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Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 - United Kingdom

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1995
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 - United Kingdom, 1 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fcab2c.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

The leading human rights development of 1994 was the August 31 cease-fire announcement by the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, followed six weeks later by a similar announcement from their loyalist counterparts – the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). This was the first bilateral cease-fire aimed toward long-term peace since the long-simmering "Troubles" erupted into armed conflict in 1969. Among the more than 3,300 people killed in the long conflict were fifty-eight killed between January and October 1994 (fifty-two civilians, three police officers and three British soldiers). In 1994, murders by loyalist paramilitaries (thirty-three) outnumbered those by republicans (twenty-four) for the third straight year. Security forces killed one person in 1994 in disputed circumstances.

On October 21, Prime Minister John Major accepted the cease-fire as genuine and offered to hold talks with Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, before the end of 1994. Major simultaneously announced the opening of roads between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and a partial lifting of the exclusion order that had prevented dozens of presumed terrorists from entering other parts of Britain; earlier, he had lifted the much-criticized five-year-old broadcasting ban against proscribed groups (see below). Most significantly, Major stated Britain's intent to remove British soldiers from Northern Ireland eventually and turn over policing to an entirely civilian force.

Despite these positive developments, grave human rights concerns remained in Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, a cluster of "emergency" legal provisions continued to restrict severely the due process rights of detainees and criminal defendants. Among these, the 1973 Emergency Provisions Act removed the right to trial by jury for a broad range of serious criminal charges, including murder, manslaughter, rioting, and robbery. Still in effect in late 1994, it also permitted the use of uncorroborated confessions, which were relied on in nearly 90 percent of all prosecutions for alleged terrorist offenses; over the years, numerous allegations of coercion had surfaced in connection with the extraction of confessions. The right to silence, a crucial component of the right against self-incrimination, had been eviscerated by the 1988 Criminal Evidence Order, which allowed judges to "draw adverse inferences" from a suspect's refusal to answer questions. Finally, the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act allowed suspects to be held seven days without charge. During the first forty-eight hours, detainees could be interrogated without access to a lawyer. Because less than 25 percent of those detained under the PTA have been charged later with criminal offenses, it had long appeared that PTA detention and interrogation powers were frequently used to search for information rather than investigate specific crimes.

In January 1994, the first annual report of the independent commissioner for the holding centres, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, was released. Blom-Cooper, who was appointed in late 1992 amid growing criticism of the holding centres in Northern Ireland and reports of ill-treatment of detainees, reported many of the same concerns previously raised by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and others. These included substandard physical conditions in the holding centres, a need for audio and video recording of interrogations to guard against impermissible coercion, and a need for prompt access to legal advice. Unfortunately, Blom-Cooper's proposed solution for quick legal advice – creation of a state-run in-house solicitor scheme – would severely restrict detainees' right to choice of counsel and right to attorney-client confidentiality. His laudable proposal for electronic monitoring of interrogation sessions was opposed by the secretary of state to Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew. The presence of juveniles in the holding centres – thirty-seven were detained in 1993 – was not investigated by Blom-Cooper, despite international law forbidding the detention of juveniles together with adults.

The failure of normal policing in troubled areas of Belfast contributed to the phenomenon of "alternative policing" by the IRA and, to a lesser extent, the Ulster Defense Association (UDA). During 1994, under this system of summary punishment and intimidation, people believed to be guilty of common crimes, including many juveniles, were subjected to banishment from Northern Ireland, brutal beatings, and "kneecappings," or punishment shootings of knees and other joints. There is no semblance of due process in this procedure. Punishment beatings and shootings continued after the August cease-fire.

Curbs on free expression continued in the United Kingdom, which has no Bill of Rights or other written protection for free speech. The Official Secrets Act criminalizes disclosure of vast categories of state information, thereby screening large portions of government conduct from public scrutiny. There is no explicit protection for peaceful assembly, and the Public Order Act of 1986 grants the police power to restrict or ban public gatherings.

The government lifted the 1988 broadcasting ban that had prevented the airing of the voices of members of Sinn Fein or proscribed Northern Ireland paramilitary groups. This development, while positive, highlighted the need for laws fully protecting British media from government interference.

Overcrowding in prisons continued to raise human rights concerns in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, prisoners rioted in July at the Crumlin Road jail to protest unsanitary conditions and severe overcrowding. About 200 prisoners were subsequently transferred. Hunger strikes and protests by those who remained were reportedly met by threats and excessive violence by prison authorities.

The Right to Monitor

International and domestic human rights activists exerted a vigorous and visible presence in Northern Ireland, and for the most part operated free from government interference or intimidation. One disturbing exception to this in 1994 was a statement made in the House of Commons by Member of Parliament Douglas Trimble, who accused three men, including "one of the Finucane brothers," of being "well-known IRA godfathers." This was considered to be a reference to Martin Finucane, who runs the Patrick Finucane Center for Human Rights and Social Change. Patrick Finucane, Martin's brother, a well-known and respected civil rights and criminal defense lawyer, was killed in 1989, three weeks after a speaker in Parliament accused unspecified solicitors of being "unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA." Many other defense attorneys in Northern Ireland have been threatened and harassed for their work on behalf of those accused of terrorist actions. Given this background, Trimble's remarks presented a clear danger to the safety of Martin Finucane.

U.S. Policy

The State Departments's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 in the section on the United Kingdom noted many ongoing human rights concerns, including British policy on the use of lethal force, threats to and intimidation of Northern Ireland defense attorneys, harassment of civilians by Northern Ireland security forces, restrictions on due process, and substandard conditions in prisons and holding centres. Despite these observations, the Clinton administration remained silent on the issue of human rights in the United Kingdom.

The United States offered vocal support for the Northern Ireland peace process and, according to many observers, played an extremely useful role in brokering peace. In fiscal year 1994, as in previous years, Congress appropriated $20 million to the International Fund for Ireland, which "promotes peace and reconciliation through economic progress." In November 1994, the administration announced its intention to secure a "peace dividend" of an additional $10 million, and to expand the role of the National Endowment for Democracy, the United States Information Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Northern Ireland.

After repeated denials in 1993, the Clinton administration granted Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams a two-day visa to the U.S. in February 1994. Adams was given a visa again in October, following the IRA cease-fire announcement; while in the U.S. Adams met with senior State Department officials, marking the first official contact between the United States government and Sinn Fein. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki had criticized the earlier visa denials, arguing that they violated Adams' right to free expression.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

In 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki helped support the work of local human rights activists by issuing reports and otherwise bringing international attention to the human rights situation in Northern Ireland. In March, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki released a newsletter highlighting continuing human rights abuses, including the use of plastic bullets for crowd control, harassment by security forces, and allegations of collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. In April, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki wrote to British government officials to express concern regarding the heavy militarization of Crossmaglen, a small town near the Irish border. The militarization of Crossmaglen remained a concern at year's end, as reports of excessive radiation levels, caused by the heavy concentration of military surveillance equipment along the border, and corresponding illnesses and deaths were confirmed by medical researchers.

In June and again in September, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki met with the independent commissioner for the holding centres and offered a critique of his first annual report. Our concerns, spelled out in a detailed letter and shared with Northern Ireland human rights activists, focused on protecting detainees' right to counsel.

In October, the newly formed Children's Rights Project of Human Rights Watch reported to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the abuse of children in Northern Ireland. The report, drawing on groundwork laid by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, reported on the abuse of children in the criminal justice system, street harassment of children by security forces, and abuse of children by paramilitary organizations on both sides of the conflict.

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