20 May 1999 Edition

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Amnesty shocked at ongoing human rights abuses

By Peadar Whelan

After a week-long visit to the Six Counties in which they met a wide range of people, including the political parties, the RUC and the British government, an Amnesty International delegation has expressed alarm that, ``an enormous number of past and present abuses remain unresolved and are not being adequately addressed''.

``The multi-party agreement puts human rights at the heart of a just and lasting peace,'' added Amnesty, which welcomed the newly created Human Rights Commission, the reviews of the RUC and the Six Counties legal and judicial system.

Speaking to An Phoblacht's Peadar Whelan, Amnesty spokesperson Richard Reoch spoke of the four-person delegation's visits to Portadown and Lurgan to meet with Garvaghy Road Residents and Drumcree Orangemen as well as the MP for the area, David Trimble.

The Garvaghy Residents impressed upon Amnesty that their community was under constant intimidation and criticised the RUC, which had failed to stop illegal Orange marches in the period since July last year.

While speaking to First Minister Trimble, the delegation urged him to meet the family of Robert Hamill, who was beaten to death by a loyalist mob in Portadown two years ago. Despite being the area's MP, Trimble has refused to meet the family. In response, Trimble said he would consider Amnesty's request ``sympathetically''.

They also met with English policeman Colin Port, who is heading the investigation into Rosemary Nelson's killing.

An Phoblacht was told that the meeting with Port was interrupted as men, ``presumably RUC officers'', came into the room to whisper messages to Port. After the meeting, an Amnesty representative questioned the independence and integrity of the Nelson inquiry when ``we, a human rights organisation, couldn't have a private meeting with Mr. Port''. The representative also raised the issue of direct contact with Port saying ``the public must go through the RUC in Lurgan barracks if they want to give evidence to the inquiry''.

In a meeting with RUC boss Ronnie Flanagan, Amnesty asked if the RUC would cooperate with the new Human Rights Commission if it requested information from the force.

According to Reoch, Flanagan said that in principle he would not oppose handing over files to an investigation. Flanagan maintained that only in the most exceptional circumstances would he withhold information.

``We want to hold him to that'', concluded Reoch.

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