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Ombudsman finds nothing reprehensible about the actions of the authorities as regards rendition flights

Not all details of flights any longer available

The Finnish Authorities were not involved in the US secret prisoner flights programme, says Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen. Nor was there any reason to suspect that Finnish territory had been used for prisoner flights knowingly to the Finnish authorities.

Furthermore, the Ombudsman has had no grounds for criticising the Finnish authorities for not trying to investigate the existence of prisoner flights adequately on the basis of the information available to them at the time.

The report could not give any guarantees that not one of the flights investigated had been a prisoner flight. On the other hand, it could not be ruled out that Finnish airspace or airports could have been used for rendition flights without the knowledge of the Finnish authorities.

The Ombudsman investigated Finland's possible complicity in rendition flights or the use of Finnish territory to that end as from November 2012. The investigation extended to 2001 - 2006.

Need for better legal protection

"Rendition flights and the fundamental and human rights violations that are associated with them must be prevented as effectively as possible," says the Ombudsman. "And when the state is suspected of involvement in them there needs to be a thorough investigation."

Jääskeläinen is proposing that the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the Finnish Border Guard consider the professional remedies they have at their disposal, including international cooperation, for making it possible to identify prisoner flights more successfully and for intervention.

He is of the view that European countries, Finland included, need to improve their legal protection systems in this respect.

The report also made it clear that the aviation industry lacks the guidelines for identifying or investigating suspected abuse on the part of civil aviation where it concerns fundamental and human rights violations.

A comprehensive survey

The Ombudsman sent a request for clarification to all the Finnish authoritative bodies that could have had knowledge of the issue. They included

- The Ministry for Foreign Affairs
- The Ministry of the Interior
- The Finnish Security Intelligence Service
- The National Bureau of Investigation
- The Finnish Border Guard
- The National Board of Customs
- The Ministry of Defence
- The Defence Command
- The Mission of Finland to NATO
- The Ministry of Transport and Communications
- The Finnish Transport Safety Agency
- Finavia Oyj / Area Control Centre Finland
- The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland
- The Prime Minister's Office
- The Office of the Prosecutor General

Furthermore, those authorities that might have direct airport sightings, such as the Border Guard and Customs, were asked to consult their staff.

The reports came in during February and March, 2013. The authorities that provided them had examined their databases and archives. Many of them had also consulted their staff and went beyond merely an examination of documents.

The Ombudsman then asked for additional reports and details from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, the Border Guard, the Defence Command, Finavia and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

There was also an inspection conducted of Area Control Centre Finland and an examination of confidential information that the Finnish Security Intelligence Service acquires through international exchanges of intelligence.

On consulting the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, the Ombudsman requested the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate possible sightings by private sector actors of an N88ZL aircraft that had been at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport 20-21 September 2004. There was no evidence from the aircraft's forwarding arrangements or its crew's transport and accommodation arrangements to suggest that it had been a prisoner flight.

The Ombudsman's report is an addition to a similar one produced by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 2011. The issue is receiving worldwide attention. For example, the Council of Europe, European Parliament and United Nations have published numerous in-depth studies of the matter. They suggest that the CIA's rendition flight programme has also been operational in areas close to Finland, such as Poland and Lithuania. Sweden too has extradited certain individuals, handing them over to the CIA in a manner than infringes human rights.

The Ombudsman began the investigation because of the huge interest in the issue and because he has greater powers to access information than the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Under the law, the ombudsman has the right to obtain from the authorities all the information he needs to make a judicial review.

No longer complete certainty over flights

A major part of the data that identifies flights is no longer available, because time has passed and there have been changes to systems. Consequently, the details of flights can no longer be examined in greater depth.

Flight control systems employed by civil aviation have been designed to maintain flight safety. The purpose of air navigation services is not to produce precise information on individual flights or their passengers. There is a limit to how long the information is kept in the systems.

The possibility that Finnish air space or airports were used for secret prisoner flights cannot consequently be ruled out with any certainty. It is also possible that, although Finland might have been mentioned as a stopover in the flight plan of an aircraft used for transporting prisoners, the aircraft did not actually land in Finland, according to the report.

Rendition flight would have been a state flight

International surveys suggest that the existence of prison flights has been concealed by chartering flights with private airlines and by manipulating the flight information, so that the flight cannot be outwardly connected with the CIA. Thus, the actual nature of the flight, as a state-organised flight, is hidden, and the flight is made to look like civil aviation transport.

State aircraft need permission from the Defence Command to use Finnish territory. Permission is not required in the case of civil aviation.

A prisoner flight is a state service, even if the aircraft has been hired from a private airline. If the captain of the aircraft does not enter the identifying code in the transponder, stating that it is a state aircraft, air traffic control cannot know that it is indeed a state flight.

"Air navigation services, therefore, have not been and are not able to identify a flight as one operated by a state aircraft, if the aircraft itself does not indicate that as so. In this respect, the systems are based on trust".

The aviation industry is under no obligation to inform the defence administration that they suspect that a civil aircraft is being used as a state aircraft or for a state flight. Nor are there any established practices or guidelines for this.

The Ombudsman also examined earlier reports

The Ombudsman also looked into how flight surveillance has been organised in Finland since the CIA's secret programme was revealed worldwide, and how the phenomenon has been monitored.

International surveys, especially since early in 2006, have identified a number of aircraft suspected of having been used in the rendition flight programme. In February 2010, there were suspicions that Finland may have been involved, with a report released by the UN Human Rights Council.

The issue has been studied in a variety of ways in Europe too. In 2005 and 2006, the Council of Europe and an EU Parliament?s temporary committee sent a number of countries, including Finland, requests for clarification concerning prisoner flights.

There was a reaction to these along various channels. The Minister for Foreign Affairs dealt with the enquiry from the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, the Finnish Delegation to the Council of Europe, consisting of Members of Parliament, handled the enquiries from the Council of Europe rapporteur, and Finland's Permanent Representation to the European Union dealt with the letter from the EU Parliament's temporary committee. It had also sent the letter to the Finnish Parliament for information.

Flights not investigated in 2006

The Ombudsman is focusing special attention on the letter to the Finnish Delegation to the Council of Europe from the Council of Europe rapporteur on 31 March 2006, in which a total of 41 specific flights were enquired about.

There was no specific response to this enquiry from Finland. The uninvestigated flight information for 2006 was no longer there in 2011, when the Ministry for Foreign Affairs began to investigate the flights more comprehensively. At the time, the information had already had to be struck from the Border Guard's registers, as laid down in the law. The flight and radar information were no longer there, owing partly to changes in the air navigation service systems.

"However, there is no reason to suspect that more in-depth flight information investigations were not carried due to anything other than the fact that the request did not go directly to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs or the request was not passed on to the Ministry for information purposes".

The Ombudsman is of the opinion that the reports produced on the matter by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs since 2011 are in order.

The reports are mainly in the public domain

The reports submitted by the authorities to the Ombudsman are almost entirely in the public domain, and they have been published on the Ombudsman's website in pdf format. Some parts deemed confidential by the authorities have been blacked out.

These sections do not concern rendition flights but, for example, Finland's relations with other countries or international organisations, official surveillance or factors relating to defence of the country.

The confidential material has been available to the Ombudsman and has been taken account of in the report's conclusions. The material does not give rise to conclusions that differ from the report that is available to the public.


The findings of Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen ref. 3834/2/12 (in Finnish). The reports by the authorities are attached as .pdf at the end of the decision. 
Further information is available from Pasi Pölönen, Principal Legal Adviser, on 09 - 432 3345.

 

 

 

 

 

 



[30.4.2014]
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