U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - United Kingdom
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - United Kingdom, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa6420.html [accessed 28 January 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
UNITED KINGDOMThe United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is a longstanding constitutional monarchy with a democratic, parliamentary government. A lower legislative chamber (the House of Commons), the center of parliamentary power, is elected in periodic multiparty elections. An upper chamber (the House of Lords), with power to revise and delay implementation of laws, is made up of hereditary and life peers and senior clergy of the established Church of England. There is an independent judiciary, but Parliament may overrule its decisions. Throughout the United Kingdom, police forces are responsive to, and under the effective control of, civilian officials. Since 1996 the intelligence agency MI-5 has had the authority to act in support of other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious domestic crime. In some areas of Northern Ireland, because of the continuing threat of terrorist and other violence, army units operated to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Although the security forces generally respect human rights and the rule of law, some members of the police committed human rights abuses. The United Kingdom has a highly developed, diversified, market-based economy that provides most residents with a high standard of living. Certain geographic areas, particularly older industrial areas including Northern Ireland, suffer from higher than average unemployment rates. In addition, unemployment tends to be higher among some demographic groups, such as youth and racial minorities. The Government provides comprehensive social welfare services, including a national health system, housing and family benefits, and heavily subsidized higher education. The Government respected the human rights of its citizens, but there were problems in some areas. Police occasionally abused detainees. In September the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture began an investigation into mounting complaints over the Government's failure to prosecute or discipline officers implicated in death-in-custody and prisoner mistreatment cases. After a series of mediation efforts by the Northern Ireland Secretary and others failed to effect a compromise, the decision of the RUC chief constable to permit the Protestant Orange Order to parade through a predominantly Catholic nationalist area of Drumcree on July 6 led to serious and widespread public disturbances throughout Northern Ireland. The chief constable justified his decision as necessary on public order and safety grounds, but Irish nationalists argued that the RUC, which they accuse of consistently favoring loyalists over nationalists, bowed to mob rule. Potentially more serious violence was averted the following week when, in a conciliatory move, the Orange Order voluntarily canceled or rerouted four of the most contentious parades. Unlike the previous year, the violence triggered by the standoff at Drumcree did not lead to loss of life. The July 20 restoration of a cease-fire by the Irish republican Army (IRA) ended a 17-month terrorism campaign and led to the opening of inclusive political talks in September. Following the cease-fire there was a marked decrease--although not a total cessation--of sectarian violence. The IRA denied responsibility for the September 16 detonation of a 400-pound bomb in County Armagh's Markethill area that resulted in extensive property damage, although no loss of life. It is widely believed that a splinter republican group was responsible for the blast. The loyalist cease-fire has generally held since 1994, although there were several killings and other terrorist acts carried out by loyalist paramilitary groups. In light of the continuing cease-fires, about 300 army troops were withdrawn from Northern Ireland to their bases in England, and army patrols in Belfast were substantially reduced as troops remained in barracks. Renewed sectarian violence late in the year led the Northern Ireland authorities to request that patrolling resume in more vulnerable neighborhoods. In an October 1 speech, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced the Government's intention to begin significant reform of the RUC, eliminate indefinite internment without trial (which, although unused for several years, is nevertheless deeply disliked by nationalists), narrow the scope of cases sent to "Diplock" (juryless) courts, and replace the Emergency Provisions Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act with one all-embracing act aimed at building confidence in public institutions. Legislation to do so was introduced later in the year and continued to work its way through Parliament. The Government continued to take steps to combat violence against women. Societal discrimination against nonwhite minorities and the traveler community is a problem, as is child abuse. In August the Government extended race-discrimination protection to Northern Ireland through the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. Police believe that paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland were responsible for 22 deaths, 251 shootings, and 78 bombings during the year. Both republican and loyalist paramilitary groups continued to engage in vigilante "punishment" attacks, although there was a decrease in the number of such incidents even before the July cease-fire. There were at least six instances of arson committed in the spring and one in December against Catholic churches and at least one against a Protestant church. An April attack against a Mormon church was considered an act of vandalism unrelated to Protestant-Catholic animosity.