US congress holds hearings on anniversary of Nelson murder
US congress holds hearings on anniversary of Nelson murder

A committee of the US congress are currently holding hearings on the peace process and the issue of human rights.

It will examine, in particular, cases of alleged collusion by British forces in the murder of civilians.

Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the killing of defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson. Nelson testified before the committee regarding death threats made against her by the RUC police not long before her death.

On March 15 1999, a booby-trap bomb exploded beneath Mrs Nelson's car in an attack claimed by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name used by elements of the unionist paramilitary UDA.

People living near her Lurgan home reported an unusually high level of British military and RUC activity prior to the attack. The sophistication of the device was understood to be beyond the UDA's expertise.

Last year convicted unionist paramilitary Trevor McKeown claimed that in 1997 two RUC police officers asked him to have Mrs Nelson killed.

An English police team investigating Mrs Nelson's case found that the officers identified had been questioned years before as part of an internal inquiry into Mrs Nelson's allegations that RUC officers were threatening her while interviewing her clients.

In the years prior to her death, the death threats led a United Nations investigator to appeal for the authorities to protect her life.

Param Cumaraswamy retired from his UN post last year, saying that the failure to save Mrs Nelson remained the greatest disappointment of his time in office.

Five years after her death, no-one has been charged over her murder.

The British government has so far delayed the publication of the Cory reports, citing legal and security concerns. Its handling of the issue led Mr Cory to personally contact the families to confirm he had recommended inquiries in all four cases.

Since then Mrs Nelson's mother Sheila has launched a legal challenge to the government's delay, as have the Finucane and Wright families.

``The British government have been abysmal,'' says Eunan Magee, Rosemary's sister.

``Their attitude has been abysmal the whole way through.''

On Friday Secretary of State Paul Murphy wrote to Mrs Nelson's mother confirming that the British government would publish the Cory reports before the end of the month.

But Mr Murphy is due to attend St Patrick's Day events in Washington this week, where he had been expected to face pressure over the Cory cases.

``I would be concerned that the timing of this announcement is cynical,'' Mr Magee says.

``It is aimed at deflecting the criticism Mr Murphy is to face.''

He adds: ``Paul Murphy was at our Rosie's funeral. He was there as a sympathiser and a mourner. And now it seems as though he is part of the problem in terms of his refusal to publish and to implement the reports.''

Among those testifying at the Capitol Hill event is Jane Winter of the London-based British-Irish Rights Watch.

Jane Winter, who knew Mrs Nelson, says her message to the US panel will be clear.

``Five years on, it is both a tragedy and a scandal that no-one has been brought to book for Rosemary Nelson's murder,'' she says.

``We understand that some of those suspected of her murder were Special Branch agents and one was a serving soldier with links to [neo-Nazi and loyalist] Combat 18.

``Rosemary and her family have been failed by the very justice system she fearlessly upheld.''

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© 2003 Irish Republican News