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Northern Ireland Policing Commission Should Rid Police Force of Worst Abusers

Accountability Necessary to Instill Public Confidence Principles

Human Rights Watch has urged the Patten Commission to recommend that abusive police officers be held accountable and even excluded from peacetime service.

At a meeting in New York on Saturday, January 16, Human Rights Watch urged the Policing Commission to think beyond the "reform or disband" argument that currently narrows the debate on policing in Northern Ireland. Human Rights Watch encouraged the commission to recommend a vetting procedure whereby the records of people who want to serve on a peacetime police force are rigorously examined to determine whether they have a history of committing human rights abuses.

"The ‘reform or disband' debate doesn't get us very far," said Holly Cartner, executive director, Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "The bottom line is that the police force should have an officer corps free of human rights abusers. Vetting the force will provide a measure of accountability and build public confidence in a peacetime policing service.

In a briefing paper presented to the Policing Commission, Human Rights Watch recommends the establishment of a genuinely independent vetting unit that conducts extensive background checks on every person who served as an Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer and wants to serve in a peacetime policing service. Persons subject to the vetting process would be accorded a full range of "due process" guarantees in conformity with international human rights standards.

The group lists numerous sources of information that could be consulted for evidence of past abusive conduct by RUC officers, including classified government documents such as the Stalker/Sampson report; judgments from civil actions where the RUC has been found liable for rights violations; court cases where the bench rejects confession evidence because it was obtained in an illegal manner (e.g. by physical or psychological coercion); investigative files of the director of public prosecutions where the DPP decided not to prosecute officers under a "national interest" exemption; complaints files from the Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC); and inquest depositions. The group also recommends a community consultation process affording the public an opportunity to comment on rights abuses by individual officers.

Human Rights Watch maintains in the paper that it is "imperative to note that any vetting process in the post-conflict period...be informed by the basic understanding that accountability mechanisms and safeguards against police abuse during the conflict were largely ineffective and failed to hold accountable many officers who committed [human rights] abuses."

"RUC officers have operated in an environment of virtual impunity," said Cartner. "Now, to consolidate the Good Friday agreement, there needs to be a thorough accounting."

Link to the Briefing Paper

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

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