Human Rights Developments
Defending Human Rights
The Role of the International Community
In a February 2000 report, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression urged the U.K. to repeal emergency laws that had a "chilling effect" on the right to free expression; protect journalists' confidential sources; amend the Official Secrets Act to allow penalties for disclosure only when a legitimate national security interest is implicated; and disclose classified information to the public-in particular, the findings of the Stalker/Sampson and Stevens inquiries into collusion.
The U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers reiterated his call for an independent judicial inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. Noting inconsistencies regarding the murder's previous investigation, the special rapporteur stated that "such inconsistencies... generally arise in cases where there have been cover-ups by interested parties, including State organs."
Council of Europe
In April, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled admissible four cases against the U.K. The cases of Gervaise McKerr, Patrick Shanaghan, the Loughgall eight, and Pearse Jordan charged violations of the right to life, the inadequacy and partiality of mechanisms to investigate killings by state agents or where collusion is alleged, and discrimination.
A June 2000 ECHR decision in the case of Gerard Magee found the U.K in breach of fair trial standards for denying Magee access to a lawyer for the first forty-eight hours of detention, holding him virtually incommunicado, and creating a "psychologically coercive" interrogation environment that forced Magee to make incriminating statements against himself.
On September 13, President Clinton met with First Minister David Trimble and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon in the first visit to the U.S. by the leaders of Northern Ireland's new government. Clinton expressed his ongoing support for the peace process.
The U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee recommended in September a congressional resolution demanding the full implementation of the Patten recommendations on police reform.
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) held a hearing in March on the protection of human rights defenders in Northern Ireland and called for independent inquiries into the Finucane and Nelson murders. The CSCE held another hearing on policing in Northern Ireland in September.
The U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999 provided a fair assessment of human rights concerns in Northern Ireland, noting police abuse and impunity; intimidation of defense lawyers; emergency laws and abuse of special powers; and calls for a ban on plastic bullets.
Relevant Human Rights Watch
Northern Ireland: A New Beginning to Policing? The Report of the Independent Commission on Policing, 11/99
Republic of Belarus
Bosnia and Hercegovina
United Kingdom / Northern Ireland
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
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Human RIghts Watch