Reports of human rights abuses continued, including killings in disputed circumstances, deaths in custody and ill-treatment by police and in prisons, and detention in cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions. Many asylum-seekers were detained. Armed political groups committed human rights abuses.

Referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in May approved a Multi-Party Agreement concerning the future of Northern Ireland. It proposed the establishment of three interconnected bodies: a Northern Ireland Assembly, which was elected in June; a North-South Ministerial Council, and a Council of the Isles. The Agreement also proposed initiatives to enhance human rights promotion and protection, including the establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The Commission is empowered to review laws and practice relating to human rights, to conduct research and to promote human rights awareness. Although it may carry out investigations, the Commission is not empowered to compel information.

Under the Multi-Party Agreement, an Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland was established to recommend reforms to ensure fair, impartial and accountable policing. The Commission accepted written submissions and held public meetings throughout Northern Ireland. A criminal justice review was also launched. Appointed commissioners approved the release of about 230 people sentenced under emergency legislation in Northern Ireland, who were associated with armed political groups which maintained cease-fires.

Violence continued in Northern Ireland before and after the Multi-Party Agreement. In July violence erupted during protests by the Protestant Orange Order and other groups, over the Parades Commission's decision to re-route a Protestant march in Portadown away from a predominantly Catholic neighbourhood. Three brothers, aged eight, nine, and 10, were killed when their home in Ballymoney was fire-bombed, allegedly by Loyalists, although no group claimed responsibility. Protests continued in Portadown, erupting sporadically into violence. In August "the Real IRA", an armed Republican group opposed to the Multi-Party Agreement, claimed responsibility for a bomb in Omagh which killed 29 people and injured hundreds. Following strong public condemnation, "the Real IRA" announced a cessation of military activity.

Following the Omagh bombing, the government rushed to introduce additional emergency powers. The Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, passed in September, contained measures which even the government called "draconian". They included relaxing the rules of evidence to allow opinions of senior police officers to form the basis of prosecutions for membership of proscribed organizations (see Ireland entry). This law also created a new offence of conspiracy to commit offences outside the United Kingdom (UK).

In October former Chilean General Augusto Pinochet was arrested in England following a request from Spain, where charges against him for crimes against humanity, torture and hostage-taking were pending. Claiming immunity, he challenged the legality of his arrest and detention for extradition. In November the House of Lords rejected his claim of immunity as a former head of state but, after a successful challenge to the composition of the judicial panel, a new panel of the House of Lords was scheduled to reconsider the claim of immunity in 1999 (see Chile and Spain entries).

In November, following its examination of the government's third periodic report, the UN Committee against Torture recommended measures to improve implementation of provisions of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In November the Human Rights Act was enacted, incorporating most of the provisions of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms into UK law. It also abolished the death penalty, except for acts committed in time of war or imminent threat of war. The Act, which does not provide for a human rights commission, was not due to come into force for over a year.

In March a judicial inquiry began into the Metropolitan Police investigation of the killing of Stephen Lawrence in an unprovoked racist attack in south London in 1993. The inquiry heard evidence about police failure to carry out an impartial and thorough investigation into the killing. A second part of the inquiry – which looked into issues relating to policing, including racism – was continuing at the end of the year.

The Police Complaints Authority began an inquiry into serious mistakes made during the Metropolitan Police's investigation of the death of black musician Michael Menson, after an inquest concluded in September that he had been unlawfully killed by white youths. The Racial and Violent Crime Task Force, created by the Metropolitan Police in response to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, reopened investigations into his death and that of Ricky Reel.

In January, seven men were convicted on charges relating to their consensual homosexual activities in private, under laws which place discriminatory restrictions on sexual behaviour between men. If imprisoned Amnesty International would consider them prisoners of conscience. An appeal was pending at the end of the year.

There were reports of killings by law enforcement officials in disputed circumstances and developments in cases from previous years. In January James Ashley was shot and killed by police in disputed circumstances in Hastings. Five officers were suspended and investigations were pending at the end of the year.

In January the government announced the establishment of a new inquiry into the killing of 13 unarmed people in Northern Ireland on "Bloody Sunday" (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Hearings were scheduled to begin in 1999.

In September the family of Fergal Caraher, who was killed by soldiers in Northern Ireland in 1990, was awarded compensation (see Amnesty International Reports 1991 and 1994).

In November it was announced that two soldiers, who had been released in September from their life sentences for killing Peter McBride in Northern Ireland in 1992, would not be dismissed from the army (see Amnesty International Reports 1993 and 1996).

In November the retrial began of Lee Clegg, a British soldier convicted of murdering Karen Reilly in 1990 (see Amnesty International Reports 1992, 1994 and 1996), after hearing new forensic evidence. The retrial had not been completed by the end of the year.

Deaths in custody were reported. In April Christopher Alder died in police custody in Hull. It was reported that, after being restrained, he was dragged from a police van and left lying motionless for about 10 minutes, face down, before officers attempted to give assistance. Five officers were suspended, although no decisions to prosecute had been made by the end of the year. In July Nathan Delahunty died, reportedly after being restrained by police officers.

Courts refused to order new inquests into the unrelated deaths in police custody in 1995 of Brian Douglas and Wayne Douglas (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997).

The Director of Public Prosecutions completed reviews of decisions not to prosecute police officers involved in arresting Richard O'Brien, Shiji Lapite, and Ibrahima Sey, whose deaths in previous years each involved postural asphyxia after being restrained. In separate inquests, juries found that each had been unlawfully killed. Three police officers were charged in connection with Richard O'Brien's death. Decisions were made not to prosecute officers involved in the arrest or restraint of the other two (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 to 1998).

