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6 April 2000 Edition

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UN slams British government


The report of the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, to be presented today, is expected to staunchly criticise the lack of action on behalf of the British government to ensure the respect of human rights in the North of Ireland.

The British government is again centre stage at the annual United Nations human rights commission in Geneva. The event is one of the most popular in human rights circles, drawing representatives from the world's governments as well as all the leading human rights watchdogs.

As An Phoblacht goes to press, sources have revealed that the report is a stinging indictment of the failure of the British government to protect human rights lawyers in the Six Counties. UN Special Rapporteur, Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, is expected to outline the lack of action of the British government, despite previous UN recommendations made in the past two years.

``The only way of ensuring that solicitors will defend human rights is to make them feel safe and secure. In the current circumstances, the only way to do that is for the British government to take action and ensure that the wrongs of the past are corrected to the possible extent, via independent and international inquiries,'' a UN source told An Phoblacht.

The lack of action of the British government in the Pat Finucane case is central to Cumaraswamy's new report. He is expected to condemn the fact that, despite two previous calls for an independent inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder, the British government has failed to act.

The point he is implicitly making is clear: if the British government has such a clear conscience, why does it deny the family and the public the right to know the full circumstances surrounding the murder?

In recent years, the special rapporteur has recommended a public inquiry be held on the Bloody Sunday model to ensure that justice is done not only to the Finucane family, but also to the rare solicitors who have had the courage to walk in his footsteps.

Britain's lack of action will also be highlighted in relation to the killing of Rosemary Nelson.

Cumaraswamy had personally met Nelson before she was killed. He had contacted the British government to voice his concerns about her security, given the threats directed at her. The British, however, refused to put the solicitor on the key persons protection scheme. Cumaraswamy was also one of the first international human rights ambassadors to demand that the case be taken out of the hands of the RUC.

Last year, he voiced his concerns about the fact that nothing had changed and that human rights defenders were still receiving threats and working in an unsecure environment.

Linking the Finucane and Nelson killings, Dr. Cumaraswamy is expected to say he hopes that the Nelson family will not have to wait as long as Pat Finucane's for truth and justice.

The British, Irish and US governments are expected to respond to the report shortly after.

Another related human rights issue in the Six Counties will also be raised when the Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression reports on the Ed Moloney case.


Defence lawyer under threat

by Laura Friel

The RUC have been forced to reverse a decision to deny Belfast defence lawyer Pádraigín Drinan protection under the Key Persons Protection Scheme. In a remarkable parallel to the case of Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson, who was repeatedly denied protection by the NIO, Drinan's application for protection had been turned down because the RUC refused to accept her life was in danger.

In March 1999, Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson was killed in a loyalist car bombing after being repeatedly denied protection under the KPP scheme. The NIO's claim that Nelson was not included within the scheme because she had not applied was later exposed as a lie. The question of her safety had repeatedly been raised with NIO officials, with British ministers and with Tony Blair.

Since Nelson's assassination, Pádraigín Drinan has found herself in the front line of loyalist intimidation. Yet despite two attempts on her life and serious intimidation at her home when a loyalist parade stopped outside, the RUC refused to accept that her life was in danger. In February, Pádraigín's application was turned down by British Secretary of State Peter Mandelson specifically on the advice of the RUC.

International pressure and representations from the Dublin government are believed to have been behind the decision to provide the Belfast solicitor with protection. A similar ruling denying protection to Gerard Rice of the Lower Ormeau Residents Group was recently rescinded after international pressure highlighted the issue.

Meanwhile, evidence that the RUC Special Branch may have had prior knowledge of the plot to kill Rosemary Nelson is beginning to emerge. The information centres on a Belfast man described as a key figure in the Red Hand Defenders, a flag of convenience used by loyalists to circumvent their ceasefires.

The loyalist is believed to be behind the biblical-style codewords used to claim attacks, including the attack which killed Rosemary Nelson. The possibility that the loyalist in question may have been working as an agent for RUC Special Branch at the time of the car bombing raises a number of serious questions.


An Phoblacht
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