Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is a longstanding constitutional monarchy with a democratic, parliamentary government. A lower legislative chamber (the House of Commons), the center of parliamentary power, is elected in periodic multiparty elections. An upper chamber (the House of Lords), with power to revise and delay implementation of laws, is made up of hereditary and life peers and senior clergy of the established Church of England. There is an independent judiciary, but Parliament may overrule its decisions.
Throughout the United Kingdom, police forces are responsive to, and under the effective control of, civilian officials. Since 1996 the intelligence agency MI-5 has had the authority to act in support of other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious domestic crime. In some areas of Northern Ireland, because of the continuing threat of terrorist and other violence, army units operated to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). Although the security forces generally respect human rights and the rule of law, some members of the police committed human rights abuses.
The United Kingdom has a highly developed, diversified, market-based economy that provides most residents with a high standard of living. Certain geographic areas, particularly older industrial areas including Northern Ireland, suffer from higher than average unemployment rates. In addition, unemployment tends to be higher among some demographic groups, such as youth and racial minorities. The Government provides comprehensive social welfare services, including a national health system, housing and family benefits, and heavily subsidized higher education.
The Government respected the human rights of its citizens, but there were problems in some areas. Police occasionally abused detainees. In September the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture began an investigation into mounting complaints over the Government's failure to prosecute or discipline officers implicated in death-in-custody and prisoner mistreatment cases.
After a series of mediation efforts by the Northern Ireland Secretary and others failed to effect a compromise, the decision of the RUC chief constable to permit the Protestant Orange Order to parade through a predominantly Catholic nationalist area of Drumcree on July 6 led to serious and widespread public disturbances throughout Northern Ireland. The chief constable justified his decision as necessary on public order and safety grounds, but Irish nationalists argued that the RUC, which they accuse of consistently favoring loyalists over nationalists, bowed to mob rule. Potentially more serious violence was averted the following week when, in a conciliatory move, the Orange Order voluntarily canceled or rerouted four of the most contentious parades. Unlike the previous year, the violence triggered by the standoff at Drumcree did not lead to loss of life.
The July 20 restoration of a cease-fire by the Irish republican Army (IRA) ended a 17-month terrorism campaign and led to the opening of inclusive political talks in September. Following the cease-fire there was a marked decrease--although not a total cessation--of sectarian violence. The IRA denied responsibility for the September 16 detonation of a 400-pound bomb in County Armagh's Markethill area that resulted in extensive property damage, although no loss of life. It is widely believed that a splinter republican group was responsible for the blast. The loyalist cease-fire has generally held since 1994, although there were several killings and other terrorist acts carried out by loyalist paramilitary groups. In light of the continuing cease-fires, about 300 army troops were withdrawn from Northern Ireland to their bases in England, and army patrols in Belfast were substantially reduced as troops remained in barracks. Renewed sectarian violence late in the year led the Northern Ireland authorities to request that patrolling resume in more vulnerable neighborhoods.
In an October 1 speech, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced the Government's intention to begin significant reform of the RUC, eliminate indefinite internment without trial (which, although unused for several years, is nevertheless deeply disliked by nationalists), narrow the scope of cases sent to "Diplock" (juryless) courts, and replace the Emergency Provisions Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act with one all-embracing act aimed at building confidence in public institutions. Legislation to do so was introduced later in the year and continued to work its way through Parliament.
The Government continued to take steps to combat violence against women. Societal discrimination against nonwhite minorities and the traveler community is a problem, as is child abuse. In August the Government extended race-discrimination protection to Northern Ireland through the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
Police believe that paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland were responsible for 22 deaths, 251 shootings, and 78 bombings during the year. Both republican and loyalist paramilitary groups continued to engage in vigilante "punishment" attacks, although there was a decrease in the number of such incidents even before the July cease-fire. There were at least six instances of arson committed in the spring and one in December against Catholic churches and at least one against a Protestant church. An April attack against a Mormon church was considered an act of vandalism unrelated to Protestant-Catholic animosity.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings by the Government, but the deaths of persons in custody both in 1997 and in previous years raised questions about whether police and prison officers used improper restraining techniques or excessive force against criminal suspects. In September the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture launched an investigation into complaints of death in custody and police abuse of prisoners, including the disproportionally high numbers of incidents involving minority prisoners.
In June a jury found that "lack of care" contributed to the death of Peter Austin, a 30-year-old black prisoner who committed suicide while in custody in a London prison. Despite the fact that Austin attempted to cut his wrists with a plastic utensil at the Chiswick police station, smeared his cell with excrement, and claimed to hear voices, he was not put under special observation. In the spring, a hung jury failed to reach a verdict in the case of the police officer charged with the 1996 murder of David Ewen. Ewen had been shot when, cornered by police vehicles, he failed to get out of the car or respond to a verbal warning. A retrial is expected. There have been no further developments in the case of IRA suspect Dairmud O'Neill, who was killed in 1996 when police raided his London apartment during a counterterrorism operation. Human rights groups charge that O'Neill, who was subsequently found to be unarmed, was denied needed immediate medical treatment by police. In July the high court questioned the Crown Prosecution Service's (CPS) 1995 decision not to prosecute officers connected with the deaths of Nigerian Shiji Lapite and Irishman Richard O'Brien, both of whom died in 1994 while in police custody. In February the police service had adopted the recommendation of the Police Complaints Authority that two officers should be charged with neglect of duty in the O'Brien case, but said that a criminal prosecution was not justified in Lapites's case.
In July the High Court also found the 1995 CPS decision not to prosecute officers involved in the 1982 abuse of British citizen Derek Treadaway to be "flawed and perverse." The officers had used plastic bags to suffocate Treadaway to unconsciousness. In 1994 Treadaway received 50,000 British pounds in civil damages from the West Midlands Police. In August the CPS agreed to again review the Treadaway, Lapite, and O'Brien cases.
In September a London court began a hearing into the 1996 death in custody of Ghanaian Ibrahima Sey, after a July announcement by the CPS that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute police officers. Sey died after being sprayed by CS gas at the Illford police station. In March the family of Brian Douglas, an Afro-Caribbean man, won the right to challenge an inquest jury's decision that his 1995 death was due to "misadventure." Douglas suffered a fractured skull after a confrontation with two baton-equipped police officers.
No inquest has been held into the 1996 death of Jim McDonnell in Northern Ireland's Maghberry prison. Fellow prisoners charge that McDonnell was beaten by prison staff. In October police office Patrick Hodgson, charged with murder for fatally wounding an unarmed suspected car thief in 1995, was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter by a unanimous verdict by a London court.
During the year, there were 79 confirmed prisoner suicides (or self-inflicted deaths, which is the term preferred by the nongovernmental organization [NGO], The Prison Reform Trust) not attributable to official mistreatment, versus 82 such suicides in 1996.
During 1996 disturbances in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, an armored personnel carrier ran over Dermot McShane, who had taken refuge behind a board fence during street fighting. The army claimed that the death was accidental. By year's end, there had been no decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether criminal proceedings against the driver would be instituted, nor has there been an inquest into McShane's death. The case is being considered by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Executions and the European Commission of Human Rights.