In March an inquest jury ruled that Alton Manning, who died in 1995 in Blakenhurst prison (see Amnesty International Report 1996), had been unlawfully killed. Although seven officers were suspended from the prison, no charges had been brought by the end of the year.

In November the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about the number of deaths in police custody and the apparent failure of the state to provide effective investigative mechanisms to deal with allegations of police and prison authorities' abuse. The report of an inquiry into the prosecution authorities' handling of deaths in custody had been completed, but not published, by the end of the year.

Ill-treatment by police continued to be reported and compensation was awarded in cases from previous years. In February the High Court in Belfast found that most of the injuries inflicted on David Adams during arrest and at Castlereagh Holding Centre in 1994 were "more likely the result of direct, deliberate blows" and awarded him compensation. An investigation was carried out by Scottish police, but no decision on whether to prosecute had been taken by the end of the year.

In the report of his 1997 fact-finding mission, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers concluded that police officers in Northern Ireland engaged in "activities which constitute intimidation, harassment and hindrance" of lawyers. He recommended an inquiry into such practices and a judicial inquiry into the 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane, a lawyer who had been a target of such practices by the security forces. Metropolitan Police officers were appointed to inquire into complaints of harassment by police in Northern Ireland of another lawyer, Rosemary Nelson.

Concerns continued about the use of plastic bullets by security forces in Northern Ireland (see Amnesty International Report 1998). The number of people who suffered head and upper body injuries after being shot with plastic bullets by the security forces during the parade season indicated that guidelines requiring shots to be aimed below the waist had not been consistently followed. In November the UN Committee against Torture recommended that the government abolish the use of plastic bullets.

Police inquiries were launched after allegations emerged in March that prisoners at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London had been subjected to wide-ranging and systematic abuse by prison officers.

Róisín McAliskey was released in March after the Home Secretary declined to extradite her to Germany (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998).

People continued to be detained in small-group isolation in a special unit within Belmarsh Prison, in conditions similar to those in Special Security Units which had been closed in 1997 following reports that they caused mental and physical deterioration of prisoners (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Courts quashed the convictions of Derek Bentley, who was hanged in 1953, and Danny McNamee, who was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment in 1987 on the basis of subsequently discredited forensic evidence (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

In December the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge any of the seven police officers alleged to have fabricated evidence which led to the miscarriage of justice in the case of the Bridgewater Four (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

Many asylum-seekers, including children, were detained pending the outcome of their claims. The prosecution for destruction of property by refugees, who took part in a demonstration at the Campsfield House detention centre in 1997, collapsed after videotapes of the incident showed that evidence provided by staff during the investigation and trial was inconsistent.

Fifty-five people were killed by members of armed political groups in Northern Ireland; a third of the killings were attributed to Loyalists and two-thirds to members of Republican groups. In March Damian Trainor, a Catholic, and Philip Allen, a Protestant, were shot and killed in Poyntzpass by armed men believed by the authorities tobelong to the Loyalist Volunteer Force(LVF). The LVF subsequently called a cease-fire.

In March retired police officer Cyril Stewart was shot dead as he left a supermarket in Armagh; the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) reportedly claimed responsibility for his death. The INLA subsequently called a cease-fire.

Members of armed groups in Northern Ireland carried out more than 200 "punishment" beatings or shootings. Andrew Kearney was dragged from his flat, allegedly by IRA gunmen, and shot in both legs. He bled to death. The IRA admitted responsibility for killing Jean McConville, a Belfast widow and mother of 10, in 1972 and secretly burying her body. In March David Keys, a Loyalist prisoner held in the LVF-wing of the Maze prison, was reportedly tortured before being killed by other prisoners. David Keys was one of four former soldiers facing charges connected with the murders of Philip Allen and Damian Trainor (see above).

Amnesty International welcomed the commitments within the Multi-Party Agreement to respect human rights. Throughout the year it pressed for a review of emergency legislation, called for full implementation of measures to protect human rights and condemned human rights abuses by members of armed political groups in Northern Ireland.

In an oral statement at the UN Commission on Human Rights in April, Amnesty International welcomed the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, which criticized emergency law practices in Northern Ireland, and published United Kingdom: UN report criticizes emergency law practices.

Amnesty International sent an observer to Northern Ireland during the parade season in July in the light of concerns about policing.

In November the organization published its Submission to the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland and in December, an Amnesty International delegate discussed concerns about policing in Northern Ireland with the Commission.

Amnesty International published United Kingdom: Briefing for the Committee against Torture highlighting deaths in custody, cruel, inhuman or degrading prison conditions, ill-treatment in prisons and refugee detention centres, and discriminatory policing. Amnesty International also expressed concern about emergency legislation provisions in Northern Ireland.

In May the organization published United Kingdom: Time to repeal anti-gay criminal laws, urging the government to equalize the age of consent for sexual activity and bring legislation into compliance with its obligations under international law.

In November, appearing as a third party intervenor in the proceedings before the House of Lords relating to former General Pinochet, Amnesty International submitted that no person was immune from prosecution for alleged crimes against humanity and torture.

Amnesty International welcomed government proposals for a limited backlog clearance program for asylum applications, but expressed concern about proposals relating to asylum-seekers, including the imposition of additional pre-entry controls, withdrawal of statutory welfare, curbing access to legal aid and detaining all rejected asylum applicants. The organization reiterated its concerns about the policy and practice of detaining asylum-seekers.

In view of the UK government's agreement to participate with the USA in air strikes against Iraq, Amnesty International called on the UK government to ensure maximum protection of civilian lives in accordance with international humanitarian law. In December the government replied stating that "everything possible would be done to avoid civilian casualties."

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