14 January 1999 Edition

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SF push for Human Rights Commission commitment

Sinn Féin Assembly members Mary Nelis and Dara O'Hagan met with Minister Paul Murphy on Tuesday morning, 12 January, to push for a real commitment to human rights in the Human Rights Commission to be established as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

O'Hagan said that Murphy had given ``assurances that we wouldn't be disappointed and that there would be a strong emphasis on human rights'' during what she called a ``good working'' meeting.

Prior to the meeting Mary Nelis commented, ``the Agreement recognises the need for fundamental change in the area of human rights. Nationalists have suffered from a human rights deficit for generations. Fundamental principles of justice have been disregarded by the state and human rights abuses have been routine.''

``A strong Human Rights Commission with wide-ranging powers, speedily established, would send out a powerful signal that the government is serious about breaking with the failed mistakes and abuses of the past,'' Nelis said.

The two Assembly members raised their concerns that the appointment procedure placed too strong an emphasis on management skills while expertise in human rights appeared to be an ``optional extra''.

They pair however criticised the make-up of the support staff for the Commission, its budget and its remit. The need for full consultation with all political parties and the Equality Commission were also raised.

Dara O'Hagan said, ``the overlooking of human rights in favour of a purely managerial approach serves to exclude people who have expertise in the field of human rights and who have suffered human rights abuses in the past.''

``Another issue is the Commission's Secretariat,'' continued O'Hagan, ``members of the civil service are not acceptable as they neither have a human rights background nor are they regarded as neutral given the nature, activity and history of the civil service here.''

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