice and that will be the result of passing this legislation. Amnesty International also points to the training of officials to deal with people, another issue that will be covered by this Bill. Victims should also be entitled to compensation and rehabilitation. I hope that in our dealings with refugees we will give them such assistance and rehabilitation.

The eleventh point is that governments should undertake an international response and intercede with other governments. Ireland is doing that with regard to East Timor and other countries and we can be justifiably proud of our record in this regard. The final point is the ratification of international instruments. International instruments, UN documents and Council of Europe, NATO, PfP and European Union instruments, conventions and reports can be ratified, signed and debated but unless they are put into effect we will discover in the 21st century that we have learned nothing from the Enlightenment when the concept of the rights of man was articulated because we will not be upholding those rights.

I welcome this Bill. It is, overall, progressive and much needed legislation. Bodies such as Amnesty International who are expert on human rights violations have also welcomed the legislation, particularly that it establishes jurisdiction in Irish courts over torture suspects irrespective of nationality and, second, that it amends the extradition legislation to prevent anybody who could face torture being extradited.

Amnesty International's latest annual report lists 125 countries guilty of torture and ill treatment and states that in 51 countries such ill treatment by security forces, police or other state authorities was confirmed as or suspected of leading to deaths. However, the Green Party is concerned that what we have here today is the Irish brand of ethical foreign policy where we approve conventions against torture while at the same time approving export licences to supply military components and weaponry to countries which employ torture against their own people. Figures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment show that 346 military export licences and 712 dual use export licences were issued by the end of November 1998. Recipients included such countries as Singapore, a known conduit of arms diversions to Third World countries, Malaysia, the Balkans, Serbia and Montenegro in August 1998, Nigeria, Saudia Arabia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Algeria and Angola. Most of these countries have, to say the least, a fairly dodgy human rights record.

The Green Party is opposed to the arms trade. Ireland should not be involved in this disgraceful trade. Apparently the Government is not properly vetting where these arms and components are going. The Irish Development and Human Rights Group, AFrI, which has published a ground-breaking study on the Irish arms trade, have highlighted the activities of a number of companies. I will give two examples. Moog Ireland based in Cork makes, among other things, electronic controllers for a range of main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and anti-aircraft guns, including the Bofors L70 air defence guns, the type used by the Indonesian armed forces. Many crocodile tears have been shed here today. We need less crocodile tears, less hypocrisy and a little more consistency. The Indonesian army went out and slaughtered East Timorese, yet we are approving arms exports. This is a matter that needs to be addressed in this House. Moog has received £4.4 million in grant aid from the IDA as part of its expansion programme. Another example is Kentree Limited, Kilbrittain, County Cork. It has in the past exhibited at the major Copex Arms Fair in Britain, an arms fair described by the campaign against the arms trade as "a marketplace for electro shock batons and other torture equipment". The 1994 Copex catalogue lists Kentree as "an industrial partner in the design and manufacture of equipment for the police, military and nuclear markets". What will the Government do about this problem?. Perhaps it believes a thriving Irish arms industry and arms trade will be of assistance to Ireland's new role as a partner to NATO. This, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, is the reality of NATO's Partnership for Peace. We are getting into bed with some very nasty customers.

The Deputy is wandering from the Bill we are debating.

No. Deputy Hanafin referred previously to Turkey not being a functioning democracy. I hope we have a functioning democracy in this country and that I am allowed to speak on this Bill. What I am trying to do is show that there is a link between PfP and human rights abuses. I hope that next week I will be given an opportunity to expand on this matter because it is not clear whether I will be given an opportunity to speak. This matter has been alluded to by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy, who said that he is concerned about the link between PfP and the arms industry. The question I would put to him and to other so-called Fianna Fáil dissidents is, on the day where will they be? Will they stand idly by or will they go through the lobbies with those of us who have a conscience? There is nothing in the presentation document on PfP in relation to—

The Deputy is wandering from the Bill before us. The Bill deals with the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The Deputy will have an opportunity to speak on PfP when that motion comes before the House.

Is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle giving a guarantee now that I will speak on PfP next week?

I do not know the arrangements for next week.

I must insist. I have heard other Deputies speaking about world debt, but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was not here for that. Many Deputies spoke about matters which are linked to this issue. I am asking that I be given an opportunity to explore these issues.

In a passing reference but not to devote a whole section of the discussion to PfP.

