5 October 2000 Edition
US PRESSURE ON POLICING GROWS
By Gregory O'Loughlin
In Washington, DC
Political leaders in the United States, this month, have held the spotlight firmly on the failure of the British government to implement the Patten Report, as the calls for its full implementation grow louder.
As Chris Patten has said on numerous occasions, what did the politicians think we would do? If there was to be an Independent Commission that looked at the best practices throughout the world and come up with a blueprint for a new beginning, would we simply continue the present situation with some modifications?
On 22 September, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (The Helsinki Commission), made up of senators, representatives, administrative appointees, and others held hearings entitled, ``Protecting Human Rights and Securing Peace in Northern Ireland: The Vital Role of Police Reform''
Chairman Chris Smith informed the hearings that the Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, and a witness recommended by the UUP were invited to testify at the hearings but declined the offer. The Chair of the Human Rights Commission was also invited.
In attendance were Congressman Donald Payne, International Relations Committee Chief Investigator, John Mackey and the point person for Human Rights and Democracy for the Administration, Harold Kho, who came to express the Executive Branch's continuing ``concern for the need to fully internalize, into the ongoing work of the police, the recommendations of the Patten Report.''
I want to make clear my position on the Patten Commission's recommendations for police reform in Northern Ireland. I urge the British government to fully and expeditiously implement these recommendations
- Al Gore
Congressman Benjamin Gilman, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, was unable to appear in person, but did address the Commission via a teleconferenced phone call. Gilman said that ``there exists, for the first time, the opportunity to create a Police Force that is acceptable to both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland. The Policing Bill, as drafted, sadly undermines the Patten Report and the Good Friday Agreement. The chance for change can be lost, but ought not to be. Let us hope Parliament can still get it right.
``I have urged President Clinton to encourage and work closely with the British government to ensure the full and complete implementation of the Patten commission policing reforms. The President responded to these calls on the 27th of June, 2000, by letter, in which he made clear to me that both Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, of the British and Irish governments respectively, are aware of his strong interest in this issue of the full implementation of the of the Patten report recommendations.
``The President assured me that once the legislation at Westminster has been adopted and its impact evaluated he will assess whether he can make the certification on Patten's implementation as we required in last years State Department Authorization Bill. If not, there will be no FBI training for any new police service in the north of Ireland.''
First to testify was Gerry Lynch, a member of the Patten Commission. He began by expressing Chris Patten's approval of his appearance at the hearings. Lynch stated that ``the Recommendations of the Patten Commission were unanimous. It is crucial that the recommendations not be cherry picked, but be implemented in a cohesive and constructive manner. It was clear that the politicians could not solve the issues of policing, the Independent Commission was approved in order to implement the Good Friday Agreement. As Chris Patten has said on numerous occasions, what did the politicians think we would do? If there was to be an Independent Commission that looked at the best practices throughout the world and come up with a blueprint for a new beginning, would we simply continue the present situation with some modifications? Of course the answer was resoundingly, `No'. The people of Northern Ireland deserve no less than this new beginning to policing. Any significant modifications will deprive them of their long awaited Police Service, which is capable of sustaining support from the community as a whole.''
Lynch was joined by Brendan O'Leary, Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, Martin O'Brien, Director of the Committee on Administration of Justice, and Elisa Massimino, Director of the Washington Office of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
Prof O'Leary informed the Commission that while the Patten Commission's Report, ``did not and could not meet the hopes or match the fears of all,'' it ``undoubtedly met its explicit terms of reference,'' as prescribed by the Good Friday Agreement. ``The UK government welcomed the Patten Report and promised to implement it. However, the Bill presented to Parliament in the spring of 2000 was an evisceration of Patten, and was condemned as such by the SDLP, Sinn Féin, The Women's Coalition, the Catholic Church, non-governmental human rights organizations, and CAJ. It was also criticized by the Irish government, the US House of Representatives, and a range of Irish Americans, including, apparently President Clinton.''
Prof. O'Leary continued his testimony by highlighting some of the most obvious examples of the departures from the Patten Report in the Policing Legislation, including symbols, disbanding of the Police Reserve, and the lack of a commitment to basic Human Rights. He labelled the bill as a `parody' of the Report.
``Patten recommended a Policing Board to hold the Police to account, and to initiate inquiries into police conduct and practices. Mr Mandelson has prevented the board from inquiring into any act or omission arising before the eventual act applies. I believe this is tantamount to an undeclared amnesty for past police misconduct, not proposed by Patten. As you have emphasized yourself, Mr. Chairman, the Secretary of State will now have the extraordinary power to prevent inquiries by the board, because they would, `serve no useful purpose,' a power added at the report stage in the Commons, and needless to say, not in Patten.
``The Secretary of State will additionally have the authority to approve or veto the person appointed to conduct any inquiry. The UK government's line is roughly the following, in nature - `look how much we've done to implement Patten, look how radical Patten is by comparison with elsewhere.' This spin is utterly unconvincing. The proposed arrangements effectively seal off past, present and future avenues through which the police might be held accountable for misconduct. And Patten is not radical. Canada and America have long made their police democratically accountable and socially representative. Patten is only radical by the past standards of Northern Ireland.''
