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22 June 2000 Edition

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Amnesty International slams governments

Amnesty International's latest annual human rights report has slammed the failure of both the British and Dublin governments to uphold basic human rights.

``The human rights situation in Northern Ireland still gave cause for concern and some areas appeared to have become more polarized, in particular during the marching season,'' the 2000 report states.

Amnesty was concerned also with proposed new legislation, including the Terrorism Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill, which ``appeared to restrict further the rights to freedom of expression and association''.

Many recommendations of the Patten Report on policing in the Six Counties, published in October 1999, were welcomed by Amnesty, but the organisation also identified several omissions. It urged the British government to address past abusive practices by the RUC and to establish further mechanisms to ensure accountability. In particular, Amnesty called for units within the RUC associated with patterns of human rights violations to be ``disbanded''. Amnesty also urged a thorough review of covert operations and the establishment of a civilian body to oversee intelligence agencies and covert operations.

In May 1999, Amnesty submitted comments to the Criminal Justice Review. They called for international human rights standards to be incorporated into all aspects of the criminal justice system, raised concerns about the failure to prosecute members of the crown forces involved in killings or assaults, and urged reforms in procedures for appointing the judiciary.

In its report, Amnesty also notes its concern that the team appointed to investigate the killing of Rosemary Nelson was not sufficiently independent of the RUC. The human rights group also says that police investigations into complaints made by Rosemary Nelson of intimidation and harassment by the RUC have not been thorough and impartial. In December, Amnesty joined five other human rights organisations in urging the British authorities to establish an independent inquiry into all the circumstances of her death.

The Independent Commission for Police Complaints, in its annual report, noted that in 1998 it had received 36 complaints alleging police misconduct against 15 solicitors, Amnesty said.

Amnesty in 1999 continued to urge the British government to institute an independent judicial inquiry into the 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane, says the report.

Amnesty also noted that of the six people charged in connection with the death of Robert Hamill, who died in 1997 after being beaten by a crowd, Marc Hobson was the only one brought to trial. In March he was acquitted of murder and sentenced to four years' imprisonment for `affray'. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute four RUC personnel who were at the scene but merely looked on. Amnesty International failed to make clear the action they are taking on this issue, but they did complain that ``the Independent Commission on Policing failed to recommend a mechanism to deal with the legacy of past human rights abuses''.

Some of the most damning comments made by the organisation were in regard to the rise of racism in Ireland. ``The tradition of tolerance towards minorities was eroded during the year - in particular there were many reports of racially motivated physical and verbal abuse against asylum-seekers and Travellers,'' they said.

Amnesty was concerned about various elements of the Immigration Bill enacted last year. They were also concerned about the Illegal Immigrants Trafficking Bill, which ``failed to make a distinction between professional traffickers and those assisting genuine asylum-seekers''.

In October, Amnesty urged the 26-County government's Review Committee to recommend the disestablishment of the Special Criminal Court and the repeal of provisions including those permitting internment and impinging on the right to silence. They call in their report for detainees to have the right to free legal assistance during questioning.

While Amnesty notes the Dublin government appointment of a judicial inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, they call for the killing of Seamus Ludlow in 1976 to be investigated also.
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