Statewatch News Online: European Parliament to set up committee to look at CIA detention camps

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Justice and home affairs - 13-12-2005 - 17:42
MEPs discuss ways to investigate existence of CIA detention camps

"At a joint meeting of the Civil Liberties Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday, a majority of MEPs spoke in favour of investigating the alleged existence of CIA detention camps in Europe. An opinion drafted by the EP legal services says there is not a sufficient legal basis to launch a 'committee of inquiry'. However, MEPs insisted on keeping all options on the table, including that of setting up a 'temporary committee'.

Commissioner Franco Frattini opened the discussion by saying more evidence was needed before launching a formal investigation. He also explained that, in his opinion, setting up a Parliament committee of inquiry would overlap with the investigation being conducted by the Council of Europe and would undermine its value. However, if any sort of committee is finally set up for this purpose, "you will get all the operational support from the European Commission", he told MEPs. The Commission has already offered operational support to the Council of Europe to investigate the issue, he added.

Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows the Council of Europe to look into possible violations of the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights. This power has only been used eight times in the history of the Strasbourg-based body. The Council of Europe opened a formal inquiry on 21 November and requested the 45 governments which are parties to the ECHR to respond by 21 February 2006.

The Civil Liberties Committee chair Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE, FR) said the recent events reminded him of the Watergate case. "We don't know yet if this has become an EU issue but we cannot be the last ones to discover if something serious happened. We are here to seek the truth and not to wait for someone to provide it for us", he said. Mr Cavada also explained that, under the EP Rules of Procedure, the Liberties Committee "is responsible for the determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the principles common to the Member States".

On behalf of her political group, Ewa Klamt (EPP-ED, DE) said: "The EPP does not support the setting up of a committee of inquiry, because it would have to deal with infringements of Community law. We have no indication as to such infringements yet". She supported instead the launching of "a temporary committee to deal with the political implications of the conduct of the United States". Martine Roure (PES, FR) agreed that "light needs to be shed on these actions. We don't want to be simple spectators; we want to be fully involved". Alexander Alvaro (ALDE, DE) was also in favour of European Parliament involvement. He supported an idea suggested by other Members that Parliament could start by setting up a temporary committee and wait for the information gathered by the Council of Europe by the end of February, to see if there was then enough further evidence to appoint a committee of inquiry.

A European Parliament committee of inquiry has the power to investigate alleged contraventions of Community law and to submit a report within the following 12 months. It "may invite an institution or a body of the European Communities or the Government of a Member State to designate one of its members to take part in its proceedings".

A temporary committee has the same 12-month deadline but it does not have investigative powers, i.e. it can invite, but not oblige, the Member States to send representatives to its hearings.

This issue will come before the full Parliament in a plenary debate on Wednesday 14 December at 3pm. The debate will be followed by a resolution, to be adopted on Thursday 15 December."

European Parliament press service

Filed 16 December 2005

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