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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 2 Apr 2015

Vol. 873 No. 3

Universal Jurisdiction of Human Rights Bill 2015: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a universal jurisdiction of human rights; to enable the charging and conviction of persons who breach international human rights law in cases of but not limited to genocide, war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity, whether these breaches have occurred inside or outside the State; for these purposes to amend the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Act 2000 and the International Criminal Court Act 2006.

The Bill seeks to enable the charging and conviction of persons who breach international human rights law in cases of genocide, war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity, whether these breaches have occurred inside or outside the State. Universal jurisdiction can play a crucial part in the quest to obtain international justice for those who have suffered horrendous crimes.

There are two types of universal jurisdiction. The first type can be enacted when a person who has breached international human rights enters the territory of a state which wishes to charge him or her. The offender's presence grants the state this universal jurisdiction. The second type of universal jurisdiction is practiced in absentia. This occurs when the person in question is not present in the state for the trial, but is tried for the crimes regardless. Spain, Germany, Belgium, France and Britain have long had universal jurisdiction statutes, which allow their national courts to pursue and prosecute war criminals. However, there is an unspoken rule in the West never to use international law against each other. This changed in 1998, when Spain, supported by France, Switzerland and Belgium, indicted the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and sought his extradition from Britain, where he was having an operation. John Pilger has made the point that had Pinochet been sent for trial, he almost certainly would have implicated at least one British Prime Minister and two US Presidents in crimes against humanity. He was not extradited. Although unsuccessful, this attempt by Spain should be commended.

It has also been argued that the use of universal jurisdiction by states has lost some of its relevance since the creation of the International Criminal Court, which was established as a permanent court for cases of genocide, war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity. However, the court has been a disaster since its inception in 1998. An example of this is the record number of petitions the court has received for Tony Blair to stand trial for war crimes. He has yet to be called before the court. How surprising. Mr. Blair was partially responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million people, has created almost 4 million refugees and has caused untold misery in the Middle East region, through the invasions of Afghanistan in 2011 and Iraq in 2003. He lied to both the British public and Parliament in the run up to the invasion in Iraq in 2003, claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He later got to work for the US, EU and UN as a Middle East envoy. I must be missing something. Ireland has become complicit in some of these war crimes by allowing the United States to use Shannon Airport as a military air base. More than 2.25 million troops have passed through on their way to wars which have led to more than 1 million deaths.

There have been many crimes against humanity, such as the mass murders in Rwanda and the slaughter by Suharto in Indonesia, the US in Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Israeli defence forces in Gaza. There have been stories of families, wedding parties and whole villages being wiped out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen by the US, initiated by Barack Obama, George W. Bush and NATO forces. There have been reports of the disappearance of students in Mexico.

Would the Deputy include ISIS?

I would definitely include ISIS, and would throw the Russians in too, given that Russia has committed some serious crimes.

There has been much debate recently in the Chamber regarding the issue of Irish neutrality. Sadly, we are not neutral, but have taken sides, and the Irish people are becoming more aware of this. It would be great if we could become a leader, not a follower, in the international community. The implementation of universal jurisdiction in Irish law would give us the power to try war criminals such as Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Binyamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin for their horrendous crimes. I came across a quote from Henry Kissinger on universal jurisdiction:

Any universal system should contain procedures not only to punish the wicked but also to constrain the righteous. It must not allow legal principles to be used as weapons to settle political scores.

It is interesting that he said this, given that he was largely responsible for the deaths of 600,000 innocent people in Cambodia, when the US bombed the living daylights out of the country between 1969 and 1973. He is wanted for questioning in France, Chile and Argentina on these charges. Later, he said universal jurisdiction was a breach of each state's sovereignty, which translates as, the US can do what it likes when it likes where it likes, and if people do not like it, tough.

This is a good reason for us to introduce the Bill and stand up for human rights and justice.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.