Commission chief blasts human rights sham

The outgoing head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched a stinging attack on the British Government today, accusing it of doing no more than paying lip service to human rights.

In a letter to British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy, Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson castigated the British Government for failing to give his commission proper powers, running down its numbers and ignoring or rejecting its recommendations.

Professor Dickson wrote: “I cannot help feeling that on many occasions your government is content to pay lip service to human rights without actually doing much to protect them in practice.”

He pointed to delays put in the way of disclosing the truth about the role of collusion in the murder of Belfast defence lawyer Patrick Finucane, and Ministry of Defence “obstructionism” during the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

The Commission was set up as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but Prof Dickson’s letter indicates the British government never intended the Commission to function properly.

Professor Dickson noted that when the British Government put the legislation creating it through Parliament, it had been unwilling to confer on the Commission the full range of powers required.

The government had suggested that these would be enhanced within two years -- but four years on, nothing had been done,

“Sadly, it is a familiar story. Time and time again the Commision has submitted recommendations to Government only to have them totally rejected or, worse, ignored,” he added.

He said the Prison Service had actually banned the HRC from making visits to prisons. Other departments and agencies had been allowed to simply ignore the Commission.

He also hit out at the British Government for its failure to support the Commission by filling seats left empty by Commissioners who had resigned or retired.

Since September 2002 the British Government had allowed the number of Commissioners to decline from 13 to six, and despite knowing for six years when his term of office expired, has yet to name a successor.

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