It is outrageous that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can interfere in this way with a Member of this House who wants to explore issues that are totally connected—

Deputy Gormley, the Chair is here to facilitate Members in addressing issues before the Chamber.

Reference was made to Turkey, for instance, which has an appalling human rights record. It is a member of NATO. We could be on joint exercises with members of the Turkish army in the Curragh. Perhaps they could give us a few tips on torture techniques. That is the sort of link I am attempting to make and it is a very valid point. I hope I will be allowed to expand on that. Why is the Government willing to co-operate militarily with NATO, a military alliance based on nuclear weapons? Why does it believe this will not compromise Ireland's neutrality? Does the Government support NATO? The explanatory guide quotes NATO's launch document for the PfP in which NATO states that "active participation in the Partnership for Peace will play an important role in the evolutionary process of the expansion of NATO". Does the Government favour NATO expansion? President Clinton cited the PfP as "a path to full NATO membership for some".

I appeal to the Deputy to deal with the legislation before us.

As I understand it, we are on Second Stage.

Yes, we are on Second Stage. I have no problem with a passing reference to other issues that may be related but we cannot have a Second Stage debate on PfP.

I am trying to point out the blatant hypocrisy. Does the Leas-Cheann Comhairle realise that Turkey has ratified this convention. It is all very well to come in here and ratify conventions, albeit 15 years too late, but there is hypocrisy involved in that – on the one hand, we are becoming involved in the arms trade which facilitates torture and, on the other, we come in here and sign these conventions as if it is nothing. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is stopping me from making that point.

Yes, you are. I tried to make these points when discussing the Amsterdam Treaty. I will make a few further points if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me. No other Member has been interrupted. I heard the Deputy from Sligo making a few points about world debt; that is all very well and I welcome that. I am asking the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to facilitate me. It is interesting that in the Government's explanatory guide in relation to PfP we signed up to the Petersberg Tasks. Article J.7.1 of the Amsterdam Treaty encourages member states to co-operate in order to develop the European arms industry and armaments policy. It states: "The progressive framing of a common defence policy will be supported as member states consider appropriate by co-operation between them in the field of armaments." In the context of the Titley report of the European Parliament this provision has serious implications for Ireland which has a small but growing arms industry. This has been referred to in the AFrI report.

The annual production of defence equipment in the European Union amounts to approximately £40 billion which is 3 per cent of annual industrial output. The industry employs 600,000 people directly and 400,000 indirectly. Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Sweden, some NATO members and some PfP members, account for 90 per cent of the EU arms trade which has a 20 per cent share of the world export market for major conventional weapons. However, the Titley report makes clear that there has been a cutback in orders for military equipment, leading to fierce competition, especially with the US. A previous speaker – a Deputy from Cork – made reference to the United States. Some of us here are supposed to be anti American, but we are not. What we are saying, however, is that the United States is a major arms exporter and has facilitated torture. That is the point I am trying to make.

The Titley report states, in article 1:

Neither the European defence identity nor the common foreign and security policy of the EU can be credible without a strong European armaments industry.

It further states, in article 3:

A European armaments policy would be easier to pursue if there was a consensus on the major objectives of a common foreign and security policy.

There can be little doubt that one of the main reasons for having a common foreign and security policy, which would be greatly strengthened by the Amsterdam Treaty, is to expand and develop the European arms industry. It gives a clear signal that such an expansion would occur in Ireland as well. That is also the signal that is being given out by us in joining the Partnership for Peace.

I will now address the Bill directly. A number of points need to be made and perhaps the Minister can clarify them in his reply. One point, which was raised by Senator Ryan in the Seanad, concerns a definition in section 1(1)(b) – there is a caveat in it – which states "but does not include any such act that arises solely from, or is inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions". That is something we need to be a little wary of. Perhaps the Minister can clarify this point, but it almost sounds as if a sanction is part of the law of a given country then it does not actually amount to torture. For instance, in Saudi Arabia people have their hands amputated as a punishment. Does that amount to torture? I would say that it does. Deputy Owen referred to female circumcision. In certain countries it would be seen as traditional, but does it amount to torture? I would argue that it certainly does.