New evidence from ballistics experts, eyewitnesses, and radio transmission recordings appears to cast doubt on the findings of the initial inquiry into the 1972 "Bloody Sunday" events (where 14 unarmed civil rights demonstrators in Derry were killed by British soldiers, but for which no member of the security forces has been held accountable). By year's end, the Government had made no decision as to whether to reopen the inquiry but continued to study a detailed dossier about the tragedy presented to it by the Irish Government.
Killings by both republican and loyalist groups continued in 1997. On February 12, Stephen Restorick, a soldier serving in South Armagh was killed by an IRA sniper. On May 8, Catholic Robert Hamill died of injuries he received on April 26 when he was savagely kicked and beaten by a loyalist mob in Portadown. Six persons were charged with his killing, but charges were subsequently dropped against five due to insufficient evidence. One awaits trial. Police officers sitting nearby in an RUC vehicle during the attack did not come to Hamill's aid, saying that they neither saw nor heard the incident. Following criticism by the Hamill family and others of the RUC and its internal investigation of the officers' conduct, the case was referred to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, and a complaint was lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights. On May 9, two gunmen shot and killed constable Darren Bradshaw, age 24, as he sat drinking with friends in a bar in central Belfast. The INLA claimed responsibility. On May 12, a 61-year-old Catholic man, Sean Brown, was shot in the head outside a sports complex where he coached Gaelic football in County Antrim. Police believe that Brown was killed by renegade loyalist gunmen from the loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), a splinter loyalist group that does not recognize the cease-fire, in retaliation for the May 9 murder of Darren Bradshaw.
On June 1, 41-year-old RUC constable Greg Taylor was kicked to death by a loyalist mob outside a bar in County Antrim. The mob was reportedly angry about the police ban on a recent loyalist parade in the Antrim village of Dunloy (see Section 2.d.). On June 11, Robert "Basher" Bates, a former member of the notorious Protestant "Shankill butchers" gang, was shot and killed in Belfast. It is believed that Bates was killed by a loyalist in retaliation for Bates's killing of the loyalist's father some 20 years earlier. The IRA'S North Armagh brigade claimed responsibility for the close-range shooting deaths on June 16 of David Johnston and John Graham, two RUC officers on foot patrol in Lurgan, near Portadown.
Loyalists have been blamed for the March 14 killing of 44-year-old Catholic John Slane, who was shot as he prepared food for his twins in the kitchen of his West Belfast home. loyalist sources later claimed that the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) was responsible for the killing, but maintained that it had been a case of mistaken identity. On July 15, 18-year-old Catholic Bernadette Martin was shot in the head while she was sleeping in the home of her Protestant boyfriend. Although denied by the organization, it is widely believed that the killing was committed by the LVF. The LVF was also thought to be responsible for the killing of Gerry Devlin, a 36-year-old Catholic man who was shot in North Belfast on December 5.
Jailed loyalist terrorist leader Billy Wright was shot five times at close range by three Irish National Liberation Army gunmen at the top security Maze prison on December 27. Wright was the leader of the LVF loyalist terrorist organization. Riots followed that evening when loyalist gangs in Portadown and other towns hijacked and burned cars and attacked police with Molotov cocktails. In retaliation for Wright's killing, three men opened fire in front of the Glengannon Hotel on December 28, killing 45-year-old former IRA terrorist and convicted murderer (released in 1994) Seamus Dillon. Three others, including a 14-year-old boy, were wounded. The LVF claimed responsibility for the attack, as well as a subsequent new year's eve attack on a North Belfast bar which fatally wounded 31-year-old Catholic Eddie Treanor. In October, during what police believe was a power struggle among loyalist paramilitary factions, a car bomb attributed to one of the factions killed a 20-year-old man named Greer, who was also believed to be a loyalist paramilitary member.
The 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane, counsel to many IRA suspects, remains an open case. In February 1996, prison authorities freed Brian Nelson, a former Loyalist paramilitary member and agent for British military intelligence who had served less than half of a 10-year sentence for his role in five murder conspiracies unrelated to Finucane. Finucane's widow, alleging that Nelson assisted in targeting Finucane, is pursuing a civil suit against both Nelson and the Ministry of Defense (MOD) for damages resulting from her husband's wrongful death, alleging that the MOD and Nelson were negligent in the "gathering, recording and keeping safe" of material concerning her husband. The MOD denied the claim. The unresolved status of the Finucane case (interpreted by a number of human rights organizations as evidence of collusion between government officials and loyalist paramilitary groups), remains a contentious issue between Nationalist groups and the Government. The United Nation's (U.N.) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, who visited the UK in October to investigate the Finucane case, had not released his report by year's end.
Coroners do not have the power to compel those suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killing to testify at inquests, and the relatives of the deceased receive no advance disclosure of evidence. In Northern Ireland, coroners are permitted to inquire only into "how"--that is "by what means"--the deceased died, rather than into the broad circumstances of death. Human rights groups argue that this narrow definition shields wrongdoers, including soldiers and police officers, and unnecessarily keeps family members from learning the truth of the circumstances surrounding their relative's death.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
An investigation into at least 14 terrorist-perpetrated disappearances dating back to 1972, continued, although there is no longer a dedicated investigative team. Since April 1996 nine individuals have been arrested and interviewed in connection with the disappearances, although by year's end no criminal charges had been filed. The victims, typically members of the security forces, suspected informers, or petty criminals, have not been found.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law forbids torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. However, police occasionally abused detainees. Confessions obtained by abusive treatment are not admissible in court, and judges can exclude even voluntary confessions. Detainees who claim physical mistreatment have the right to an immediate medical examination. Such a claim must be examined by a trial judge. Corporal punishment remains on the statute books in several of the Caribbean dependent territories, although it is rarely practiced.
The NGO Inquest reports that police abuse of detainees in their custody, while not widespread, is a matter of concern. Inquest states that injuries and illnesses result more often from neglect or misdiagnosis than from overt physical attack, although there have been incidents of police brutality (see Section 1.a.). The NGO Prison Reform Trust agrees that while there have been detainees who have suffered police abuse, the problem is not widespread. In 1996, however, a UN committee noted that no police brutality appeared to disproportionally affect members of minority ethnic groups (see section 1.a and 5).
The Independent Commission for Police Complaints, established by the Government, supervises police investigations of complaints in Northern Ireland filed against the police, or referred to the Commission by the RUC Chief Constable, the Police Authority, or the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. It automatically supervises cases involving death or serious injury, and can direct the Chief Constable to bring charges against police officers. The Commission reported that in 1997 it received 3,108 new complaints, up from 2,540 in 1996. Of the 2,699 cases processed (some pending from previous years), investigations led to informal disciplinary action in 109 cases and to formal charges in 7 cases involving nine police officers. Local human rights groups continue to complain that the Commission is not truly autonomous in that it has no independent investigatory abilities and must rely on supervising police investigations into the complaints. The Hayes Report, commissioned by the Government and released on January 23, recommended the establishment of an independent police ombudsman who would be responsible to Parliament and have the power to both initiate and conduct investigations, and to recommend criminal prosecution. In December the Government published a draft bill generally to that effect.
In 1993 the Northern Ireland Secretary named an Independent Assessor of Military Complaints to deal with procedures regarding complaints of abuses committed by the army; the Independent Assessor also lacks independent investigative powers. His fourth report, released in March, noted that despite the end of the IRA cease-fire in February 1996, there were only 24 formal, non-criminal complaints in 1996 (compared with 19 during the cease-fire in 1995) and 264 informal complaints. He also reported that delays in processing complaints had been reduced, and that only one case took more than 8 weeks to resolve.
In 1992 the Government appointed a senior barrister as independent Commissioner for Holding Centers in Northern Ireland, with the authority to make irregular, unannounced visits to any holding center, observe interrogations, and interview detainees. There were 126 visits to the 3 holding centers in 1996 (latest figures). In March the Commissioner and his deputy reported that 16 complaints of physical assault during detention (in a detainee population of 583) were received in 1996. The report also suggested that an ombudsman, similar to that recommended in the Hayes report, would also be appropriate for holding centers. It criticized the fact that silent video recording of interrogations (which legal counsel is generally not permitted to attend) had not yet been implemented. On October 1, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced that new legislation would, however, make audio recordings of interrogations compulsory. At year's end, legislation to implement compulsory audio recording was working its way through Parliament.
Accusations continued that security forces in Northern Ireland harass citizens, particularly young people, in rural and urban working-class communities and other areas where support for terrorists is considered strong. Colin Duffy, who was previously convicted and later acquitted on appeal for the 1996 murder of a former soldier, was arrested by the RUC in June for the murder that month of two police officers in Lurgan. Duffy was released in October for lack of evidence and claims he has been repeatedly harassed by the police since then. The Government strongly denies that such harassment behavior is widespread or officially tolerated. nationalists argue that the RUC acts more aggressively to quell republican disturbances than to subdue loyalist lawbreakers. On October 1, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced government plans to initiate substantial reform of the RUC, including structural and training changes. Parliament debated RUC reform in December.
Police in Northern Ireland continued to use plastic bullets, particularly in connection with violence that erupted during the summer marching season (see Section 2.d.). According to RUC reports, 2,510 plastic bullets were fired during the first 2 weeks of July, compared with 6,600 during the same period the previous year. On June 10, Parliament was informed that a significant proportion of the plastic bullets supplied to the RUC in 1994 and still in use in 1997 were defective, traveling at velocities that exceeded the upper recommended limit. All rounds had been withdrawn by April 25; nearly 9,000 rounds had been fired since the defective bullets were issued. According to RUC rules, plastic bullets should be aimed at the lower half of the body; serious head and upper body injuries nevertheless have resulted from plastic bullet use. In July 14-year-old Gary Lawler was hit in the head by a plastic bullet and remained comatose for several days; Brendan Morris suffered a shattered cheekbone and broken nose; and 13-year-old Marie Walsh was shot in the mouth. In 1996 there were a total of 73 confirmed plastic bullet-related injuries. In 1997 the Independent Commission for Police Complaints received 30 complaints regarding plastic bullets.
Plastic bullet use, confined to Northern Ireland, has been severely criticized by human rights monitors, although the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 1984 that using them to quell serious riots in Northern Ireland did not contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. The U.N. Committee Against Torture, the European Parliament, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, and other NGO's have called for a ban on their use. The Government has said that alternatives have been considered but that most options have been found to be either more dangerous or inaccurate. In January the Inspectorate of Constabulary in Northern Ireland recommended a drastic reduction in the use of plastic bullets to control disturbances. In September the Government announced a nationwide policy review concerning their use.
Prison conditions generally meet minimum international standards, although overcrowding worsened in 1997. As of September, half the prisons in England, Scotland, and Wales were officially deemed by the Prison Service to be overcrowded. In December the Home Office pronounced a pilot program for electronically tagging selected offenders a success. Designed to reduce prison crowding, offenders are required to remain in place, usually at home, as their whereabouts are electronically monitored. The Government, which hopes that the program will reduce the prison population by 5 percent, plans to extend the pilot program to additional counties in 1998.
Both human rights groups and the Independent Commissioner for Holding Centers have repeatedly recommended the closing of the Castlereagh Detention Center, which remains open despite persistent complaints of police impropriety in the interrogation process.
Human rights groups have been particularly critical of special security units (SSU's) used to hold those deemed to pose an exceptional risk of escape. SSU inmates are not told how long they will be held in SSU's, nor are they involved in annual reviews of their detentions or informed when such a review is taking place. Citing small group isolation, the lack of adequate exercise, work, educational opportunities, and natural daylight, as well as strict enforcement of noncontact visits through a glass barrier, NGO's have condemned SSU imprisonment as violating international standards. A 1996 government inquiry conducted by Sir Donald Acheson concluded that prolonged incarceration in SSU's could lead to mental illness. In August, following reinstatement of the IRA cease-fire, the Government transferred all paramilitary prisoners out of SSU's, closing one of the three facilities that had been in use. By year's end, 6 prisoners, none of them paramilitaries, remained in SSU's, down from 27 in January.
Roisin McAliskey, a pregnant prisoner arrested in November, 1996, and awaiting extradition to Germany on terrorism charges, was held in isolation in an SSU until May 23. Categorized as a high-risk prisoner, McAliskey initially had difficulty receiving appropriate prenatal care. After repeated representations on her behalf by human rights groups, prison officials subsequently ensured that she had regular attention for her medical conditions. On May 26, she gave birth; on June 3, she and her child were transferred to a secure mother-baby unit in another hospital. In the fall, a magistrate ruled that McAliskey was eligible for extradition to Germany. At year's end the Home Secretary was still considering whether to sign the extradition order.
In October the Ministry of Defense confirmed that at least 23 cases brought against the Government by servicemen and women claiming physical and sexual assault during initiation, were then pending in the High Court. More than 70 military men and women have brought suit altogether, alleging beatings (including one recruit who required facial reconstruction), racially-motivated assault (including one man of color who was scrubbed with steel brushes then sprinkled with bleach), and other brutalities. Chief of Staff Brig. Robert Gordon announced new policies to eliminate such incidents, including better education, tougher investigations, and stricter discipline. An appeals process for victims of racial or sexual harassment was also promised.
In 1995 ratification by the Republic of Ireland of the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners allowed the transfers of convicted terrorists from British to Irish custody. In 1997 four prisoners were transferred from English jails to jails in Northern Ireland, and further transfers were in process at year's end. Human rights NGO's charge that the transfer process is too slow.
