New Report Details Vilification of Human Rights Lawyers in Northern Ireland
London—Human Rights First today released a new report on the intimidation of lawyers in Northern Ireland working on the so-called legacy cases related to the Northern Ireland conflict, known as “The Troubles.” The report, “A Troubling Turn: The Vilification of Human Rights Lawyers in Northern Ireland,” details the attack on lawyers by elements of the British press and some government officials.
“As new details emerge about killings during the Troubles, Britain’s right-wing press, public officials, and veterans’ groups are demonizing solicitors who represent families of those killed by British security forces,” said Brian Dooley, author of today’s report. “History shows us that creating an atmosphere of suspicion around lawyers can lead to violence, which undermines the rule of law and prevents victims from ever finding justice.”
Based on a Human Rights First research trip in March and April of this year, the report details how the U.S. government and legal community can help protect Northern Ireland’s human rights lawyers. “A Troubling Turn” draws on interview with lawyers, activists, academics, nongovernmental organizations, family members of victims, and victim groups.
Human Rights First has a long history of research and advocacy on this issue. As the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, the organization published a series of reports on the murders of Northern Ireland lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.
The report comes in the week of the U.K. general election and a debate about compromising on human rights. “The U.K. looks in danger of backsliding on human rights commitments. The last year has seen press attacks on judges and on European human rights standards. The vilification of lawyers in Northern Ireland is part of a wider attack by elements of the press on the rule of law,” said Dooley.
Today’s report recommends steps the U.S. government and legal community can take to protect Northern Ireland’s human rights lawyers, and the U.K. government can take to honor its commitment to human rights standards in Northern Ireland, including:
- The U.S. government should immediately use its special relationship with the U.K. government to urge a calming of rhetoric before the vilification of lawyers leads to violence.
- The U.S. Congress should renew its call for a full independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, hold hearings into the latest threats against lawyers, and hear directly from solicitors vilified in the U.K. parliament and press. