Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Statement of Hon. Christopher H. Smith
Chairman - Helsinki Commission

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Statement of Representative Christopher H. Smith, Chairman,
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Protecting Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland
March 14, 2000



The purpose of this hearing is for the Commission of Security and Cooperation in Europe -- which
monitors and encourages compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Final Act (the Helsinki Accords) -- to
receive reports on allegations of collusion by members of the security forces in the murders of two
prominent defense attorneys, Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, and to receive reports on the
status of the rule of law and the independence of defense attorneys in Northern Ireland.


Since 1976, our Commission has held countless hearings, sponsored fact-finding human rights
missions, and published reports concerning implementation of the commitments made by the
participating States of The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The
United Kingdom is one of the leading participants in the OSCE and signed the 1990 OSCE
Copenhagen document which said in part:


"The participating States further affirm that, where violations of human rights and fundamental
freedoms are alleged to have occurred, the effective remedies available include: the right of the
individual to seek and receive adequate legal assistance..."


Today marks the Commission's first-ever hearing on human rights abuses in Northern Ireland. The
Commission has sponsored two fact-finding missions to Northern Ireland, one led by former
Chairman Senator Dennis DeConcini in 1992, and a second which I led in 1997.


Since my fact finding mission in 1997, great strides have been made toward peace in Northern
Ireland. The cease-fire has been virtually intact for 5½ years now. In 1998, the Good Friday
Agreement was signed and approved by the people and, after some delay, power was devolved
and the Northern Ireland Assembly began its deliberations in December 1999.


Regrettably, the progress has not been without some setbacks. Just last month, the British
Government dissolved the Assembly over the issue of decommissioning of arms in the hands of
paramilitary organizations. Thus with the legislative dimension of the Good Friday Agreement
stalled, it is increasingly important to underscore those aspects of the peace process - namely,
securing the protection of human rights and the fair administration of justice for all of the people in
Northern Ireland - that can still be achieved unilaterally by the British government.


Ensuring a defendant's rights to a fair trial and to unfettered access to appropriate counsel is crucial
if Northern Ireland is to achieve a lasting peace. The central responsibility for assuring this right and
maintaining the rule of law belongs to the government, in this case the British government. However,
by supporting continued restrictions on due process rights - the so-called Emergency Provisions -
and by refusing to take decisive actions to protect defense attorneys, the government has failed
miserably in this regard and has instead exacerbated the problem.


As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, I have
convened four hearings on human rights violations in Northern Ireland. We have highlighted a variety
of concerns but have focused most on harassment of, and violence against defense attorneys and
the possible complicity of members of the RUC in these acts.


In September 1998, our panel heard from Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the
independence of judges and lawyers who, after his own fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland,
found that RUC officers engaged in "activities which constitute intimidation, hindrance, harassment
or improper interference" with criminal defense attorneys. He urged that the authorities --- preferably
the new Police Ombudsman established by the Good Friday Agreement -- conduct an independent
investigation of all threats to counsel in Northern Ireland.


Mr. Cumaraswamy also called for an independent judicial inquiry into the case of Patrick Finucane,
stating "there seems to be at least prima facie evidence to show that there could be security forces
collusion" in the murder.


At the same proceeding, we also heard from defense attorney Rosemary Nelson. Just six months
after her testimony presented here in this building, Rosemary was murdered, the victim of a terrorist
car bomb. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Rosemary Nelson's murder and we
continue to be moved by her compelling, courageous, and all-too-accurate testimony of eighteen
months ago.


Rosemary told us that she had been the subject of harassment "including death threats" from
members of the RUC. She told us that she had notified authorities about the threats on her life but
felt little optimism about them being properly investigated since "the complaints themselves are
investigated by the RUC". She captured the magnitude of the problem and how it had corroded
justice in Northern Ireland when she said: "No lawyer in Northern Ireland can forget what happened
to Patrick Finucane, nor can they dismiss it from their minds." She called the allegations of official
collusion "particularly disturbing" and asked the subcommittee to do all in its power to bring about a
public inquiry.


The subcommittee responded. First, we sent a letter cosigned by a bi-partisan delegation of 20
members to Prime Minister Blair urging an independent, public inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder
and requesting the implementation of other recommendations designed to protect defense
attorneys. In April 1999, after Rosemary's death, Congress adopted my bill, H.Res. 128, which
condemned her murder and called on the British Government to launch an independent inquiry into
Pat Finucane's murder and an independent investigation -- an RUC-Free investigation -- into
Rosemary Nelson's killing. The resolution again urged the British government to institute protections
for defense attorneys at risk in Northern Ireland.


Then, late last year, against all odds, Congress passed, and the President signed, my legislation
that restricts joint RUC-FBI training seminars unless a vetting process is established to exclude all
RUC members who have committed or condoned human rights violations "including any role in the
murder of either Patrick Finucane or Rosemary Nelson."


We did a great deal underscoring how important the independence and protection of lawyers are to
the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Yet the response thus far by the British government has frankly
been disappointing. For instance, in a reply to our letter for the public judicial inquiry, Prime Minister
Blair cited the two previous police investigations -- neither of which has been published -- and
wrote, "I am not persuaded that such an [independent] inquiry would bring anything new to light."


We wrote him again pointing out the numerous new developments in the Finucane case, including
the Northern Ireland Law Society's call for a public inquiry and the arrest of Alfred Billie Stobie, an
alleged RUC-informant who was charged with the murder. We reiterated our request for an
independent judicial inquiry. This time we received no response at all.


Yet, despite the inaction by the British Government, the call for a public inquiry into both cases is
growing, not diminishing. Just two weeks ago, after meeting with Mrs. Finucane, Irish Prime Minister
Bertie Ahern stated publicly that "the Government strongly shares the view that a public inquiry
needs to be established into all of the circumstances surrounding this appalling murder."


Last week I urged the Clinton Administration to join us and boldly step up its public statements on
the importance of a public inquiry into these cases as they have such broad significance to the rule
of law and the peace process in Northern Ireland. Why not? Why not go wherever the evidence
takes us in these cases? Why not ensure that there are no remaining questions, no outstanding
credible allegations of collusion? Or, if the allegations are found to be true, why not charge,
prosecute and imprison the perpetrators of these gross and despicable human rights violations? If
the state is reluctant to openly and fully investigate the murder of defense attorneys, what kind of
justice can it supply the rest of its citizens?


Today we will hear about the most recent developments in each of these cases from family
members: Mrs. Geraldine Finucane, Pat Finucane's widow; and Mr. Eunan, Magee, Rosemary
Nelson's brother. We will also hear from U.S.-based, London-based, and Northern Ireland-based
human rights experts. It is my hope that new and compelling evidence provided today will help prod
the British Government to seize this opportunity and demonstrate to their citizenry, and to the world,
that their government - an active member of the OSCE - will do whatever it takes to guarantee
internationally recognized human rights for all the people of Northern Ireland.