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9 April 1998 Edition

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RUC harassment of solicitors ``ongoing''

Cumaraswamy speaks out



By Mary Maguire

The author of the UN report into RUC harassment of solicitors has said that the practises described in the report are ongoing. ``I have had further reports of harassment and this proves that things have not changed,'' he said.

Distinguished Malaysian jurist Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, Special UN Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, found the RUC guilty of ``intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference'' against defence solicitors.

The report pays specific attention to the circumstances surrounding the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, reiterating the need to fully investigate allegations of Crown force collusion. The report highlights the comments of British Minister Douglas Hogg, threats by the RUC as well as the role of British agent Brian Nelson. It recommends restoration of the right to jury trials, restoration of the right to silence and the installation of video and audio recording equipment in interrogation centres as ``a matter of urgency''.

Cumaraswamy has spoken to reporters about the RUC welcome during his fact-finding mission last October. ``When I first visited the RUC, I was told that Pat Finucane's murder was one out of many. But it wasn't. This murder had a chilling effect and encouraged some lawyers to go as far as abandoning the defence of such [political] cases''. He added: ``When I got back to the RUC Chief Constable after a few days [during which he gathered evidence], he seemed surprised that I had all this information. He refused to answer my questions on the grounds that he was not involved at the time''.

Talking about the Stevens' Inquiry, Cumaraswamy said: ``something is lying there... I was asked to direct my questions to John Stevens. But my questions were obviously of such great concern to him that he refused to answer''.

Speaking of the RUC interrogation methods at Castlereagh and Gough, he added: ``There is a clear pattern in the interrogation methods. Their nature, but specially their tone leads to believe that the officers are coached and trained to carry out interrogations in such a way''.

He said he had advised the British government about the recent threats made on the lives of several solicitors, particularly Rosemary Nelson from Lurgan. ``I expect the government to have taken good note of this and to have offered whatever security she may require...I appeal to anyone who has had reports or been victim of such behaviour to immediately report it to me. If solicitors experience such problems, we will rush to their aid''.

Cumaraswamy said he would ``keep on pushing'' for an immediate inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder and would ``put the matter to the government'' as much as required. ``I don't think that they have understood what I want with the opening of a judicial inquiry,'' he said. ``I want to know if there was collusion between the loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces. I think we have to give them a little time. I trust the British to uphold a judicial system which they have been talking to the world about for so many years...''

The refusal by the British government to open an immediate independent public inquiries into the murder of Pat Finucane and allegations of RUC intimidation of solicitors was made public hours after the report was presented in Geneva to the Human Rights annual Commission on 1 April. It did not come as a surprise.

The heads of the British delegation did not even consider it necessary to sit in at the Commission during Cumaraswamy's presentation. Two very young British interns, who are said to have refused to answer journalists' questions, dismissing them as ``unreasonable'', were left sitting alone behind the Crown delegation's desk.

But the British government released a so-called ``substantiated answer'' to human rights activists hours before Cumaraswamy made his speech.

``We would ask to be provided with the specific details on which the allegations are made,'' the statement said. In regard to access to lawyers, the government stated that ``access was rarely deferred,'' clearly challenging Mr. Cumaraswamy's findings, which were based on interviews with solicitors as well as prison and interrogation staff. Closed visits are justified by saying that ``the policy provides for open visits in exceptional circumstances.

Pat Finucane's murder is not a ``matter of urgent public importance''. The document states: ``The information [on Bloody Sunday] given to the government last year raised sufficient concern to justify an inquiry. This is not the case with the murder of Mr Finucane''.
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