UN mounts second offensive on NI human rights record

THE UK Government faces a renewed United Nations attack on its human rights record in Northern Ireland following new evidence from solicitors of threats and psychological and physical abuse against suspects in detention.

Solicitors claim police abuse of suspects is continuing despite the year-old cease-fire.

The UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) gave its views to UK representatives in Geneva last week.

Its concerns include the failure to permit lawyers to be present during interrogation under the Government's emergency powers. It criticises the practice of rigorous interrogation under these powers, which it claims may breach the Convention Against Torture – to which the UK Government is a signatory.

It also expresses concern over the likely renewal of emergency powers next June, despite the Government's aim to review them in the longer term.

UNCAT recommendations include:

abolition of detention centres in Northern Ireland, such as the notorious Castlereagh, and the repeal of emergency legislation;

extension to taping of interrogations in all cases, and permitting attendance of lawyers.

UNCAT secretary Alession Bruni said: “The aim is to implement the recommendations, or to see what obstacles the Government perceives to this.”

The views echo those made in July by the UN Human Rights Committee, which the Government seemed to ignore.

The Northern Irish human rights body, the Committee for the Administration of Justice, said: “When one hears the Government questioning the human rights records in other countries, that sounds hollow when they fail to respond to criticisms of their own.”

In its deliberations UNCAT considered a submission from the independent lobby group British Irish Rights Watch (BIRW) and the UK Government's latest periodic report, as required by the convention.

BIRW, in its report Conditions In Castlereagh: Physical and Psychological Ill-Treatment of Detainees, details evidence from solicitors. This includes 183 instructions to Belfast firm Madden & Finucane by clients claiming abuse from the period February 1992 to August 1995.

Partner Peter Madden said: “Many solicitors have expressed concern about the treatment meted out to clients. The whole problem stems from the refusal to allow solicitors to attend during interrogation.”

Madden began monitoring instructions after the intimidation and murder of Irish lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989 by loyalist paramilitaries with alleged links to British Intelligence.