Section 2 defines torture in terms that everyone would agree with but there is another point concerning section 4(1) which states:

a person shall not be expelled or returned from the State to another state where the Minister is of the opinion that there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

There are countries where torture is endemic – one such being Nigeria. It puts the Minister in a difficult situation. If an individual who is going to be sent back to Nigeria claims that he will be tortured there, how will the Minister judge that? How will he calculate what is in fact a substantial risk? That would cause a certain amount of alarm among those who are seeking asylum in this jurisdiction. I know of cases where people have pleaded with the Department of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform claiming that if they go back to this country they will be tortured and in many cases they have not received a very sympathetic hearing. Perhaps the Minister will give some guarantees that he will look sympathetically on all those cases concerning countries where torture is endemic.

I wish to go on at greater length about the links, but obviously I will be reprimanded for that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. However, you are on the record now as having said that I will have an opportunity to speak next week. I will take you at your word and I hope we will not have any squabbles next week when I am trying to make my points.

As a member of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe I welcome the legislation. I compliment the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, in expediting the legislation which I understand has been in preparation for some time. As has already been mentioned, it gives effect to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. For many years the United Nations debated this particular issue and Ireland always played a leading role in those discussions. The convention, which was finally adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1984, sets down the precise modalities for dealing with the situation concerning torture. It was ratified by the Government in 1992 when I was Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Given that such conventions take time to prepare as they involve difficult and painstaking procedures, it is timely that we should be debating this Bill at a time when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Council of Europe. Ireland will take over the presidency of the Council of Europe at the beginning of November.

The legislation amends existing legislation, including the Extradition Act, 1965, the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1994, the Defence Act, 1954, and the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. In this regard, it can be seen that the changes being enshrined in the legislation are desirable and will fit into the overall concept of what the UN Convention Against Torture hopes to achieve.

Since the convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly, and ratified by this State and others – and despite all the international efforts to counteract it – we have still seen some pretty horrific cases of torture taking place. We have seen ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and it has surfaced also in other places in recent years. The Council of Europe spent almost two years trying to avoid a situation which was threatening Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Despite the best international efforts we still had an outbreak of the most horrific torture and degrading treatment in those countries. The same thing is going on at present in places like Sierra Leone. In passing this legislation we need to redouble the efforts of the international community in combating torture. We need to play a leading part in international affairs – as we have always done in the past in the United Nations and the Council of Europe – to ensure that we are to the forefront in efforts to prevent and eliminate, in so far as it is possible to do so, the kind of situations we have seen in the last year or so and which are currently taking place internationally. These are the type of situations where strife, torture, death and destruction have wrought havoc in countries and put enormous pressure on the international community.

In keeping with our policies in this regard, it is the Government's intention to join the Partnership for Peace. I cannot reconcile the attitude that is being adopted by people who say we need to provide more funding and support for the United Nations peace-keeping and humanitarian efforts that Ireland is involved in, including overseas development aid, while at the same time they resist being part of a partnership which is designed specifically to avoid such situations arising. I see absolutely no contradiction in being part of a Partnership for Peace which is designed to provide peacekeeping assistance and advice and guidance to help people avoid situations such as those which occurred in Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and East Timor. Membership of the partnership is designed to eliminate and, in so far as is possible, eradicate such situations.

There are those who claim to hold the high moral ground in relation to East Timor, Bosnia, etc., while criticising our involvement in the very service which would help to eliminate the hardship created for people in those countries. I cannot follow their logic and I cannot understand why people like the previous speaker are so opposed to joining Partnership for Peace, which is specifically designed – without affecting our neutrality or obliging us to become part of NATO or other alliances – to be part of an arrangement which would provide protection for the people who are suffering the most severe hardship, deprivation and torture.

While serving as Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid I witnessed the torture people were forced to endure in places such as Tanzania. The people to whom I refer were suffering from mass starvation – they were dying not because they were being tortured but because of a lack of food. The death rates among young people and children in that country were alarming and frightening. Everyone has seen reports about these situations in the print media and on television but one has to experience them firsthand to see the hardship, deprivation and torture visited on people in Tanzania due to a lack of food. They are the poorest of the poor.

In that context, our ratification of the UN convention by means of the Bill affords us the opportunity to redouble our efforts in respect of peacekeeping and peacemaking and in the provision of additional resources and funding to support the overseas development aid programme so that we can help to eliminate torture and inhuman and degrading treatment endured by people in many countries. The international community, by means of this convention, can play an important role in ensuring that the hardship endured by hundreds of millions of people can be reduced or eliminated.

