In letters to U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today, Human Rights Watch, the largest U.S.-based international human rights organization, condemned the Omagh bombing and urged the two governments to conduct their investigation of the bombing in accordance with international human rights norms.

Copies of the two letters are attached.

For more information contact:
Julia Hall (212) 216-1267

17 August 1998

Tony Blair
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1 A 0AA
United Kingdom

Dear Prime Minister Blair:

Human Rights Watch joins you in your unequivocal condemnation of the recent bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland, which led to a tragic loss of life and hundreds of grievous injuries. We also share your — and the public's — desire to see that those responsible for this heinous crime are apprehended and brought to justice. Understandably, there is great public pressure on your government to use all means necessary to root out the perpetrators. With the political focus firmly trained on security issues, Human Rights Watch urges the government of the United Kingdom to act in accordance with international human rights standards in the course of its investigation of the bombing. By conforming with its human rights obligations, the government secures a legitimacy that those responsible for this horrible attack sought to undermine.

Human Rights Watch encourages a fair, impartial and professional investigation of the Omagh bombing that conforms with democratic principles. Our past research, however, indicates that in the immediate aftermath of acts of political violence, the security forces— under cover of the emergency legislation— routinely flout their responsibility to protect the rights of those suspected of political crimes. Human Rights Watch thus urges the U.K. government to conduct its investigation in accordance with internationally recognized guarantees of due process and the right to fair trial. To that end, we recommend that all detainees be permitted speedy access to counsel. Mindful of previous allegations of ill-treatment at the hands of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the risk of pressure to secure convictions at this time, we also urge the U.K. government to ensure that detainees are not subject to physical and/or psychological abuse in violation of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Also of concern to Human Rights Watch is the possibility that internment— imprisonment without trial— will be used to incarcerate people on suspicion of their affiliation with dissident republican paramilitary groups. The prospect of resurrecting internment powers in Northern Ireland is profoundly problematic. Just last year the U.K. government moved to abandon the power of internment— not only because internment powers went unused for many years, but also because there appeared to be a genuine recognition that internment was one of the most egregious abuses of state power.

The political ramifications of reinstituting internment powers cannot be overstated. Violating the rights of a group can only serve to further radicalize the group and it supporters. Moreover, internment is extremely inefficient and, historically, has caught many innocent people with no interest in violence in its net. As opposed to rendering dissident paramilitary groups powerless, internment has the real possibility of further empowering them by fueling potential claims that the U.K. government acts outside the law.

We will also be writing to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with respect to the issue of internment in the Republic of Ireland.

The Omagh bombers clearly sought to undermine the Multi-Party Agreement. The agreement's human rights provisions recognize that the promotion and protection of human rights— and accountability for past human rights violations— are essential elements for a just and lasting peace. By conducting its investigation in accordance with international human rights norms, the U.K. government both honors the principles enshrined in the agreement and fulfills its duty to vigorously bring the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing to justice.

Sincerely,

/s/

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

* * *

17 August 1998

Bertie Ahern
Prime Minister
Government Buildings
Marrion Street
Dublin
Republic of Ireland

Dear Prime Minister Ahern:

Human Rights Watch joins you in your unequivocal condemnation of the recent bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland, which led to a tragic loss of life and hundreds of grievous injuries. We also share your— and the public's— desire to see that those responsible for this heinous crime are apprehended and brought to justice. Understandably, there is great public pressure on your government to use all means necessary to root out the perpetrators. With the political focus firmly trained on security issues, Human Rights Watch urges the Irish government to act in accordance with international human rights standards in the course of its investigation of the bombing.

Of particular concern to Human Rights Watch is the possibility that internment— imprisonment without trial— will be used to incarcerate people on suspicion of their affiliation with dissident republican paramilitary groups. The prospect of invoking internment powers is profoundly problematic. Just last year the U.K. government moved to abandon its powers of internment— not only because internment powers went unused for many years, but also because there appeared to be a genuine recognition that internment was one of the most egregious abuses of state power. The political ramifications of internment cannot be overstated. Violating the rights of a group can only serve to further radicalize the group and it supporters. Moreover, internment is extremely inefficient and, historically, has caught many innocent people with no interest in violence in its net. As opposed to rendering dissident paramilitary groups powerless, internment has the real possibility of further empowering them by fueling potential claims that the government acts outside the law.

Human Rights Watch encourages a fair, impartial and professional investigation of the Omagh bombing that conforms with democratic principles. The Omagh bombers clearly sought to undermine the Multi-Party Agreement. The agreement's human rights provisions recognize that the promotion and protection of human rights are essential elements for a just and lasting peace. By conducting the investigation in accordance with international human rights norms, the Irish government both honors the principles enshrined in the agreement and fulfills its duty to vigorously bring the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing to justice