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27 July 2000 Edition

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British say Diplock courts to stay

By Fern Lane

The British government is likely to come under severe criticism once more on its human rights record after a government Review Group, consisting soley of representatives from the Northern Ireland Office, the Home Office, the Six-County judiciary and the RUC recommended to Peter Mandelson that the Diplock non-jury trial system be retained in the six counties for the foreseeable future, a recommendation which was this week accepted by the Secretary of State. NIO Minister Adam Ingram made the announcement in Parliament in response to a written question from Labour MP Kevin McNamara. The Review Group said it was ``not persuaded'' to recommend the reintroduction of trial by jury.

Like the government's refusal to repeal the repressive and universally condemned PTA and the introduction of permanent and even more draconian `anti-terrorism' legislation early next year, the decision to retain the Diplock courts represents a direct contravention of what was envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement. It also comes together with proposed Home Office legislation to remove the automatic right to trial by jury altogether from the British legal framework.

The decision has come after increased concern in recent months, voiced by human rights bodies including Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, over Britain's poor human rights record which is the worst in Western Europe. Concern is focused on its conduct in the Six Counties and its ongoing attack on the freedom of speech of individuals and censorship of the press in relation to exposure of the actions of British forces in the Six Counties.

On 11 February this year, for example, UN Special Rapporteur Abid Hussein produced a report; `Civil and Political Rights, Including the Question of Freedom of Expression' which was scathing in its conclusions about the attitude of the British government towards human rights. It said that the Good Friday Agreement ``underscored the need for human rights to be at the centre of the process'' but noted, as previously reported in An Phoblacht, that `anti-terrorism' legislation is routinely used to ``harrass and intimidate journalists, rather than investigate or prevent acts of terrorism''. The report also expressed concern at the government's ``failure to investigate independently and fully serious allegations of human rights violations in Northern Ireland and to bring the perpetrators to justice'', including British forces' collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane.

In his recommendations the Special Rapporteur called for the repeal of all repressive legislation, including the PTA which, he said, ``have a chilling effect of the right to freedom of opinion and expression'', and for the government to ``stop the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, in particular the indiscriminate use of life-threatening plastic bullets, as recommended by the Committee against Torture in 1998''.

Amnesty International also produced a `List of Concerns', severely critical of the British government's attitude to human rights, specifically in respect of the introduction of the new Terrorism Bill. The organisation said that it would, in certain circumstances, consider those arrested under its provisions to be political prisoners.

Peter Mandelson's decision to exacerbate his government's poor record on human rights in the six counties was criticized by Kevin McNamara and by Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, who commented that the Diplock system was in reality a series of ``war tribunals which have been used as a political whip by securocrats against those who did not fit in with their vision of society.''
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