Covering events from January-December 2001

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II
Head of government: Tony Blair
Capital: London
Population: 59.5 million
Official language: English
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

New security legislation, in the wake of the 11 September attacks in the USA, opened the door to human rights violations. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United Kingdom (UK) had violated the right to life in Northern Ireland. There was an increase in paramilitary killings and shootings in Northern Ireland. The authorities failed to bring prosecutions in a number of controversial cases of deaths in custody in England. There were inadequate safeguards to prevent the suicide of young people in prisons.


Paramilitary violence, in the form of shootings, beatings and sectarian attacks, increased in Northern Ireland. A complete breakdown in the peace process was averted in August when the UK and Irish governments proposed a package of measures to the political parties in Northern Ireland. The UK government announced in October that it no longer accepted that one of the main Loyalist paramilitary organizations, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), was observing a cease-fire.

In the wake of Britain's worst race riots and disturbances since 1985, which took place in several cities in England, AI warned that the government must actively tackle racism at all levels of society. AI had documented cases of discriminatory practices in relation to deaths in police custody, detention, ill-treatment, investigations into racist killings and attacks, and other aspects of the criminal justice system. The Director General of the Prison Service referred in January to "blatant malicious pockets of racism" within prisons. In April the Racial and Violent Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Police said that racist attacks increased whenever politicians made inflammatory statements about asylum-seekers.

In March a review of the coroner system was announced, which will extend to the procedures for investigation and certification of deaths, including post-mortem examinations and inquests.

In October the UN Human Rights Committee examined the UK's fifth periodic report on its implementation of obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). While noting improvements, the Committee identified concerns, including the failure to carry out fully independent and comprehensive investigations into a number of murders in Northern Ireland; racially motivated violence, including within the justice system; and the detention of asylum-seekers in prisons.

Response to the 11 September attacks

In the aftermath of the 11 September attacks in the USA, racist attacks on individuals and mosques were reported.

The UK government assumed a political leadership role in the US-led coalition that on 7 October began a bombing campaign in Afghanistan. In November AI called on the USA, UK and the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (United Front) to conduct an inquiry into the deaths of hundreds of Taleban prisoners and others at Qala-i-Jhangi fort, after an uprising by some Taleban captives was put down by bombing by US warplanes and United Front artillery. (See Afghanistan entry.) The UK rejected the call for an inquiry.

Northern Ireland

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights concluded in May that the UK had violated the right to life in four cases brought by the families of 12 people, 11 killed by the security forces and one by an armed Loyalist group with the alleged collusion of the security forces. The Court found that procedures for investigating the use of lethal force by the security forces failed to meet the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. It criticized the lack of independence of the investigating police officers from the officers implicated; the lack of reasons given for failure to prosecute; the lack of public scrutiny; the lack of information provided to the victims' families by the authorities; and defects in the inquest procedure, including lack of verdicts and the failure to compel security force members to give evidence.

  • In February David Wright, the father of the murdered Loyalist leader Billy Wright, obtained a ruling by the High Court that he should be given witness statements relating to his son's death. Billy Wright was shot dead in the Maze prison in December 1997 by two Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners. His father claimed collusion between prison officers and the Republican prisoners and called for a public inquiry into the shooting.
  • In April the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers called again for an independent judicial inquiry into the Loyalist murders of human rights lawyers Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. Although police investigations continued in both cases, no one was successfully prosecuted.
  • The trial of William Stobie – a former member of the UDA and the only person charged in connection with the 1989 murder of Patrick Finucane – collapsed in November after the prosecution was abandoned. Two weeks later William Stobie was killed in a shooting claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a Loyalist armed group. William Stobie said that, before the killing of Patrick Finucane, he had warned Special Branch, the security police, of a planned killing but no action was taken. Johnston Brown, a former police officer, alleged in May that Special Branch had failed to provide the police investigation into Patrick Finucane's death with a 1991 tape recorded confession by a Loyalist to the killing, and that a decision to pursue the investigation had been blocked at a high level.
  • In August the UK and Irish governments proposed, as part of a package to break the political deadlock in Northern Ireland, that an international judge investigate six killings in which the security forces had allegedly colluded. The cases were: Patrick Finucane; Rosemary Nelson; Robert Hamill; Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, two police officers; Lord Justice Maurice and Lady Cecily Gibson; and Billy Wright.

The remaining interrogation centre, Gough Barracks, where ill-treatment had previously been reported, was closed down in September. People arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 during the year were detained and questioned at designated police stations, in the presence of their lawyers.

In May the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported on its 1999 visit to Northern Ireland. Its delegation heard allegations of ill-treatment in holding centres and prisons. It saw video evidence of a detainee at Castlereagh interrogation centre in 1999 being thrown against a wall and struck with a desk. The government informed the CPT that the complaint had been investigated and rejected.
  • Bernard Griffin was awarded £100,000 (US$141,700) in an out-of-court settlement. He alleged that he had been beaten by police officers in 1998.
Killings, shootings and beatings by armed groups