I wish to ask a number of questions about Bill. Will the Minister, if the information is available to him, indicate whether the convention contains a reporting mechanism whereby reports can be sent to individual member states in respect of the workings of the convention and whether its operation is proving successful? Will he also indicate whether Irish personnel will be involved in the operation and implementation of the convention? It is fine to introduce and ratify conventions but it is very important to have follow-up mechanisms in respect of them. We should receive a report – perhaps not on an annual basis – or an indication from the United Nations on the effectiveness of the convention in dealing with the problems which necessitated its introduction.

I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, for his dedication and commitment to expediting this matter at a time when Ireland is about to assume the Presidency of the Council of Europe.

I thank Deputies for their kind remarks and I express my appreciation to those who contributed so constructively to the debate. This is an important Bill and the tone and content of the debate was very constructive.

Everyone will agree that words cannot adequately express the total abhorrence we feel about the misery and suffering inflicted on the countless victims of torture. As legislators, we naturally wish to play our part in bringing to justice those who are responsible for these horrendous crimes. It goes without saying that it is important that we are in a position, as quickly as possible, to ratify the UN convention by bringing forward this legislation. I am pleased to have been able to do so. There is validity in criticising the delay in bringing forward the legislation, given that Ireland signed the convention in 1992. I can only say that, in the context of my extensive programme of law reform, I gave the legislation considerable priority.

Examples were given during the debate of atrocities which have been committed in various parts of the world. The House will appreciate that, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it does not fall directly within my brief to comment on these matters but I assure Members that the concerns they legitimately expressed about specific international human rights issues will be brought to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, at the earliest opportunity.

A number of the issues underlying the legislation have been highlighted by the Pinochet case. That matter was raised some time ago in this House when the Minister for Foreign Affairs pointed out that abuses of human rights in any country are of concern to the entire international community. He reminded the Dáil that during the years of the Pinochet dictatorship, Ireland strongly condemned the violations of human rights carried out by that regime. While the Minister believed that the perpetrators of all human rights abuses should be brought to justice, he indicated that this could only be done in accordance with the jurisdiction and laws of the country concerned or within the framework of specific international legal instruments. The House will understand why I am reluctant to comment on the case currently before the English courts. My officials will, of course, monitor developments in respect of that case in terms of the consideration of the legal issues involved and any possible implications for the Bill before us. I would make the point that according to Article 29.3 of the Constitution, "Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other States". Obviously, Irish courts would have regard to this in considering cases which may come before them where such considerations arise.

To return to the more general issues raised by the Bill, the House may be aware that the Law Reform Commission, in its report on non-fatal offences against the person, stated that the creation of such an offence in domestic law would give concrete effect to the principle that torture constitutes a serious violation of the right to bodily integrity, which warrants special prohibition and punishment in the criminal law. It would also lend consistency and coherence to Ireland's condemnation of the practice of torture elsewhere. The commission recommended that consideration be given to the creation of a specific offence of torture, thereby also facilitating Ireland's accession to the UN convention. That is precisely what the Bill before the House does.

I fully accept that criticism by us of the behaviour of other states in the area of human rights can sound hollow if our record in our jurisdiction can be called into question. Like other Members, I believe this country's human rights record has been good – not least because for over 60 years the citizens of Ireland have been protected by a bill of rights, namely, Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Significant developments are under way in respect of the protection of human rights in this jurisdiction, particularly in the context of the British-Irish Agreement. Under the Agreement, the Government has undertaken to further strengthen the protection of human rights in this jurisdiction. Deputies will recall from the Agreement that the Government's commitments in this regard extend to bringing forward measures to strengthen and underpin the constitutional protection of human rights, drawing on the European Convention on Human Rights and other international legal instruments in the field of human rights. The question of incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into Irish law must also be further examined in this context. In addition, the Government as undertaken to establish a human rights commission with a mandate and remit equivalent to that of the Human Rights Commission recently established in Northern Ireland. My Department was assigned a lead role in respect of formulating proposals on these commitments. The question of incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into our law has been examined in the Department and I intend to bring proposals on the matter before Government shortly.

As regards the establishment of the human rights commission, the Government published the text of the Human Rights Commission Bill in July. The functions of the commission, which will be an independent body, will include keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights, bringing court proceedings or providing assistance to persons in human rights cases and conducting inquiries in relation to complaints about infringements of human rights.

