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Human Rights Developments

Cease-fires declared by paramilitary organizations in 1994 led to calls for the repeal of Northern Ireland=s draconian emergency legislation regime. In January 1996, with the cease-fires still in force, the United Kingdom (U.K.) renewed the Emergency Provisions Act (EPA) for another two years commencing in August 1996. In doing so, the U.K. government ignored calls made in 1995 for the repeal of emergency legislation from the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the U.N. Committee Against Torture.

The emergency legislation regime severely curtails due process rights with decidedly compromised standards for arrest, detention, interrogation, and the right to counsel in comparison with universally accepted standards under international law. Since 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has called for the total repeal of the emergency legislation. In addition, European legal institutions have found the U.K. guilty on more than one occasion of human rights violations under emergency legislation provisions. The U.K. has failed to support its renewal of the emergency regime with credible proof required under European law that an emergency posing a Athreat to the life of the nation@ exists.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) resumed its campaign of violence in February 1996 with a bomb at Canary Wharf in London. The bombing came only weeks after the International Body on Arms Decommissioning, chaired by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, issued a report on January 24, 1996, recommending the de-commissioning of paramilitary weapons as a process parallel and integral to peace talks but not as a pre-condition to talks. After abandoning its cease-fire, the IRA claimed responsibility for seven bombs on the U.K. mainland. On October 7, 1996, the Provisional IRA resumed bombing in Northern Ireland with the explosion of two car bombs inside British army headquarters at Lisburn, southwest of Belfast, killing one soldier and injuring thirty people.

The Mitchell report also stressed the need for confidence building measures such as action on policing, prisoners, and an end to emergency legislation. Human rights groups have argued that issues of justice and accountability are at the core of the conflict and must be at the center of any attempt to broker a solution. They have been concerned that the lack of attention to human rights concerns by the U.K. has contributed to the failure of the peace process.

Despite the eighteen-month cease-fire, paramilitaries on both sides of the conflict continued to engage in punishment beatings and shootings in the course of community policing. Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD), associated with the IRA, claimed responsibility for the deaths of seven alleged drug dealers in December 1995 and January 1996. The Irish Times (Belfast) reported in late January that the IRA had suspended its campaign of killing drug dealers because of its adverse impact on Sinn Fein=s political credibility. DAAD resumed such killings on September 16, 1996, with the shooting death of Sean Devlin, a drug dealer who defied a previous IRA expulsion order by returning to Belfast.

The summer months in Northern Ireland saw continued controversy around the issue of marches by members of the Protestant community through predominantly Catholic neighborhoods. Concerns in particular centered around the breakdown in the rule of law when the police reversed an earlier decision to re-route a march at Drumcree away from a Catholic area under threats of violence from Protestant marchers. Human rights groups also were disturbed by the massive and indiscriminate use of plastic bullets by the security forces, which resulted in numerous injuries. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has called for a total ban on the use of plastic bullets. Of further concern was the death of Dermot McShane who was killed when a British army vehicle ran him over during disturbances in Derry in July and attacks by police in riot gear on people seeking emergency treatment at a city hospital.

In late August, the U.K. government announced the establishment of an independent body, the North Commission, to review current arrangements for handling public processions and Aassociated public order issues in Northern Ireland.@ Given the public=s lack of confidence in both the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the autonomy of state appointed review commissions, there are reservations regarding the practical impact of the commission=s recommendations.

The inquest system in Northern Ireland remained a source of concern. In the case of Patrick Shanaghan, killed by a loyalist paramilitary group in 1991, an inquest was only held after five years. The Shanaghan family withdrew from the inquest after being prevented from raising evidence that suggested official collusion in the death. Nine months before the slaying, Mr. Shanaghan had been warned by an RUC inspector that his life was in danger because his security files had fallen out of a military vehicle and were in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries. An independent inquiry stated that the killing was a very serious crime which Athe authorities who claimed to investigate it did not take seriously.@

Meanwhile, the official peace talks were beset by procedural wrangling, and little progress was made toward addressing substantive issues.

The Right to Monitor

There were no reported violations of the right to monitor.

The Role of the International Community


On February 8, 1996, the European Court of Human Rights held in Murray v. U.K. that the restrictions on access to legal advice under the emergency legislation, coupled with the ability to draw adverse inferences from silence in the face of police interrogation, violated the European Convention on Human Rights guarantee of a fair trial. The U.K. government declined to amend the emergency legislation in response to the court=s ruling but has indicated that it is studying the court=s judgment.

The United States

The Clinton administration remained actively involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland, although the administration generally failed to highlight the centrality of human rights issues to resolving the conflict.

The U.K. section of the U.S. State Department=s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 cited the concerns expressed by the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Committee Against Torture about the U.K.=s failure to protect human rights in Northern Ireland.

(for other problems in the U.K., see The Right to Asylum in the European Union)

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