ICJ report draws lessons from Northern Ireland

THE INDEPENDENT Irish human rights organisation the Committee the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has welcomed the publication of a major international report on counter-terrorism and human rights published by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).

The ICJ report Assessing Damage, Urging Action is based on an international study over a three year period, and provides a comprehensive review of the detrimental impact on human rights of counter-terrorism measures. The report - which resonates heavily with the conclusions of a report by CAJ submitted to the study - examines how terrorism has been tackled in the past to assess whether lessons can be learned, and in doing so draws heavily on the experience of Northern Ireland:

"Sometimes the parallels are almost surreal. Witnesses talked of the failed detention policies used in Northern Ireland as having led to "hundreds of young men in working class nationalist communities joining the IRA and creating one of the most efficient insurgency forces in the world". It is now generally accepted that this policy of interning detainees alienated whole communities. One must wonder, 30 years later, what impact the sight of the treatment of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib is having on young Muslims (in Britain and elsewhere). (p.30)

It also looks at the permanence of emergency laws and departure from ordinary procedures that ensues, and drawing again on the Northern Ireland experience reports:

"The case of Northern Ireland is relevant and may provide a particularly salutary example, with parallels to current challenges…Special legislation was introduced in 1922, and remained a constant feature; Northern Ireland has never since that time experienced a decade without "special" or "emergency" powers. The prolonged nature of the emergency and special powers inevitably influenced the institutional culture of the police, military and the legal system…There was, with the benefit of hindsight, extensive agreement amongst witnesses, including Northern Ireland's most senior police officers, that many emergency powers were a failure from a security, political and human rights perspective." (p.41/42)
War on Terror

The report draws extensively on a report by CAJ on War on Terror - Lessons from Northern Ireland in January 2008 that was submitted to the ICJ as part of its study. CAJ's Director Mike Ritchie, said:

"CAJ has always contended that human rights abuses fed and fuelled the conflict in Northern Ireland. Unless lessons from places like Northern Ireland are taken on board, advances in protecting the dignity and rights of all human beings will be undermined, perhaps irretrievably."

Additional information and availability The report Assessing Damage, Urging Action was produced by the Eminent Jurists Panel of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and is available to download at HYPERLINK http://icj.org/news.php3?id_article=4453&lang=en

It is the product of a three year global study which examined the compatibility of laws, policies and practices, which are justified expressly or implicitly as necessary to counter terrorism, with international human rights law.

The Panel was chaired by Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Former Chief Justice of South Africa and the first president of South Africa's Constitutional Court and consists of highly respected judges and lawyers of world renown from different regions and legal traditions.

CAJ hosted a visit to Northern Ireland by the Eminent Jurists Panel in April 2006 where they received testimony from, among others, families of victims of paramilitary and state violence, the Chief, Deputy and Assistant Chief Constables of the PSNI, members of the legal profession, the Director of Public Prosecutions and human rights organisations.

Drawing on the material gathered during this visit, and based on its own experience, CAJ itself produced a major report in January 2008 entitled War on Terror - Lessons from Northern Ireland.

In terms of guidance on how to avoid or limit the counter-productive effects of counter-terrorism measures, the international report by the ICJ refers to the human rights safeguards introduced in Northern Ireland as highlighted by CAJ in its report, namely:

  • an independent complaints body vested with extensive legal powers to effectively oversee civilian complaints against the police (replacing a weak predecessor which, despite its name, was not genuinely independent);
  • strong civic oversight of the police and a range of measures to ensure recruitment from across different communities;
  • new legislation, codes of conduct, and training for the police; audio and video recording of all police interrogations;
  • changes to the human rights legal framework (incorporation into domestic law of the European Convention of Human Rights, and discussion of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland to "constitutionalise" human rights) stronger equality legislation;
  • reforms to the judiciary and prosecution service;
  • creation of domestic bodies to oversee and guide government on human rights and equality measures;
  • integration of human rights and equality considerations into all government policies (including youth provision, economic programmes and police use of informers, to give three very different examples). (p.45)

A summary of the CAJ report can be viewed at HYPERLINK http://www.caj.org.uk/Front%20page%20pdfs/Terror%20summary_12pp%20pages.pdf

Copies of the full CAJ report - which is drawn upon extensively by the ICJ - can be obtained by contacting the CAJ office or e-mailing HYPERLINK mailto:info@caj.org.uk

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2009-04-30 11:29:48.
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