Today's debate has been extremely useful. As indicated at the outset, the views expressed will be considered fully before Committee Stage. At this stage, however, I will refer briefly to a number of the comments made by Deputies. A number of Deputies referred to punishment beatings. While they do not come within the technical definition of the Bill, I agree that a clear message should be sent from this House that punishment beatings are wrong. They should stop now. No man or woman has the right to be judge, jury and/or executioner in such matters. I deplore these barbarous attacks.

Deputy Howlin referred to the phrase "does not include any such act that arises solely from what is inherent in or is incidental to lawful sanctions". This is taken from the convention. Impris onment may, by itself, cause an individual severe mental pain and that is a type of exception which would be at issue.

Deputy Higgins asked when the Bail Act, 1997, will be brought into operation. The House will be aware of my intention to bring the Bail Act into operation once sufficient accommodation has been provided by the prison building programme. I find it rather ironic that people who call upon me to halt the prison building programme at the same time request me to introduce the Bail Act. It must be clear to everybody at this point that if there is not a sufficiency of prison accommodation, one is not in a position to implement the Bail Act.

(Mayo): We are calling for sensible penal measures.

Happily, there will be additional prison accommodation available in the not too distant future which will facilitate the introduction of the Bail Act, which I will be only too pleased to implement. Specifically in this context, when the Cloverhill remand prison and the Midlands prison are in operation, which will be very soon, it is my intention to bring the 1997 Act into full effect.

With regard to the issue Deputy Howlin raised in connection with the importance of article 10 concerning training and education of law enforcement officers, I agree this is an important subject. We have already in place strict regulations on the recruitment of persons for custody and high standards in the training of enforcement officials. I will ensure that this training will include appropriate reference to the Bill when enacted.

The Deputy also referred to extending the definition of torture outside the definition contained in the Bill. As I indicated in my earlier contribution, I accept there may be varying views as to how precisely to define the offence of torture but primarily what is at issue here is to enable the State to ratify the UN convention and, in the circumstances, there are obvious advantages in adhering as closely as possible to the definition contained in the convention.

Deputy Owen expressed concern that those public officials who do not directly carry out acts of torture but rather ensure that acts of torture are carried out would be covered by the Bill. As Deputy Hanafin said and I am happy to confirm to the Deputy, as provided in section 3, it shall be an offence for a public official to direct, instruct, aid, abet, counsel or procure the commission of the offence of torture. In addition, a public official who conspires to commit the offence of torture shall be guilty of an offence under this Bill. Furthermore, a person who carries out any of these offences shall be liable to the same penalty, that is to say imprisonment for life, as principal offenders.

Deputy Owen was concerned that the definition of torture should be broad enough to cover such outrageous behaviour as the use of rape as torture. The definition of torture in the Bill is very broad and it includes both mental and physical torture. In that respect it is clear that it would cover the use of rape as a weapon of torture as defined in the Bill.

Deputy Gormley asked whether, for the purposes of section 4, I would take into account the existence in a State of a consistent pattern of torture. I would draw his attention to section 4(2) which specifically provides that the Minister shall take into account all relevant considerations, including the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Many Deputies raised the Pinochet case. With regard to war crimes Ireland has legislation in place now to ensure that we can fully co-operate with the established international war crimes tribunals. This is something which is of considerable importance in that it allows us to send fugitives to these tribunals.

It does not have application in the Pinochet case.

I have explained that it would not be appropriate for me to go into the Pinochet case in any detail this afternoon.

But that category—

With regard to Deputy Gormley's assertion that he met people who said they did not get a very fair hearing in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in regard to allegations that they would be subjected to torture if returned to certain countries, all I can say is that I am totally mystified as to where the Deputy got this information. Ireland adheres fully to the 1951 Geneva Convention. Ireland has a considerable body of legislation on its Statute Books to ensure that people always get a fair hearing when they apply for asylum. Indeed, representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees mentioned to me some time ago that the procedure which Ireland now has in place for dealing with such applications could become a model for asylum applicants throughout the free world. In those circumstances, somebody is badly misinforming Deputy Gormley. Not only are the hearings fair, open and transparent, people are entitled to appeal and there is always recourse to the courts. There is also a prohibition on returning any individual in any event to a country where he or she would be subjected to torture. Furthermore, there is a prohibition on returning people to a country from which an individual could be returned to a country where that individual could be tortured. Spurious allegations are flying around and they have to be nailed. They are completely untrue.

That completes my reply to the Deputies. I trust I have covered at least some of the more important points.

Question put and agreed to.