There are no separate prison facilities for young female prisoners; 15- to 18-year-old girls share dormitories and cells with adult women. In some prisons, girls are locked in their cells with adult offenders for as much as 17 hours a day. In Risley young females are housed in the psychiatric wing with seriously disturbed prisoners, as it is considered the safest place for them in the prison. In August the High Court found the automatic placement of young female offenders in adult women's jails pending needs assessment and final placement decisions to be unlawful.
New, less restrictive instructions regarding shackling were introduced following a prison service inquiry into a January incident when prisoner Geoffrey Thomas was shackled to his bed until 3 hours before he died of stomach cancer.
Before the reinstatement of the cease-fire on July 20, the IRA and other Republican paramilitary groups continued violent campaigns targeting buildings and economic activities, as well as military, police, and civilians. While the 1994 loyalist cease-fire generally held, numerous violent incidents were traced to them as well. On January 28, Provisional IRA terrorists launched two rockets at a joint army/RUC patrol in West Belfast. Although a number of pedestrians suffered cuts from flying glass, no one was seriously injured. A group calling itself the Armagh Freedom Fighters, who claim not to be associated with the IRA or any other republican organization, admitted responsibility for the March 2 gasoline bomb attack on a housing executive office. On March 13, a policeman and a soldier were seriously injured in an explosion as they patrolled the nationalist Short Strand enclave in East Belfast. Four other soldiers were slightly injured in the blast. Earlier that day, an improvised grenade was thrown at an army Land Rover as it patrolled the Nationalist Ardoyne area of North Belfast. On April 10, police officer Alice Collins was seriously injured when she was shot in the back while on duty manning a courthouse sentry box in Londonderry. The IRA admitted responsibility. On April 12, a loyalist gang attacked a block of Catholic flats, forcing eight families to flee their homes. A 10-month-old baby narrowly escaped injury when a brick was hurled through a window in the predominantly Protestant Tiger's Bay area of Belfast during the attack. Police blamed loyalists for an attempted car bombing in Belfast on June 21. The driver and another occupant suffered minor injuries.
In March and April, prior to the May 1 general elections, the IRA combined a series of real bomb scares and hoaxes to disrupt the transportation and utilities infrastructures in the Birmingham, Leeds, Doncaster, and London areas. On April 18, bombs were detonated at Leeds and Doncaster, while police defused bombs in Stoke-on-Trent. There were no reports of injuries.
On March 19, a British army bomb disposal unit defused two mark 16 horizontal mortars in county Fermanagh. In April numerous bomb scares and hoaxes led to the cancellation and subsequent rescheduling of the Grand National, the UK's most prestigious horse racing event. On May 31, the IRA left a van containing 1,000 pounds of explosives in the West Belfast housing estate of Poleglass. The IRA claimed it had made the bomb safe before abandoning it, a claim disputed by police.
On July 19, the IRA declared a cease-fire, effective July 20. At the end of August, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced her finding that the cease-fire was being observed, allowing Sinn Fein, the political party closely identified with the IRA, entry into negotiations on Northern Ireland's political future. On September 16, a 400-pound bomb exploded in the County Armagh town of Markethill, causing extensive damage, but no serious injuries. The IRA denied responsibility for the attack, which is thought to have been carried out by the Continuity IRA, a hard-line splinter group. Isolated splinter group incidents, including murder and bombings, accelerated after the fatal Republican attack on jailed Loyalist paramilitary terrorist Billy Wright on December 27 (see Section 1.a.)
Both loyalist and republican terrorists in Northern Ireland have carried out "punishment" attacks, although total numbers have shown a marked decrease since 1996, and particularly since the July cease-fire. The attackers beat their victims with iron pipes, baseball bats, sledgehammers, and spiked clubs, dropped concrete blocks on exposed limbs, and shot victims in the knees. In 1997 the RUC recorded 72 loyalist punishment assaults and an additional 48 loyalist punishment shootings/kneecappings. This was down from 130 and 21, respectively, in 1996. republican statistics included 78 punishment assaults and 24 shootings/kneecappings, versus 172 and 3 in 1996. The RUC attributed no attacks to Direct Action Against Drugs (DADD), a cover name for the IRA. In February David Templeton was attacked by three masked men, believed to be loyalists, who beat him savagely with nail-spiked wooden clubs. He died in March. The loyalists often, but not exclusively, target members of their terrorist cells who have broken ranks, while the republicans more frequently extend their vigilante activities to the broader Catholic community, punishing "anti-social activities" such as drug dealing.
On December 16, three IRA terrorists who planned an extensive bombing campaign in 1996 were sentenced to 17, 20, and 25 years for conspiracy to cause explosions and possessing explosives with intent. The men were arrested in police raids that also resulted in the death of Dairmud O'Neill (see section 1.a)
The Government permits human rights monitors to visit prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The authorities can and often do make arrests or detain suspects without judicial warrants, especially in Northern Ireland, when they believe that they have reasonable cause to suspect wrongdoing. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 allows police officers to stop and search vehicles and pedestrians if a police officer of at least superintendent rank (or a chief inspector if no superintendent is available) "reasonably believes" it is expedient to do so to prevent acts of violence. The authorization is limited to a 24-hour period, but is renewable under certain circumstances.
The 1991 Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act (EPA) permits a soldier on duty, a member of the Royal Irish Regiment, or a police officer to arrest and detain for up to 4 hours "a person who he has reasonable grounds to suspect is committing or has committed or is about to commit any offense."
The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA) allows the police to arrest without a warrant anywhere in the UK persons they have reason to suspect of being involved in terrorism. The authorities may detain such persons (even those under age 18) for up to 48 hours without legal representation or judicial review. Suspects may be interrogated during this time, and confessions obtained may be used in subsequent court proceedings. Under the 1989 PTA, detainees are granted the right to have lawyers present during interrogation in England or Wales, but not in Northern Ireland. Detention without charge may be extended up to a further 5 days on the authority of the Home Secretary or, in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The PTA is the most reviewed piece of legislation in the United Kingdom. It expires every 2 years and, due to the changing security situation, is amended or altered to account for those changes. Critics charge that the annual review is superficial. Extensive PTA detention powers were held in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which led to a derogation by the Government in 1988.
On October 1, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced that the Government intended to eliminate indefinite internment without trial, and to introduce major changes to both the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Provisions Act, including increasing the number of terrorist acts to be tried through the jury system, and introducing audio recording of suspected terrorist interrogations in holding centers.
In England, Scotland, and Wales suspects arrested without warrants must be released within 24 hours (or 36 hours if a serious offense is involved) unless brought before a magistrates' court. The court may authorize extension of detention by 36 hours, and on further application by another 24 hours, versus the 48-hour scheme extant in Northern Ireland (see Section 1.e).
Defendants awaiting trial have a statutory right to bail unless there is a risk that they would abscond, commit an offense, interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice, or unless they were on bail when the alleged offense was committed. Defendants who are remanded in custody are protected by statutory custody time limits, which restrict the period for which they can be held while awaiting trial to a maximum of 182 days, unless the court grants an extension. At year's end, a total of 25,648 defendants were awaiting trial, 24 percent of them in custody. Of those in custody, 86 percent had been awaiting trial for less than 24 weeks, while 3 percent (193) had been waiting longer than 48 weeks. These statistics are comparable to 1996 statistics. Crown Court statistics show that the average waiting time for trial there continued to fall (see page 16.) As of July 30, the Home Secretary announced that existing time limits would be enforced more strictly, and that new, more limited, time frames would be imposed.
