Human Rights Watch challenged the U.K. government to bring the Patten Commission report on police reform in Northern Ireland into step with international human rights standards.

"The Patten report is a solid beginning and it should be put into practice," said Julia Hall, counsel in the Europe and Central Asia Division for Human Rights Watch. "But it ignores a number of critical human rights benchmarks that are essential to building confidence in any peacetime police service in Northern Ireland."

Human Rights Watch welcomed the commission's statement that policing in Northern Ireland should be conducted using a "human rights based approach" but noted that the commission does not make recommendations to address a number of serious concerns about policing and human rights. Most notably, the commission did not recommend a vetting mechanism to weed out officers currently serving in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) who have past records of human rights violations.

The group argues that in the absence of a commission of inquiry into the role of the security forces during the conflict or a truth commission modeled along the lines of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a vetting mechanism for accountability for past human rights violations by the police would have at least laid a firm foundation for the future policing arrangements that the commission so carefully contemplated.

"There should be a strong message sent that abuses will not be tolerated in the new policing service," said Hall. "This is the only fair mechanism by which chronic abusers would be made to answer as individuals for such terrible violations."

The group's assessment welcomes the establishment of a Police Board and the commission's call for transparency in policing operations. Recommendations include creating new policing legislation to fully implement the Patten Commission's proposals. The assessment poses a set of questions regarding how legislation on covert policing will interface with the work of the new police ombudsman. The group expresses "profound disappointment" that the Patten Commission did not take a stronger position in support of the repeal of the emergency laws and an outright ban on plastic bullets.

In light of the March 1999 murder of lawyer Rosemary Nelson and recent revelations indicating police collusion on the 1989 murder of lawyer Patrick Finucane, the group criticizes the absence of any language in the commission's report on police intimidation of defense lawyers as "particularly glaring" and urges the government to move urgently to establish mechanisms to protect lawyers from police harassment.

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