On International Human Rights Day, Human Rights Watch, along with other rights organizations, urged the U.K. government to establish an independent and impartial inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the murder of human rights defender Rosemary Nelson.

Rosemary Nelson, killed in a car bomb attack in March 1999, was the second human rights lawyer murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland; the first was Patrick Finucane in 1989. The failure to carry out an independent inquiry into Patrick Finucane's death, and to find anyone responsible for his death, contributed to a deterioration in the rule of law, whereby police officers routinely made derogatory and threatening remarks about lawyers with impunity. Rosemary Nelson also alleged police intimidation and her murder further undermined the rule of law. Her killing was an indictment of the U.K. government's and the Royal Ulster Constabulary's (RUC) failure to protect her life.

"A criminal investigation cannot adequately address the failure of government and the police to heed repeated warnings that Rosemary's Nelson's life was under threat," said Julia Hall, counsel in the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. "Moreover, the RUC's continuing involvement in the Nelson murder investigation undermines confidence that her complaints regarding police intimidation will ever be thoroughly and impartially investigated."

The organizations urged the U.K. authorities to meet their obligations under international standards to carry out an independent, thorough and impartial inquiry into the Nelson murder including investigations of:

Rosemary Nelson's complaints to the Independent Commission on Police Complaints regarding persistent RUC harassment and intimidation;

  • Alleged RUC harassment and intimidation of other lawyers through their clients in special interrogation centres;
  • Death threats Rosemary Nelson received in the context of other death threats targeting nationalists issued by loyalist paramilitaries at the same time; ;
  • The RUC's failure to carry out an impartial investigation into her allegations of police abuse;
  • The RUC's failure to investigate other lawyers' allegations of police intimidation and abuse;
  • The RUC's failure to take Rosemary Nelson's fears seriously, to take numerous human rights organizations' complaints regarding threats to her life seriously and ultimately to protect her life;
  • The Northern Ireland Office's failure to ensure protection of Rosemary Nelson's life despite repeated warnings and pleas by international organizations such as the United Nations and many human rights groups; and
  • The Northern Ireland Office's failure to comply with most of the U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 1998 recommendations concerning the intimidation of lawyers.

The joint statement is at https://www.hrw.org/press/1999/dec/nire1210b.htm

Fore More Information:
Julia Hall, Buffalo 1 716 803 1127
Urmi Shah, London +44 171 713 1995
Alex Frangos, New York 1 212 216 1844