The law gives administrative detention power to immigration officers. There is no time limit for such detention and no right to have it reviewed by a court, although recommendations for revised legislation are currently under government review. At any given time, 750 to 800 asylum seekers are detained, either in regular prisons, specially built detention centers, or occasionally in police cells. The average period of detention is about 152 days, although some asylum seekers have been detained for more than 2 years. Unlike those accused of criminal offenses, asylum seekers are given no written statement about why they were detained, although the practice is to provide them updates on the status of their claims and the time required for their adjudication. Asylum seekers do not have an automatic right to apply for bail, and bail application, which can be made to immigration appellate authorities, requires a relatively high level of surety. The Home Office states that detention is authorized only where there are good grounds to anticipate noncompliance with the terms of temporary admission and that the practice does not affect more than approximately 1.5 percent of asylum seekers at any given time.
Under the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act, most asylum seekers are not eligible for means-tested welfare benefits while their applications are under consideration. Those from countries declared to be "in upheaval" are eligible but must apply on arrival to receive benefits. In January and February, a well-publicized hunger strike among asylum seekers in Kent protesting government treatment caused significant criticism of the detention policy. On July 30, a High Court judge found "irrational" a government ban on employment for asylum seekers who are awaiting the results of appeals from decisions denying them refugee status. Asylum seeker Raghbir Singh Johal, who was detained for 20 months by the Government for national security reasons, was released in late 1996.
The Government does not practice exile (see also Section 2.d.). Newspaper articles indicate that terrorist organizations continued to threaten individuals and families to compel them to leave Northern Ireland. The RUC reported that 46 families of police officers, ex-police officers, or their relatives were forced to move from their homes due to terrorist threats.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is independent and provides citizens with a generally fair and efficient judicial process.
The UK has several levels of courts. The vast majority of criminal cases are heard by magistrates courts, which are managed by locally based committees. Their decisions may be appealed to the Crown Court, which also hears criminal cases requiring a jury trial, or to the High Court. Crown Court convictions may be appealed to the Court of Appeal, which in turn may refer cases involving points of law to the House of Lords. The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (which consists of senior judges and is functionally distinct from the legislative arm) is the final court of appeal. On March 31, the new Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) began operating as an additional appellate body to investigate suspected miscarriages of justice in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. It considers cases after the judicial appeals process has been exhausted and where there is significant new evidence that casts doubt on the conviction. In Scotland similar appeals may be made to the Scottish Office.
The law provides for a fair trial, and the authorities respect and enforce the law. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right to question witnesses against them, and the right to appeal to successively higher courts.
Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, judges have the power to instruct juries that they may draw an inference of guilt from a defendant's refusal to answer questions during interrogation or trial, although no conviction can be based solely on such an inference. Human rights groups and the U.N. Human Rights Committee have sharply criticized this provision, which they consider an abrogation of the right against self-incrimination. A similar provision is in effect in Northern Ireland.
Indigent defendants have the right to free counsel of their choice, with some exceptions. Criminal proceedings must be held in public except those in juvenile court and those involving public decency or security. In a trial under the Official Secrets Act, the judge may order the court closed, but the sentencing must be public.
In Northern Ireland, special "emergency" restrictions affect due process. Under the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act of 1991 (EPA), trials for certain terrorist-related offenses are automatically tried in "Diplock courts" without a jury unless they are specifically "scheduled out" to ordinary jury courts. If judges decide to convict, they must justify the decision in a document that becomes part of the court record. An appellate court may overturn the decision on either factual or legal grounds. Through August (latest available statistics), 88 persons stood trial in Diplock courts. Of these, 74 pled guilty; of the 14 who stood trial, 10 were convicted and 4 were acquitted. The Diplock courts, which the Government asserts are necessary to prevent terrorists from intimidating juries and suborning justice, have been widely criticized by human rights groups, as well as various U.N. committees. On October 1, the Northern Ireland Secretary announced the Government's intention to narrow the scope of cases considered by Diplock courts.
The EPA does not exclude the use of uncorroborated confessions, which in Northern Ireland may, and have been, used as the sole basis for conviction. Additionally, the EPA permits police to prevent any suspected terrorist from contacting legal counsel for up to 48 hours after arrest under certain circumstances, and on the request of a police officer with the minimum rank of superintendent. After a detainee has asked to see a lawyer and has done so, this period is renewable in subsequent 48-hour periods until the detainee is charged or released. Human rights groups have criticized these provisions, arguing that a detainee is most likely to need counsel in the first few hours; lack of counsel during that time makes false or coerced confessions and detainee abuse more likely. According to the RUC, in 1996 detainees made 518 requests under the EPA for access to a lawyer, 13 of which were delayed. Through September 1997, 33 of 424 such requests were delayed. At year's end the Government was considering how to implement the European Court of Human Rights' "Murray" ruling, which found the 48-hour rule incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government has not yet adopted the Convention, but legislation to do so has begun working its way through in Parliament.
The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act of 1996 reduced defense lawyers' access to potential evidence held by the prosecution, including information as to how the evidence was collected. According to the Committee on the Administration of Justice, this practice may be contrary to U.N. guidelines on the role of prosecutors.
Human rights groups have expressed concern about intimidation of defense lawyers in Northern Ireland. Attorney Rosemary Nelson reported that within a 4-week period in early 1997, 12 clients who had been held at the Gough Barracks Detention Center had heard RUC officers stating that she was going to be killed, presumably by loyalists. Similar threats continued through October. Nelson has lodged a complaint against the RUC, which remained under investigation at year's end.
On June 20, Patrick Kane was released from prison after serving 9 years for the murder of two army corporals in Northern Ireland. A Court of Appeal ruled Kane's conviction "unsafe" (that is, it overturned his conviction) because of Kane's limited intelligence and anxious nature.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Warrants are normally required for a police search of private premises. However, under the 1991 EPA, members of the armed forces or police in Northern Ireland may enter and search "any premises for the purpose of arresting a person for an arrestable offense, but only if he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the person being sought is on the premises." The requirement for "reasonable" grounds has been broadly interpreted by the Northern Ireland courts.
Primarily due to fear of intercommunal violence, many Protestant and Catholic families in Northern Ireland continued to move away from mixed or border neighborhoods.
In Northern Ireland, paramilitary groups have attacked and threatened to attack the homes and families of police and politicians (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Strongly held common-law tradition, an independent press, and a democratic political system combine to secure freedom of speech and of the press. Viewpoints critical of the Government are well represented. The print media are dominated by a handful of national daily newspapers, all privately owned and independent (although often generally aligned with a political party). About half the electronic media are run by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is funded by the Government but enjoys complete editorial independence. The remainder are run by corporations under renewable government license.