Addressing the issue of the Ombudsman, the Professor said, ``Patten recommended that the Ombudsman should have significant powers and should exercise the right to investigate and comment on police policies and practices, whereas in the modified Bill, the Ombudsman may make reports, but not investigate. The Ombudsman is additionally restricted in their retrospective powers, once again circumscribing the police accountability for past misconduct.''
Martin O'Brien, Director of the Committee on Administration of Justice spoke next, bringing another issue to the Commission's attention - the delay in the appointment of an oversight Commissioner.
``This recommendation was accepted by the (British) government, but Tom Constantine (the appointed oversight Commissioner) was not appointed until the 31st of May, 2000 - almost nine months after the Patten Report was published. This tardy appointment meant that the Commissioner was excluded from scrutinizing the draft legislation, played no part in the detailed implementation plan prepared by the existing policing establishment, and has still to take on public profile and produce his first report. Given this delay, any change that has taken place to date has been dictated by those who have been responsible for policing over the last thirty years, and who have resisted change in the past,'' O'Brien said.
``If government does want to implement Patten, as it says it does, why is it still resistant to a whole range of important safeguards which Patten called for? Why is it impossible to get government agreement to include explicit reference in the legislation to a broad range of international human rights norms and standards? What reason can there be for the government denying any role to the NI Human Rights Commission in advising on the police use of plastic bullets? Why are effective inquiry powers for the Policing Board consistently opposed? Why is the Secretary of State so adamant that the Police Ombudsperson cannot have the powers to investigate police policies and practices that Patten called for? Why was the appointment of the Oversight Commissioner so long delayed, and why is his term of office so curtailed in the legislation?''
Elisa Massimino was the last to testify, raising with the commission the lack of reference to International Human Rights guidelines in the Policing Legislation
``Although the British Government has repeatedly asserted that it `recognizes the importance of human rights','' she said, ``its ongoing resistance to inserting reference to international human rights standards into the language of the Police Bill raises serious questions. The conduct of police in Northern Ireland has been the subject of numerous reports by non-governmental human rights organisations and UN bodies, including by Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. Many of these reports have concluded that police conduct in Northern Ireland violates internationally recognized human rights standards. Chairman Patten, in his statement accompanying the release of the Commission's report, highlighted the central importance of human rights standards to the Commission's approach to police reform: ``We recommend a comprehensive program of action to focus on policing in Northern Ireland on a human rights-based approach. We see the upholding of fundamental human rights as the very purpose of policing, and we propose that it should be instilled in all officers from the start - in the oath they take, in their training, and in their codes of practice and in their performance appraisal system.
Massimino concluded her testimony by providing the Commission with updates on the investigations into the murders of Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.
Chairman Smith announced that this hearing would not be the last on this issue. It was the sixth hearing Chaired by Congressman Smith on human rights in the north of Ireland. It also pre-empted the vote that took place on the policing issue, in the US House of Representatives.
US House says: Implement Patten in Full
A resolution urging the British government to implement the Patten report in full, passed in the US House of Representatives unanimously on 26 September.
The motion read that: `HR 547 calls on the British government to ``fully and faithfully'' implement all of the Patten Commission's policing reforms'. A similar resolution is awaiting mark-up from the Senate Committee on International Relations.
Vice President and Presidential hopeful, Al Gore added his voice to the call for full implementation, saying, ``I want to make clear my position on the Patten Commission's recommendations for police reform in Northern Ireland. I urge the British government to fully and expeditiously implement these recommendations.''
The third highest elected official in the United States, Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, also called on the British government ``to fully implement (the Patten) reforms.'' The Speaker added, ``The path of peace in Northern Ireland must travel through comprehensive policing reforms. Too many citizens in Northern Ireland simply do not trust the RUC. It must be overhauled in such a way that builds trust in both communities.''
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams paid tribute to the US politicians after the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for the implementation of the Patten proposals in full. And he has praised today's support for the Patten proposals from the Speaker of the House Denis Hastert.
Mr. Adams said, ``I would like to commend and thank all of those politicians in the U.S.A. who have supported the demand for a new policing service. In particular I commend the work of the Chairman of the International Relations Committee Congressman Ben Gilman, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights, Congressman Chris Smith, and Congressman Richie Neal the initiator of this resolution to Congress. I would also like to thank Congressman Peter King, Congressman Joe Crowley, Congressman James Walsh, and Congressman Donald Payne, among others, for their hard work and dedication to this issue.''
The Sinn Féin President gave a warm welcome to the unprecedented support from the Speaker of the House for the Patten proposals. Denis Hastert is the highest elected official in the USA, behind only the President and Vice-President. Mr. Adams said: `` I would also like to welcome today's statement by the speaker of the House of Representatives Denis Hastert. He echoes once again the call for the full implementation of the Patten proposals. His intervention is of crucial importance.
``There is unanimity across the political divide in the United States in support of the full implementation of the Patten recommendations. Political leaders and Irish America understand the critical importance of policing for the future and its centrality in terms of the Good Friday Agreement. US politicians are in no doubt about where the blame for the current crisis lies - with the British government.''