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Human Rights Developments

The United Kingdom continues to receive little attention from the international human rights community. Yet in recent years freedom of expression in Britain has been restricted; there is an appalling use of lethal force by all sides in Northern Ireland, where U.K. emergency legislation suspends basic due process guarantees; and conditions in many prisons violate international standards.

Violations of human rights continued in Northern Ireland during 1992. Security forces shot and killed five people in disputed circumstances, and questions continued to be raised about the thoroughness and impartiality of investigations of killings by security force members. Paramilitary groups killed 63 people and set off more than 150 bombs. Security forces also continued to harass civilians-both children and adults-and to damage civilians' property in house raids. Both children and adult detainees continued to be abused physically and verbally.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in Northern Ireland since 1969 in political violence associated with "The Troubles." A state of emergency has existed in the province since its partition from the Irish Free State in 1922. Emergency laws give the security forces-the Royal Ulster Constabulary (ruc) and the British Army-broad powers to stop people on the street, to question and search them, to search their homes, to detain them for as long as seven days without charges, and to exclude people from Northern Ireland or Great Britain.

In addition, the right to trial by jury for offenses connected to political violence has been suspended. The right to silence has been restricted by rules that permit a court to draw adverse inferences from a person's refusal to answer questions. And evidentiary rules in non-jury courts permit the admission into evidence of unreliable confessions, some of which may have been secured by abusive treatment in detention. Three of four Ulster Defense Regiment soldiers who had been convicted of a 1983 murder were released in July 1992 when the Court of Appeal held that police officers had lied at their trial in 1986.

Helsinki Watch continues to be extremely concerned about the use of lethal force by security forces and paramilitaries. The five people killed by security forces in 1992 were shot in two incidents:

· Irish Republican Army (ira) members Peter Clancy, Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Patrick Vincent and Sean Farrell were shot and killed on February 16 by undercover soldiers after attacking the Coalisland ruc station. The ruc reported that uniformed troops encountered armed men and an exchange of gunfire ensued. However, eyewitnesses reported that the victims had just driven up to St. Patrick's Church and were still in their car when surrounded by troops who immediately opened fire. Questions were raised as to whether the men could have been arrested, rather than killed.

· Peter McBride was shot dead in the New Lodge area of Belfast by two regular British Army soldiers on September 4. McBride had been stopped, questioned and searched by an army patrol. He broke away from the patrol and ran down a street. The soldiers chased him, took firing positions and shot him in the back. The soldiers were charged with murder the next day.

The standard applied for the use of lethal force by security forces in Northern Ireland continues to be "such force as is reasonable in the circumstances." This standard provides too much leeway and leads inevitably to abuses. Instead, deadly force should be permitted only when absolutely necessary,and only in proportion to the immediate danger posed by a suspect.

Sixty-three people were killed by paramilitaries between January 1 and October 28, 1992. Roughly half were killed by republicans, chiefly the ira, and half by loyalists, chiefly the Ulster Freedom Fighters (uff). In addition, more than 150 bombs were set off-some as large as 500 pounds. Paramilitary killings violate not only domestic criminal law but also, in the case of civilian victims, the principles underlying international humanitarian law.

A Helsinki Watch mission that visited Northern Ireland in April found that children were frequently stopped on the street, kicked, hit, insulted and abused by security forces. Street harassment of adults continued as well.

Ill-treatment of detainees during interrogation also continued in 1992. Children under 18 and adults were threatened, tricked, insulted and frequently physically assaulted by police during interrogation.

On the positive side, security force members were charged or prosecuted in two cases: two Ulster Defense Regiment soldiers and a civilian were found guilty of a 1989 murder, and investigations of disputed killings by security forces resulted in charges being brought against two Royal Marine Commandos and one police officer in two cases.

The United Kingdom has one of the highest prisoner-to-population ratios in Europe-about 97 per 100,000. Overcrowding is a serious problem in England, and is particularly serious in local, pretrial prisons where two or three prisoners are frequently confined in cells designated for one. Sanitary conditions are abysmal in some British prisons, and many prisons are just now installing in-cell plumbing. Prisoners often lack clean clothing and bedding, and do not have access to regular showers. Prisoners also suffer from excessive idleness in the large pretrial prisons where few work or educational programs are offered, forcing some inmates to spend all but a few hours locked in their cells.

Free expression continues to be restricted in the U.K. The Official Secrets Act provides criminal penalties for revealing a broad range of foreign policy, defense and military information, regardless of whether the material has been previously disclosed elsewhere or its release is in the public interest. There is no affirmative right in the U.K. to engage in peaceful public assembly or to hold a meeting in a public place, and there is no practical right of appeal from police decisions to restrict or ban public assembly. A broadcasting ban prohibits spoken words by people who "solicit or invite support for" a list of proscribed groups in Northern Ireland.

The Right to Monitor

There is no evidence to indicate that human rights monitors are harassed by government officials in the United Kingdom.

U.S. Policy

There have been no public indications that the Bush administration has attempted to persuade the government of the United Kingdom to improve human rights conditions. About U.S. policy in Northern Ireland, Ralph R. Johnson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, said in May 1990:

The United States advocates peaceful solutions to the problems of Northern Ireland. Consequently, we support the efforts of the United Kingdom and Ireland to use the Anglo-Irish Agreement to address the social, economic, political, and security problems of Northern Ireland.

This means, in our view...finding acceptable political solutions, and eliminating terrorism.

Johnson went on to say that U.S. support for human rights in Northern Ireland includes promoting "fairness in the administration of justice."

Despite these statements, the administration has not publicly criticized in its own voice the U.K. or the Northern Ireland Office for the improper use of lethal force by security forces, restrictions on the right to a fair trial, abuses of detainees during interrogation, or street harassment and house raids against civilians. The chapter on the U.K. in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991 does raise some questions about humanrights in Northern Ireland, but puts these in the voices of others who have criticized such things as: extrajudicial killings and allegations of a "shoot to kill" policy on the part of security forces; in-house investigations of killings by security forces; the treatment of accused terrorists in police custody; and conditions in prisons.

The U.S. government contributed $19,704,000 in fiscal year 1992 to the International Fund for Ireland, which aims to improve the economic and commercial life of areas of Northern Ireland that have suffered severely from sectarian strife since 1969.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

During 1992, Helsinki Watch continued to monitor human rights developments in the United Kingdom. A fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland in April investigated abuses of children under 18. This was followed in July by a report, Children in Northern Ireland: Abused by Security Forces and Paramilitaries, which received a good deal of attention from the press and the government.

The report found that the extent of violence inflicted on children is appalling. Children have lost their lives in political violence at the hands of both paramilitaries and security forces. In addition, police officers and soldiers harass young people on the street-hitting, kicking, insulting and threatening them; police officers in interrogation centers insult, trick and threaten youngsters and sometimes physically assault them; and children are locked up in adult detention centers and prisons in shameful conditions.

As for paramilitary groups, the report found that both the ira and the Ulster Defense Association (uda) act as alternative police forces, punishing children they believe to be "anti-social" by shootings, severe beatings and sometimes banishment from Northern Ireland.

In June, Helsinki Watch and the Human Rights Watch Prison Project issued a report entitled Prison Conditions in the United Kingdom, which was based on a July 1991 mission to the U.K. The report concluded that prison conditions in England are characterized by serious overcrowding, excessive idle time for most prisoners, and unsanitary conditions. The report stated that prison conditions in Northern Ireland are generally better than those in England, although conditions at Belfast Remand Prison were similar to those at local prisons in England. Most prisoners in Northern Ireland do not have access to in-cell plumbing.

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