22 April 1999 Edition
Impetus for Rosemary Nelson Campaign
The launch of the Rosemary Nelson Campaign on Monday, 19 April, has given fresh impetus to the efforts of the assassinated solicitor's family and friends to force the British government to order an independent, international judicial inquiry into her death.
The group now intends to ask UN investigator Param Cumaraswamy to oversee the inquiry, and An Phoblacht has been told that Dr. Cumaraswamy has indicated privately to those involved with the campaign that he would be prepared to assist any independent inquiry.
Now, with the passing of a motion by the United States House of Representatives calling for an independent inquiry into the killing and human rights hearings in the House due to get underway today, the pressure on the British government to remove the RUC from the case is mounting. The campaign took out a full page advertisement in the Irish Times of Wednesday, 21 April, calling on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to back the call for a full and independent inquiry.
The same day, Congressman Chris Smith's Resolution 128, calling for an independent inquiry, was adopted by the full House of Representatives.
At Monday's launch of the Nelson Campaign in Belfast, spokesperson Dr. Robbie McVeigh said that ``human rights lawyers are in the front line of the defence of human rights around the world.
``In this context the murder of Rosemary Nelson was a direct and profound attack on the human rights of everybody in the North of Ireland. The campaign is about ``securing the truth''.
London-based lawyer Gareth Peirce, who spoke at the launch, said that to have a ``failed or misleading campaign would be worse than no investigation at all''.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan has criticised the British government's response to the recent UN report on the intimidation of lawyers in the North. ``The response is arrogant and dismissive and is indicative of the whole attitude of the British government towards policing and human rights'', she said. ``On the issue of the murder of Rosemary Nelson, the fact is that the RUC, at the very least, created a climate in which it was possible to murder her.''
Dr. Param Cumaraswamy's report slammed the RUC and the British government. He accused the RUC of negligence in the way it dealt with threats made against Rosemary Nelson, accused Ronnie Flanagan of allowing the ``situation to deteriorate'', reiterated his request for a fully independent inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, and called for the publication of John Stevens' reports.
Cumaraswamy also added that ``prime facie'' RUC evidence of collusion existed.
The British response to the UN document has sparked widespread outrage. It states that ``it should not be taken to suggest that the RUC had any involvement, directly or indirectly, in her murder''. It goes on to argue that Ronnie Flanagan has approached the Law Society and has discussed the issue of confidence in the RUC complaints mechanism. Given that it was the executive of the Law Society that blocked attempts for their own subcommittee to consider the British-Irish Watch document containing new evidence on the Pat Finucane murder, this can hardly been seen as a positive measure.
U.S. House calls for independent Nelson and Finucane inquiries
The United States House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday, 21 April, calling for an independent inquiry into the murders of civil rights lawyers Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. Its passage is a reassuring sign that the calls for justice being made around the world are being heard and acted upon somewhere. To date, calls for an independent inquiry from the United Nations, Amnesty International, The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, British Irish Human Rights Watch, the Committee for Administrative Justice, Human Rights Watch and countless other organizations have fallen on deaf ears in the British government.
Upon hearing the news, Sinn Féin spokesperson in Washington, D.C., Rita O'Hare, said: ``Sinn Féin welcomes the passage of this resolution and commends Congressman Chris Smith for his hard work, and the rest of the House for their overwhelming support for this resolution. It is hugely important, particularly at this time of crisis in the peace process, that there is a strong demonstration of support for justice and truth in the north of Ireland. The importance of a demonstratively democratic channel through which the fears and concerns of nationalists can be heard was never more needed than at this time.''
House Resolution 128, ``condemning the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson and calling for the protection of defence attorneys in Northern Ireland'' went before the full House and passed with a vote of 421 - 2. The resolution is strongly worded, and spells out clearly what actions need to be taken in order to engender the faith of the nationalist population. It calls on the British government to launch an inquiry, ``totally independent of the RUC'', into the murder of Rosemary Nelson, to institute in ``independent judicial inquiry into allegations that defence attorneys are systematically harassed and intimidated by security forces'' and to implement the ``UN special Rapporteur's recommendation for an independent inquiry into the possibility of collusion in the killing of defence lawyer Patrick Finucane.''
Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, recalled the testimony Rosemary Nelson gave to his subcommittee and told the House: ``We need to make the United Kingdom government take seriously the calls of the United States, the United Nations, Amnesty International and countless other organizations for an independent inquiry. In order to do this, we need action, no more talk.''