Human rights organizations and journalists continued to criticize the 1981 Contempt of Court Act, which allows courts to order a journalist to disclose a source if this is deemed to be "in the interests of justice." In 1996 the European Court of Human Rights found that the Government had violated the right to free expression when journalist William Goodwin and his publishers were held in contempt of court for refusing to disclose the identity of a source of confidential corporate information that, if published, might have caused financial harm to a company. In July a British court refused to apply the Goodwin precedent, compelling "Marketing Week" magazine to disclose how it learned of the Camelot organization's plans for pay increases 5 days before the public announcement. Marketing Week appealed the decision in July. Because of cases such as "Camelot," journalists have criticized the Contempt of Court Act for failing to provide the safeguards intended for them and their confidential sources.
The doctrine of public interest immunity (PII) allows government ministers to prevent certain information from being disclosed during litigation, on the grounds that such revelation would be contrary to the public interest. Human rights groups have criticized the doctrine and accused the Government of using it to protect government officials. Additionally, the Official Secrets Act, another law cited by journalists as unduly restrictive, prohibits the defense that the information is already in the public domain or that its publication is in the public interest.
In December, the government published a White Paper (a proposed policy paper drafted in preparation for legislation) detailing a comprehensive new Freedom of Information Act. The proposed Act would allow public access to most official information, require public organizations to regularly publicize raw data and facts, and improve individual access to personal information. Hailed by some in government as a fundamental philosophical change, the plan has been praised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, which was reportedly pleased by the extent of the proposed reform. A draft bill is expected in Spring 1998.
Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly and association, but the right is routinely limited where it would impose a cost on public convenience. The annual "marching season" in Northern Ireland posed special problems for the Government as it tried to protect this right in practice. During several weeks in the summer, some 100,000 members of the Orange Order and similar Protestant organizations stage traditional parades to celebrate their history and cultural identity. While few of the 3,100 parades held each year are contentious, about 40 that celebrate Protestant "triumphs" in historical battles or are routed through Catholic neighborhoods give rise to tensions. Similar organizations in the Nationalist community also march during the summer, although the smaller scale of those parades has presented law enforcement authorities with fewer difficulties.
In early summer the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, working with both Protestant and Catholic groups and a new Parades Commission (a five-member appointed body designed to facilitate mediation of contentious parades, which, although seen as a positive innovation, as of yet has no authority to compel action), attempted to effect a compromise on some of the most contentious marches. After this effort failed, the RUC Chief Constable, citing the need to minimize the possibility of serious violence including loss of life, decided to permit the July 6 march along the Garvaghy road in the Drumcree area of Portadown. Protests were widespread as Nationalists denounced the decision as a concession to mob rule. In order to secure access to a particularly contentious stretch of the road, a massive police presence cleared and secured the route in a predawn operation, and kept residents, primarily Catholics, behind a thick cordon of armored vehicles and riot gear-clad officers. A brief but intense clash broke out between police and several dozen protesters. Fourteen persons were injured in the skirmish, some by plastic bullets. There was criticism of police tactics as overly aggressive and directed primarily against Catholics; at the same time, there was evidence that some of the violence was orchestrated by republican groups.
Several days of serious rioting ensued across Northern Ireland, which included car and train burnings and paramilitary attacks on the security forces, including a rocket attack on an RUC vehicle and the shooting of a female officer. In the atmosphere of increased tension and violence, the Orange Order voluntarily canceled or rerouted four particularly contentious parades, a decision that averted the danger of continued civil unrest.
A serious riot occurred in Londonderry on December 13 when republicans protested a unionist march through the center of the city by throwing some 1,000 Molotov cocktails. Police responded by firing 169 plastic bullets, No life-threatening injuries were reported.
Under the PTA, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may proscribe any organization that "appears...to be concerned in, or in promoting or encouraging terrorism occurring in the United Kingdom and connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland." Membership in proscribed loyalist and republican paramilitary groups is punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment. In June the Secretary of State proscribed two groups, the loyalist Volunteer Force a breakaway group of the Ulster Volunteer Force, which refuses to accept the loyalist cease-fire, and the Continuity Army Council IRA, a republican group that has opposed calls for an IRA cease-fire. The Council has claimed responsibility for attacks on the police and army and is suspected in a number of other sectarian attacks in Northern Ireland, including a car bomb attack in Markethill in September. The LVF is believed to be responsible for a number of bombings and sectarian killings, including the killing of Sean Brown in Bellaghy in May, and Seamus Dillon and Eddie Treanor in December (see Section 1.a.). The LVF also threatened heavy bombing in the Republic of Ireland if the Orange Order March in Portadown was banned.
Supporting proscribed paramilitary groups is also an imprisonable offense, as is wearing clothing that arouses "reasonable suspicion" that the wearer belongs to or supports proscribed organizations. Human rights activists, while acknowledging the deterrent effects of proscription powers, argue for the repeal of this law because it violates the fundamental right of freedom of association and an individual's right to express personal opinions and beliefs.
c. Freedom of Religion
Government policy and general practice ensure freedom of religion for traditional and nontraditional worshippers. Despite the existence of state religions (the Anglican Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland), members of all faiths and denominations enjoy freedom of worship. Discrimination on religious or political grounds is specifically outlawed in Northern Ireland, although not currently in the rest of the country. Those who believe that their freedom to worship has been abrogated have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights for relief. Although not enforced, blasphemy with respect to Christian beliefs is still technically illegal. Several religious organizations, in association with the Commission for Racial Equality, are attempting to either abolish the rule or expand it to protect all faiths.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens enjoy freedom of movement within the country and in foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. However, the Home Secretary may exclude from Great Britain anyone believed linked with terrorism in Northern Ireland, except anyone born in Great Britain or resident there for 3 years. The Grounds for exclusion need not be revealed. As of September 30, 13 persons (versus 22 in 1996) are subject to exclusion orders. Several Members of Parliament, human rights groups, and the media have objected to exclusion orders. On October 30 the Home Secretary revoked all of the exclusion orders as part of the peace process confidence-building measures.
The Government cooperates closely with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. First asylum is provided under a temporary protection process started in 1992. All applicants are screened by the UNHCR. As of June 30, the Government accepted 15,910 applications for first asylum, a 22 per cent decrease over 1996. Under the first asylum program, successful applicants are given 6 months' "leave to enter the country" on arrival. They can then apply for an automatic 3 1/2 year extension of their stay, and may apply for refugee status at any time. Such applications are considered in accordance with the criteria set out in the 1951 UN refugee convention. Some asylum seekers are detained while the Government reviews their cases (see Section 1.d.).
Of decisions taken on asylum applications in 1997, 11 percent were to recognize the applicant as a refugee and grant asylum, and 9 percent were granted "exceptional leave to remain," although the applicants were refused asylum.
The Government began a review of asylum and detention policies, which was not complete by year's end.
