Human Rights Watch urged an independent policing commission for Northern Ireland to examine human rights issues during its ten-day visit to police forces in the United States.

Human Rights Watch will meet with Chris Patten, chairperson of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, and the other commissioners on Saturday.

Northern Ireland’s police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), has been plagued by allegations of serious human rights violations throughout the course of “the Troubles.” Among the many police abuses Human Rights Watch has documented are physical and psychological ill-treatment in Northern Ireland’s holding centers, the illegal use of plastic bullets, and the intimidation of defense lawyers.

“The RUC has consistently failed to respect human rights,” said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division. “The Policing Commission has a chance now to set up a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for abusive police.” Cartner urged that officers responsible for human rights violations be held accountable for past abuses and that, in the future, human rights be considered a “first principle” of policing.

In July 1998, Human Rights Watch released a study of police abuse in fourteen cities in the United States. “American cops commit human rights violations, too,” said Allyson Collins, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on the United States. “If Chris Patten and the commission are going to study good police practices in the States, they should also look at what American police forces are doing wrong — and be sure to avoid those problems back in Northern Ireland.” Three of the cities the commission will visit — New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta — were part of the Human Rights Watch study.

The Policing Commission, established in June 1998 by the historic Good Friday Agreement, will be spending most of its time in meetings with law enforcement organizations in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Toronto, Canada. The commission has agreed to meet with a small number of U.S.-based international human rights organizations which have conducted research and advocacy on policing in Northern Ireland. In a letter dated November 17, 1998, Human Rights Watch urged the commission to meet with civil liberties groups and community coalitions that have been critical of U.S.-style police practices.

“Some of the best ideas about good police practices aren’t coming from the police — they’re coming from watchdog groups and citizens organizations who represent the victims of police abuse,” said Collins. “ The Policing Commission is consulting mostly with those doing the policing, but it could really benefit by hearing from the ‘policed’.”

Human Rights Watch will present the commission with a briefing paper on vetting the Northern Ireland police force for human rights abusers at a meeting at John Jay College in New York on Saturday, January 16.

For Further Information:
Julia Hall New York: (212) 216-1267
Urmi Shah London: (0171) 713-1995
Allyson Collins Washington (202) 371-6599 x 133 (on U.S. police practices)