Human Rights Developments
The election of a new Labour government in May 1997 and the renewal of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) cease-fire on July 20,1997, revived a moribund Northern Ireland peace process. The cease-fire afforded Sinn Féin, the political arm of the IRA, a seat at the negotiating table for peace talks that resumed on September 15, 1997. Despite threats by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the largest Protestant political party, to withdraw from the negotiations, the UUP has remained at the table. A car bomb explosion in the village of Markethill on September 16, 1997, threatened to derail talks before they had even begun, but the IRA immediately issued a statement denying responsibility for the attack. A fringe republican paramilitary group, the Continuity IRA, claimed responsibility for the bombing. As of this writing, substantive talks are under way, with local and international human rights groups pressing for integration of human rights concerns into the peace process. The treatment of prisoners, police abuse, the use of plastic bullets, unresolved miscarriages of justice, and delayed government response to fresh evidence in the Bloody Sunday killings by security forces remain outstanding human rights concerns.
On November 20, 1996, Roisin McAliskey, the twenty-five-year-old daughter of civil rights activist Bernadette McAliskey, was arrested and detained under Northern Ireland's emergency laws. McAliskey was four months pregnant, asthmatic, and suffering from an eating disorder at the time of arrest. The arrest was made allegedly on the basis of an extradition warrant issued by German authorities in connection with an IRA mortar attack on a British army base in Osnabruck, Germany, in June 1996. McAliskey was interrogated at the notorious Castlereagh Holding Centre in Belfast; she alleges that the mortar attack was not mentioned by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) detectives until the sixth day of interrogation. She was remanded in custody to London and placed in Holloway Prison, a women's prison. On November 30, 1997, McAliskey was transferred to Belmarsh Prison-an all-male, high security detention facility-and kept in isolation. After an international outcry, McAliskey was transferred back to Holloway and placed in solitary confinement as the only Category A high security risk inmate. McAliskey was prohibited from association with other prisoners, subjected to frequent strip searches, and permitted "closed" visits only-visits where no physical contact between prisoner and visitor is permitted. Most disturbing were credible reports that McAliskey was denied appropriate obstetric care despite medical reports that her fetus wasunderweight. After international protests against the U.K. government for violations of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, McAliskey's classification was changed and her conditions of detention improved. After repeated denials of bail, McAliskey was released on bail to a London hospital where she gave birth to a baby girl on May 26, 1997. On June 3, she was granted conditional bail on medical grounds and transferred to a hospital with a mother and baby unit. McAliskey's extradition hearing has been adjourned repeatedly because she is too ill to attend, and the judge refuses to hold the hearing in her absence. The next hearing is scheduled for November 10, 1997. Disturbing questions have arisen about the quality of the evidence that the German authorities possess allegedly connecting McAliskey with the Osnabruck attack, including an admission on German television by an alleged government witness that he had never seen McAliskey.
IRA violence, which resumed in February 1996 after a seventeen-month cease-fire, continued into 1997. In December 1996, an IRA gunman shot and injured an RUC officer guarding a unionist politician visiting his son in the hospital. An IRA sniper shot and killed a twenty-three-year-old British infantryman at a checkpoint in the village of Bessbrook in February 1997. In April 1997, a part-time policewoman was shot by an IRA sniper while on guard duty outside the London/Derry Crown Court. These attacks culminated with the murders of two police officers in Lurgan on June 16, 1997, by two masked IRA gunmen in the presence of several eyewitnesses.
On June 23, 1997, Colin Duffy-who had publicly accused the RUC of collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the past-was arrested for the murders of the Lurgan police officers. Duffy had been acquitted on appeal for the murder of a former soldier in September 1996 after it was discovered that the key prosecution witness, Lindsay Robb, had been convicted for illegally procuring arms for a loyalist paramilitary group. Duffy won his appeal based on Robb's inherent unreliability as a witness. The case strongly suggested that the RUC knew about Robb's paramilitary associations and was complicit when Robb testified under oath that he had no connections with loyalist paramilitaries. After Duffy's arrest for the murders of the police officers, numerous witnesses stated that he was not at the scene of the crime. Eyewitness descriptions of the gunmen did not match Duffy's physique, and there was no forensic evidence connecting Duffy to the murders. The only witness against Colin Duffy-a woman held in protective police custody-was described by those who know her well as a habitual liar and emotionally unstable. Other eyewitnesses claim that she was not present when the murders occurred, but arrived on the scene after the gunmen fled. Duffy was denied bail three times. Human rights organizations made representations to the police, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), and the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions seeking Duffy's immediate release. On October 3, 1997, the charges against Colin Duffy were dismissed for lack of evidence and he was released after spending four months in custody. Colin Duffy has been harassed routinely by the police since his release. The Duffy case is a focal point for human rights advocacy efforts to reform the highly abusive features of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.
In July 1997, government-sponsored negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise between nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road and members of the Protestant Orange Order seeking to march down the predominantly Catholic road failed, resulting in a decision by Marjorie Mowlam, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, to allow the July 6 Orange march to proceed under heavy police and military guard. RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan claimed that allowing the march to proceed was the lesser of two evils, indicating that the government and police submitted to threats of violence from supporters of the Orange Order, resulting in a breakdown in the rule of law. Apolice operation commenced on the Garvaghy Road in the early hours of July 6 during which residents and international monitors reported that police and British soldiers used excessive physical force to clear peaceful protesters from the road. Nationalist outrage was exacerbated by a confidential government memo dated June 20 and leaked to the press on July 7 which stated that, in the absence of local accommodation between the Garvaghy Road residents and the Orange Order, allowing the march to proceed was "the least worst outcome." Violence expected to erupt the following week during July 12 marches was eclipsed by an announcement by a number of Orange lodges that many contentious marches would be canceled or rerouted.