In April the press reported that after being denied asylum, Maurad Amara was killed within 2 weeks of his deportation to Algeria. After public criticism, the Government froze further deportations to Algeria, pending a review of the situation there. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that Amara was alive and well. Nevertheless, violent events in Algeria over the summer months prompted another freeze on Algerian deportations.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens have the right to change their government and freely exercise that right. The Government is formed on the basis of a majority of seats in the House of Commons, which are contested in elections held at intervals not longer than 5 years.
Participation in the political process is open to all persons and parties. All citizens 18 years of age and older may vote. As in the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has city and district councils, but with fewer powers. England and Wales also have county councils. On September 11, in Scotland, 74percent of those voting, (there was a 60percent turnout) voted in favor of creating a separate Scottish Parliament which is to assume responsibility for local matters such as health, education, and economic development. The Parliament will also have limited taxation powers. The Scottish National Party, which holds 6 seats in the UK Parliament, advocates complete independence for Scotland. Wales narrowly passed a similar devolution measure on September 18, but the new Welsh assembly is not to have tax-raising powers. Despite periodic attempts, there has been no devolved government in Northern Ireland since 1972 because of the situation there and the lack of progress in political negotiations.
British dependent territories have small populations (about 160,000 persons in total), with appointed governors or administrators assisted by executive councils (usually appointed) and legislative assemblies or councils (partly elected). In the summer, there was a call by residents in several dependent territories, particularly Anguilla, to explore increased autonomy to deal with domestic issues, although there is no strong agitation for independence. The Government has committed to cooperating in these efforts, including promising a comprehensive dependent territory policy review due in early 1998.
Women and minorities face no legal constraints on voting or holding office. Following the May elections, women constitute 18 percent of the membership of the lower legislative chamber and nearly 8 percent of the upper chamber (up from 10 and 5 percent respectively). Seventeen members of minority ethnic groups serve in Parliament.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights issues and cases. Government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views. In 1973 the Government established a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) to monitor human rights in Northern Ireland but has adopted few of its security-related recommendations.
A number of international nongovernmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, and Article 19, are based in the UK. The Government cooperates fully with international inquiries into alleged violations of human rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Race Relations Act of 1976 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality, or national or ethnic origin, and outlaws incitement to racial hatred. In August the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order extended these protections to Northern Ireland. Human rights groups claim that the travelers, a white, nomadic indigenous population (estimated to number some 1,000 persons) that comprises the second largest minority ethnic group in Northern Ireland, and a significant minority in the rest of the UK, experience marginalization, educational discrimination, and police and societal harassment greater than that of the settled population. U.N. committees on both the Rights of the Child and the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have expressed similar concerns.
Discrimination on the grounds of religious or political opinion is specifically unlawful in Northern Ireland but not in Great Britain. Discrimination on the basis of religion is only illegal in Great Britain when its effect is to discriminate against a member of a minority ethnic group. The Government respects and enforces all antidiscrimination laws, which concentrate on employment and the supply of goods and services.
Statistical and other evidence indicates that most victims of societal violence are women. Domestic violence currently constitutes 43 per cent of reported violent crimes against women and accounts for almost 17 percent of all reported violent crimes. As promised, the Government introduced the Protection from Harassment Act of 1997 in March, which calls for prison sentences of up to 5 years for convicted stalkers.
The law provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and protective exclusion orders (similar to restraining orders) for women who are victims of violence. The Government provides shelters, counseling, and other assistance for victims of battery or rape and offers free legal aid to battered women who are economically reliant upon their abusers. The Government actively prosecutes perpetrators of domestic violence. Section 33 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act abolished the requirement that judges warn juries that a victim's testimony alone should not be adequate for a rape conviction. The Act also made sexual and other intentional harassment a criminal offense. In September a court ordered the first civil damages award of about $24,000 (14,000 British pounds) to a victim of marital rape.
The law also provides for equal opportunity between the sexes, but women experience some discrimination in practice. The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, as amended in 1986, prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination in training, education, housing, and provision of goods and services, as well as in employment. Women have equal rights regarding property and divorce. According to the Government's Equal Opportunities Commission (which supports persons who bring discrimination cases before industrial tribunals and courts, and produces guidelines on good practice for employers), there has been significant progress towards equal opportunity for women since the Commission was established in 1975. However, according to the Equal Opportunities Commission women still earn approximately 20 per cent less than their male counterparts in comparable positions, a number that has changed little in recent years. A government minister cochairs the Women's National Commission, a forum for women's organizations that presents women's views to the government.
The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. The government provides free, compulsory education up to age 16, and then to the age of 18 if the student so desires. While there is no societal pattern of abuse directed against children, indications are, despite the lack of reliable data, that child abuse is nevertheless a problem. Throughout the year a tribunal continued hearings into allegations of systematic abuse of more than 650 children by staff at various public and private children's homes in Wales. Findings are expected in January 1998. Under the PTA, police can arrest and detain minors for up to 7 days.
Various laws covering England and Wales stipulate that children have the right to apply for court orders, to give or withhold consent for medical treatment (for those capable of making an informed decision), to make complaints to the relevant local authority, to have their ethnic, linguistic, and religious background considered in decisions affecting them, to have reasonable contact with their families (usually applied in a circumstance where there has been abuse), and in general to be consulted regarding their desires.
People With Disabilities
The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act outlaws discrimination against disabled persons in the provision of access to public facilities by employers of more than 20 workers, service providers (apart from those providing education or running transport vehicles), and anyone selling or renting property. The 1993 Education Act imposes specific duties on local education authorities to make provision for the special educational needs of disabled children. Disabled rights groups continued to complain that the Government had declined to create an enforcement body for the Discrimination Act.
Rights Now, a consortium of over 50 independent organizations campaigning for laws to end discrimination on the grounds of disability, reported that employers were 6 times more likely to turn down a disabled person for a job interview than a nondisabled applicant with the same qualifications. Rights Now also reported that there are currently 400,00 to 450,000 people needing wheelchair-accessible homes, but that only 80,000 such homes are available. Although wheelchair accessibility at voting sites improved since the 1992 elections when 88 per cent of the polling stations were inaccessible to physically disabled voters, 81 per cent of the 1997 sites posed two or more access problems (e.g., no wheelchair ramps, or voting booths that were too high) for wheelchair-bound voters.
Access to buildings generally improved but remains inadequate. Many buildings and train stations are so old that they do not have elevators, although government regulations require that all new buildings meet the access requirements of all persons with impaired mobility. In 1992 the Government promulgated similar regulations for sensory-impaired persons, and current regulations require that all taxis be wheelchair accessible by the year 2000.
Despite government efforts and the lowering of the overall unemployment rate in Northern Ireland in December to 7.8 per cent, the unemployment rate for Catholic men in Northern Ireland remained twice that for Protestant men. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act of 1989, as amended, aims to end even unintentional or indirect discrimination in the workplace, and a fair employment tribunal adjudicates complaints. All public-sector employers and all private firms with over 10 workers must report annually to the Fair Employment Commission on the religious composition of their work force, and must review their employment practices at least once every 3 years. Noncompliance can bring criminal penalties and loss of government contracts. Victims of employment discrimination may sue for damages. While critics of the Act have asserted that its targets and timetables are too imprecise, most leaders of the Catholic community have praised it as a positive step. In June the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) completed its review of the adequacy of the fair employment legislation and government policy in this area and made a significant number of recommendations to make them more effective. At year's end the Government was continuing its review of these recommendations.
