11 March 1999 Edition
Paras and C18
It should not come as a surprise to anybody who has become familiar with the history of Bloody Sunday that the Parachute Regiment of the British army would come under the spotlight for bigotry. The attention this time comes about because of the large number of active fascists, racists and loyalists in the regiment. The action on Bloody Sunday of the Para's was state-sponsored murder of innocent people marching for civil rights. Obviously the Parachute Regiment of today is still a haven for people fighting against any sort of civil rights.
Take Darren Theron, a Para for the past five years who has served in both the Six Counties and Bosnia. In 1995 he recieved a warning for assualting a black soldier. A year later he had joined Combat 18, a neo-nazi terror group whose leader is serving time for murder and which has sent letter bombs to prominent stars from minority backrounds, such as Frank Bruno. Theron's picture appeared in Combat 18's magazine standing over a pile of dead bodies in Bosnia.
Jim Samways is another example. He rejoined the Para's in 1996 and was already a member of facist organisations in the British National Party and Combat 18. In 1996 he was a part of the Combat 18, security group which provided protection for the Apprentice Boys of Derry march in London. At this he was with Eddie Whicker who is part of the leadership of the UDA in England. He has also been spotted at funtions to raise money for the UVF. These are not the only members of the far right in the Para's. Others include people associated with the LVF through nazi organisations.
These people are part of the British army, which has occupied the Six Counties in order to prop up sectarian Unionist rule. They have gone further by becoming involved in organisations, which distribute racist propaganda and carry out racist attacks. The British government has tried to paint a picture of the army being an innocent party trying to keep sectarianism at bay. Maybe instead of whinging about decommissioning it should look at dismantling its own sectarian and racist instiutions.
Diplock judges and international stanards
Judge Brian Kerr will be winging his way from Belfast to the USA later this month having been awarded the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship. The exchange program was set up to foster international understanding and an exchange of information and ideas.
It is about time that judges from the North of Ireland seek new ideas and gain exposure to international judicial practices. Many within the American judiciary are concerned, despite the peace process, that Diplock courts still exist in the North and that the administration of justice here still requires much reform, particularly its courts. Continued and serious investigation is being pursued by many Americans into the North's judicial history. This was witnessed earlier this month in Belfast when an American delegation of lawyers and human rights advocates held an investigation into the North's policing system.
Judge Kerr will no doubt be questioned about the process of law in the North, the policing system, right to silence and jury trials, or lack of them. Whether or not Kerr comes under scrutiny from his international hosts, the trip itself could potentially be a positive step.
Regardless of particular justice systems, it is the judge himself who can make a real difference in a court. Who or what he aspires to, however, and where he comes from will inevitably have some impact on his decision making. Few judges would admit this. What makes a white, conservative middle class judge in Texas hand down the death sentence has as much to do with the judge's attitude toward the sentence as does its legality. Also, ``lenient'' is not a word that a Northern or Texas judge would tolerate. Heavy sentences make good careers. Assuming Judge Kerr seeks out the company of magistrates other than those from Texas, he should have the opportunity to learn that jail sentences do not equal justice.
During Judge Kerr's trial of the Ballymurphy Seven in Belfast during 1994 and 1995 the defendants parents were urged to pray for Judge Kerr, that God grant him the prudence to make a just and right decision. In the end, all but one of the young men, were acquitted. their acquittal has less to do with God's intervention, however, and everything to do with that of the defendant's families. A five year international campaign lodged by them to expose the case won it in the end. Begrudgingly, Judge Kerr acquitted the young men but insisted their innocence was in question.
It is ironic that during the trial of the Ballymurphy Seven that American observers were prevented from attending the trial by Judge Kerr. Kerr's visit will not in itself make much diference to our system. In being asked to travel to the USA, however, Judge Kerr must assume that his judicial decisions and those of his counterparts are being seriously considered. Acceptability in the international legal community necessitates accountability and hopefully this will be an opportunity Judge Kerr will live up to.
Voice of the Innocent, Belfast