Approximately 2,500 plastic bullets were fired by the police and army in the aftermath of the Garvaghy Road march. Numerous people were seriously injured , including a thirteen-year-old girl who was hit in the mouth by a plastic bullet on her way home from a disco and a fourteen-year-old boy who was in coma for several days due to a head wound from a plastic bullet. The European Parliament, and numerous human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have called for a ban on plastic bullet use in Northern Ireland. Arguments for a ban were fortified by U.K. Ministry of Defense revelations in June and August 1997 that defective plastic bullets were deployed during civil disturbances arising from the 1996 and 1997 marching seasons, increasing their inaccuracy and the likelihood of injury. Moreover, important disparities in the guidelines for plastic bullet use among the RUC, the British army in Northern Ireland, and British police forces have led to criticism of the weaknesses in the current mechanisms for accountability.
On June 20, 1997, Patrick Kane, one of the Casement Three convicted in 1989 for the murders of two British army corporals, was released after serving eight years in prison. The Court of Appeal described Kane's conviction as "unsafe" because the trial judge did not have access to medical evidence concerning Kane's diminished mental capacity at the time he was interrogated by police in the absence of a guardian or legal counsel. Sean Kelly and Michael Timmons remain incarcerated despite strong evidence that their convictions were the result of inadequate or faulty legal procedures including trials in juryless Diplock Courts, violation of the right to remain silent, reliance upon poor-quality video footage for identification purposes, and confused application of the doctrine of common purpose. The Northern Ireland secretary of state refused to send the two cases back to the Court of Appeal for review, but the cases have been submitted to the Criminal Case Review Commission, established in 1997 to evaluate and make recommendations regarding miscarriage of justice cases. On October 27, 1997, the Northern Ireland Life Sentence Review Board (LSRB) held that Timmons and Kelly would be permitted leaves from prison for weekend and holiday visits with family and that the two men would be allowed to work outside the prison beginning in the spring of 1998.
New revelations regarding the conduct of British paratroopers and soldiers who opened fire on unarmed civilians killing thirteen people on Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, and the tampering with evidence submitted to the Widgery Tribunal-tasked with investigating the events of that day- have led to renewed calls for a fair and transparent public inquiry. The British government is currently considering whether to quash the findings of the original tribunal.
Positive developments during 1997 include government plans to introduce legislation to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law and the repeal of internment legislation.
Racially Motivated Violence
The U.K. had one of the highest levels of racially-motivated violence and harassment in WesternEurope in fiscal year 1995-96. Between 1989 and 1996, the number of racially-motivated attacks increased by 275 percent, from 4,383 to 12,199, suggesting an ongoing crime wave perpetrated by some British whites, including members of radical nationalist parties, against ethnic minority groups. Most disturbing are numerous reports of police brutality-resulting in deaths in custody and severe physical and psychological ill-treatment of non-white detainees-that itself appears to be racially-motivated. Despite the introduction in October 1997 of a new government policy of longer sentences for racially-motivated crimes, there is widespread evidence that police and investigators fail to investigate effectively racially-motivated crimes and that mechanisms for police accountability, such as the police complaints system, are ineffective checks on police misconduct.
The Right to Monitor
Government and law enforcement officials cooperated with the efforts of local and international human rights organizations to monitor police action during the 1997 marching season in Northern Ireland. There were no reported violations of the right to monitor in the U.K.
The Role of the
In response to concerns raised by human rights groups about the persistent harassment and intimidation of defense lawyers by RUC detectives and allegations of police collusion in the loyalist paramilitary murder in 1989 of Catholic defense lawyer Patrick Finucane, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges made an official visit to the U.K. and Northern Ireland in October 1997. The special rapporteur publicly called for an independent inquiry into the murder of Catholic defense lawyer Patrick Finucane and criticized the RUC for failing to address the serious issue of lawyer intimidation and harassment in Northern Ireland's holding centers. The special rapporteur's report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March 1998.
The Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights of the House Committee on International Relations held congressional hearings on "Human Rights in Northern Ireland" on June 24, 1997. The Clinton administration was criticized by members of the subcommittee for failing to send an invited representative to the hearing, signaling a failure on the part of the U.S. government to highlight the critical importance of human rights guarantees and accountability for past abuses to a just and lasting peace. On June 27, the subcommittee sent a letter calling on the RUC to ban the use of plastic bullets. Representative Chris Smith, chairperson of the subcommittee, led a human rights fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland in August 1997. The subcommittee sponsored anopen meeting on October 9, 1997, at which nongovernmental organizations briefed House members on the human rights dimension o the Northern Ireland peace process.
The U.K. section of the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996 cited numerous human rights concerns with respect to Northern Ireland including international criticism of plastic bullet use, restrictions on due process rights arising from emergency legislation, serious irregularities in the investigations into the murders of Patrick Finucane and Patrick Shanaghan, U.N. treaty bodies' concerns about the mistreatment of detainees in Northern Ireland's interrogation centers, and abusive police action during the 1996 marching season which "damaged the RUC's reputation as an impartial force."
The report also noted the concern of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that a disproportionate number of minorities in the U.K. were victims of deaths in police custody and that police brutality also appeared to affect racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately.
Relevant Human Rights Watch Reports:
To Serve Without Favor: Policing, Human Rights and Accountability in Northern Ireland, 5/97
Racist Violence in the United Kingdom, 4/97
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