There have been improvements in fair housing, education, and provision of goods and services, although, other than in Northern Ireland, there is no legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion.
While active recruitment of Catholics by the Northern Ireland civil service has produced rough proportionality in overall numbers, the service acknowledges that Catholics remain significantly underrepresented in its senior grades. Service-wide employment cutbacks have thus far hampered efforts to overcome this imbalance. Government efforts to increase recruitment of Catholics into the police force (currently 92 percent Protestant) and related security jobs in Nothern Ireland have been hampered by IRA killings and death threats, as well as widespread antipathy in the Catholic community to the security forces. From 1994 to 1996, 76 Catholic officers were hired by the regular RUC, but the percentage of Catholics on the force remained virtually unchanged.
At least six arson attacks were committed in Northern Ireland against Catholic churches and at least one against a Protestant church. Loyalists broke into a Catholic Church in Northern Ireland in December, breaking windows and various other articles, a not unusual practice, according to the priest there. A spring attack against a Mormon church was deemed an act of vandalism rather than a sectarian offense.
According to the Institute for Jewish Policy research, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain declined in 1996 (latest figures) for the third consecutive year.
Despite legal prohibitions against race discrimination, persons of African, South Asian, or traveler origin face occasional acts of societal violence and some discrimination. According to Human Rights Watch, from 1989 to 1996, the number of reported racial incidents rose from 4,383 to 12,199 (a racial incident was defined as "any incident in which it appears to the reporting or investigating office that the complaint involves an element of racial motivation, or any incident that includes an allegation of social motivation made by any person, whether the victim or a third party"). Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of 2 years' imprisonment. The Government strictly enforces the laws and regulations in this area. In October the Home Secretary announced the Government's intention to add up to 2 years' additional prison time for those convicted of racially-motivated crimes. By year's end, the proposed legislation was moving through the Parliamentary process.
A government-appointed but independent Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) provides guidelines on good practice, supports persons taking court action under the Race Relations Act of 1976, and may initiate its own court action. After investigating a complaint, the CRE may issue a notice requiring that the discrimination be stopped. The CRE monitors the response to such a notice for 5 years.
An inquest jury decided in February that black teenager Stephen Lawrence had been "unlawfully killed" by five white youths in an unprovoked, racially-motivated attack. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to convict the perpetrators. A public hearing into Lawrence's death is scheduled for early 1998.
In March the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern at the Government's delay in passing race relations legislation for Northern Ireland and highlighted apparent deficiencies in the proposed legislation. (Discrimination based on race is prohibited in the rest of the UK.) In August the Government passed the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, which for the first time gives specific legal protection to minority ethnic groups there, including the traveler community.
In September the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture met with lawyers and prison officials. The Committee investigated, among other issues, the disproportionate numbers of detained or incarcerated minorities dying or injured while in police custody (see Section 1.a.). In 1996 the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had noted with serious concern that among the victims of death in custody were a disproportionate number of members of minority groups; that police brutality appeared to affect members of minority groups disproportionately; that allegations of police brutality and harassment were reportedly not vigorously investigated; and that perpetrators, once guilt was established, were not punished appropriately.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers have the right to form and join unions, and the Government respects this right in practice. Unions participate freely in international organizations, and are free of government control. Like employers' associations, they must have their accounts certified by the Government. Senior union officers must be elected by secret ballot. Additionally, the law mandates secret ballots before a strike call, prohibits unions from disciplining members who reject a legal strike call, and allows members to lodge complaints against their union with a government-appointed commissioner.
No specific statutory "right to strike" exists, and voluntary cessation of work may be considered a breach of contract. A system of legal immunities from prosecution for unions engaged in lawful industrial action was narrowed by acts of Parliament in the 1980's. These acts exclude secondary strikes and actions judged to have political motives; unions encouraging such strikes are subject to fines and seizure of their assets. The legislation also tightly restricts the ability of unions to act against subsidiaries of prime employers with which they are in dispute when the subsidiaries are not party to the dispute and are the employers of record.
In 1993 the Council of Europe (COE) determined that British labor law violated the European Social Charter by permitting an employer to dismiss all employees who take part in a strike and then, after 3 months, to rehire them selectively. The Council requested that the British Government notify it of the measures to be taken to remedy this defect. The new Government is in the process of reexamining this question, with proposals to be published in early 1998 in a White Paper entitled "Fairness at Work."
It is illegal to deny employment on the grounds that the applicant is not a union member. The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act of 1993 set new procedural requirements for union strikes, dues collection, and membership rules. It also made it possible for private citizens, when deprived of goods or services due to strike action, to seek damages and to obtain assistance in this effort from the government. The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in 1993 lodged complaints with the International Labor Organization (ILO) on various provisions of the 1993 Act (see Section 6.b.). In 1995 the House of Lords upheld a provision of the Employment Protection Act of 1978, as amended by the Employment Act of 1988, allowing employers to offer workers financial inducements to give up union representation. In 1996 the Committee of Experts of the ILO found this law to be in substantial violation of Convention 98 on the right to organize and bargain collectively and asked the UK to amend its legislation. The new Government is in the process of examining this recommendation.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Employers have no legal obligation to bargain with workers' representatives. However, the new Government pledged to pass a law requiring such bargaining in work places where there is a majority of worker support. While labor-management contracts are not enforceable in the courts, collective bargaining is longstanding and widespread, covering about 40 percent of the work force.
Workers who believe themselves to be victims of antiunion discrimination may seek redress through industrial tribunals. Remedies available include payment of indemnities and reinstatement.
Contrary to ILO Convention 98, UK employers or others may lawfully circulate blacklists of union members seeking employment. In 1993 the ILO concluded that the Government was obliged to protect union members from such discrimination. At year's end, the Government was considering its response to this finding.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children, is prohibited and is not practiced, although the ILO has raised questions about the situation in privatized prisons.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
School attendance until age 16 is compulsory. Children under age 16 are not permitted to work in an industrial enterprise except as part of an educational course. Forced and bonded child labor is prohibited, and the Government effectively enforces this prohibition.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
No legislated minimum wage exists, but the new Government pledged to institute one in early 1998. Nor does any legislation limit daily or weekly working hours, but new laws to bring the UK into compliance with the European Union's 48-hour workweek directive were expected by year's end.
The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 stipulates that the health and safety of employees not be placed at risk. A Health and Safety Commission effectively enforces regulations on these matters and may initiate criminal proceedings in appropriate cases. Workers' representatives actively monitor enforcement of the Act. Workers can remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment, as provided in the European Union framework directive on safety and health.
[end of document]
Return to 1997 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.