16 November 2000 Edition

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Nelis calls for human rights referendum

BY DAN O'NEILL

Sinn Féin's Mary Nelis has called on the British government to make the contents of the finalised Bill of Rights subject to the approval of the public through a referendum.

Addressing a human rights conference in St Mary's College on the Falls Road, Belfast, on Thursday 9 November, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on human rights said that the blueprint for the Bill of Rights was, ``too important to be left to Peter Mandelson, given his handling of the Patten proposals on policing''.

Also attending the conference, organised by the victims and survivors support group VAST, was Brice Dickson head of the Human Rights Commission and representatives of the North's political parties. Unionist parties were invited but did not attend.

Breandan O'Lochláinn, chair of VAST, in his introduction emphasised the importance of the event for the community.

``Given the pending Bill of Rights we in VAST see this as a very important conference in our programme of debates and an excellent opportunity to allow the public opportunity to have some kind of input into the formulation of the Bill'', he said.

Nelis criticised the British and Dublin governments' past approach to human rights, saying: ``The traditional association between the legal system and a counter-insurgency mentality has created an aura of mistrust and suspicion among the republican and nationalist community in both jurisdictions.

``Examples abound of modifications [to the legal system] designed to protect the state at the expense of the individual, including the absence of jury trials, the erosion in the standards of evidence used in courts, the creation of an atmosphere of threat and of physical maltreatment in interrogation centres and the use of perjurors and informers''.

The Derry Assembly member said it was clear that a significant proportion of the Good Friday Agreement attempts to counter this, ``historical legacy of abuse'' by placing respect for human rights at the centre of the Agreement.

She pointed out that Paragraph 4 of the Human Rights section of the Agreement tasks the Human Rights Commission to define additional rights that will reflect the ``particular circumstances of the North'' and that this ``offers an unparalleled opportunity for the creation of a Bill of Rights with unprecedented scope for the underpinning of a human rights culture in a British and Irish context''.

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