The number of shootings and bombings by armed groups increased markedly. There were reportedly 19 killings by armed groups during the year, of which 14 were by Loyalists and five by Republicans. There was an upsurge in sectarian attacks, including petrol bomb attacks on people's homes. A prolonged Loyalist protest at Holy Cross School in north Belfast, resulting in the violent intimidation of young schoolgirls, highlighted the growing polarization between loyalists and nationalists within parts of Northern Ireland.
  • The Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for a number of killings, including of Martin O'Hagan, a well-known Catholic journalist, in September, and 18-year-old Gavin Brett, a Protestant mistaken for a Catholic, in August.
  • In November the INLA reportedly killed Charles Folliard, a Protestant.
There was also an increase in the number of "punishment" shootings and beatings by armed groups of people within their own communities. According to police figures, 331 such attacks were carried out in 2001. Loyalists reportedly carried out 121 shootings and 91 assaults, and Republicans carried out 66 and 53 respectively. Many of the victims were young men; some were children under the age of 18. Hundreds of people were forced, under threat of paramilitary violence, to flee Northern Ireland.
  • Jim Lismore was reportedly "punished" by Republicans by being shot through both hands, feet and elbows in April.
Police shootings

Police shot dead several people in disputed circumstances during 2001, including one who reportedly was mentally ill.

  • In May all prosecutions collapsed against Sussex police officers involved in an armed raid which resulted in the killing of James Ashley. He was shot dead, while naked and unarmed, by police in his home in Hastings, Sussex, in 1998. An investigation by Kent police, supervised by the Police Complaints Authority, concluded that the police raid was based on deliberately false intelligence. In June the Chief Constable of Sussex resigned and in December it was announced that three police officers involved in planning the raid would face disciplinary charges.
  • In December the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided, after a second review of the case, not to prosecute two police officers for the killing of Harry Stanley in 1999.
Past deaths in police custody
  • In October the CPS announced that it had reviewed new evidence in the case of Christopher Alder and that five police officers would face manslaughter charges. The new evidence suggested that Christopher Alder, who died in April 1998 in a police station, might have survived had he been given immediate medical assistance.
  • In May the High Court postponed until after the inquest a judicial review of the CPS decision not to prosecute any of the eight London police officers allegedly involved in the restraint of Roger Sylvester, aged 30. Detained under the Mental Health Act in January 1999, he died after being restrained. The inquest was pending at the end of the year.
Past deaths in prison
  • In June the CPS announced, for the third time since 1996, that it would not prosecute any prison officer in connection with the death of Alton Manning, who died in December 1995 after being restrained in prison.
  • In October the High Court ruled that there should be a public and independent investigation into the "systemic" failures which led to the murder of Zahid Mubarek in his prison cell by a violent and racist cellmate in March 2000. A government appeal against the decision had not been heard by the end of the year.
Suicides in prison

There were inadequate safeguards to prevent prisoners from committing suicide. In April the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK had violated provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Mark Keenan who had committed suicide in prison in 1993. It found that he had not been provided with the treatment required for a mentally ill person and that the inquest into his death did not provide a remedy for determining the liability of the authorities for any alleged mistreatment or for providing compensation.
  • In April an inquest into the suicide of Kevin Henson, aged 17, heard that medical records had not been communicated to prison staff and that he had therefore not been regarded as "at risk".
  • Internal inquiries were opened into the deaths in October of two youths who reportedly hanged themselves in institutions for young offenders: 19-year-old Luke Cortezo-Malone and 16-year-old Kevin Jacobs.
Ill-treatment and racism in prisons

Prisoners continued to allege ill-treatment and racist abuse within prisons, and to complain about an inadequate system to investigate their allegations.
  • In September, three prison officers were convicted of ill-treating prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs Prison, London, during the 1990s. Three other officers had previously been convicted on similar charges. AI urged the government to carry out an independent inquiry into what appeared to be a pattern of systematic abuse in the prison.

In September the High Court ruled that the detention of four Iraqi Kurdish asylum-seekers was unlawful because it violated their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge ruled that the detention was being used solely to facilitate quick decision-making. This ruling was overturned in October in the Court of Appeal. Leave was given to appeal further to the House of Lords.

In October the Home Secretary announced plans to overhaul radically the asylum system.

Child soldiers

By the end of 2001, the UK had not ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the UN Children's Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Under-18s were deployed to Macedonia and during the military intervention in Afghanistan.
  • In June a verdict of accidental death was returned at the inquest into the death of Wayne Richards, a 17-year-old recruit shot dead while training in March 2000.
Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh

In November the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal against conviction and sentencing by Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh. They had been sentenced in 1996 to 20 years' imprisonment after being convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions in 1994 at the Israeli Embassy and Balfour House in London. AI believes their convictions were unsafe and that they were denied their right to a fair trial.

Freedom of expression
  • In April the preliminary hearing in the trial of David Shayler started. The former intelligence agent was charged under the Official Secrets Act after alleging misconduct by security and intelligence agencies. The defence argued that the Official Secrets Act was inconsistent with the Human Rights Act. The court ruled that the defence could not argue that his actions had been in the public interest, a ruling upheld by the Court of Appeal.
AI country reports/visits

  • United Kingdom: Northern Ireland – an inclusive Bill of Rights for all (AI Index: EUR 45/006/2001)
  • United Kingdom: Creating a shadow criminal justice system in the name of "fighting international terrorism" (AI Index: EUR 45/019/2001)
  • United Kingdom: Summary of concerns raised with the Human Rights Committee (AI Index: EUR 45/024/2001)
  • United Kingdom: Strengthening proposals for the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights (AI Index: EUR 45/025/2001)

AI delegates visited Northern Ireland in April and September. Delegates observed hearings in David Shayler's case in April and July, and the appeal hearing in October in the case of Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh.

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