Congressman Peter King spoke to the need of this faith, saying: ``If the Good Friday Agreement is to work, there needs to be faith on all sides. Allowing the RUC to investigate this murder tramples the faith of nationalists.'' Congressman Donald Payne,who had earlier described the RUC as an ``unlawful, undisciplined bunch of thugs'', likened Rosemary Nelson's life to that of American civil rights advocate Rosa Parks, saying that both women stared adversity in the face and kept on working for the civil rights of all, despite the threats and harassment they received.
Chris Smith's resolution recalls Rosemary Nelson's testimony before the subcommittee and focuses on the ``consistent and systematic'' harassment and intimidation inflicted upon her by the RUC. It also recalls UN Special Rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy's report and recommendations that ``authorities other than the RUC conduct an independent and impartial investigation of all threats to legal counsel in Northern Ireland'' and ``where there is a threat to physical integrity of a solicitor, the government should provide necessary protection''. The resolution calls on the British government to:
(a) launch an inquiry totally independent of the RUC to gather evidence, conduct the ground investigation, and issue a detailed, public report on the murder of defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson (b) to institute an independent judicial inquiry into allegations that defence attorneys are systematically harassed and intimidated by crown forces;
(c) to implement the United Nations Special Rapporteur's recommendation for an independent inquiry into the possibility of collusion in the killing of defense attorney Patrick Finucane.''
Joint FBI/RUC training banned
An initiative by Congressmen Robert Menendez and Congressman Steve Rothman got the ball rolling for an amendment to House Resolution 1211 - The State Department Authorization Bill, which called for an end to RUC training by the FBI. After passionate debate about the many reasons why the RUC should not be allowed to hide behind the FBI, an amendment by Congressman Smith and Congressman King was added to the resolution which banned the RUC from training with the FBI, unless the President ``certifies that complete, independent, credible and transparent investigations of the murders of defence attorneys Rosemary Nelson and Patrick Finucane have been initiated by the government of the United Kingdom and that the government has taken appropriate steps to protect defence attorneys against RUC harassment in Northern Ireland.''
Welcoming the move, Bairbre de Brún, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on policing and justice said: ``The RUC has in recent weeks used the reputation of other police forces to hide their own lack of credibility. This move puts an end to that. The RUC has been clearly implicated and has been guilty of the wholesale intimidation of lawyers. Ronnie Flanagan has consistently refused to investigate or challenge these threats or to confront RUC collusion with loyalist death squads.''
Sinn Féin Upper Bann Assembly member Dara O'Hagan, a close friend of the late Rosemary Nelson added: ``If the British government is serious about justice and human rights, it can no longer ignore the concerns of the Nelson family and the wider community.''
Prior to the weekend announcement that Flanagan was to initiate an inquiry headed by John Stevens, the Pat Finucane Centre, the Derry-based human rights group, said: ``This amendment highlights the growing international concern at allegations of collusion in these and other deaths. The time is past for damage limitation.
``It is now time for the British government to announce full and independent inquiries. We will not settle for anything less.''
Sinn Féin's human rights spokesperson, Mary Nelis, said: ``The testimony of Rosemary Nelson to Congress, the report of the UN Special Rapporteur, and the concerns raised by the Independent Commission on Police Complaints into threats against Rosemary Nelson all add up to an undeniable case for an independent international inquiry.''
House Committee Urges all to Remain Committed to Peace Process
The United States House of Representatives Committee on International Relations approved a resolution on April 15 which honours the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and urges all parties involved to remain committed to the peace process. Congressman Joseph Crowley, author of the resolution, said: ``I introduced (the resolution) with the intent to honour and celebrate as a Congress the one year of the Good Friday Peace Accord and the involvement of Senator George Mitchell, President Bill Clinton, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair for their work in securing this important and historic agreement.''
He continued, ``Unfortunately, though, the peace process has dealt with some recent setbacks.
``I personally believe that Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams have been honest peace brokers in the peace process and I find it troubling that David Trimble and the Ulster Unionists have added preconditions to the Agreement.''
Upon hearing of the resolution's passage, Sinn Féin Representative Rita O'Hare said: ``Congressman Crowley's resolution is another indication of the power and influence American support for the peace process can have. Much work still needs to be done. We thank and commend the Congressman for this resolution.''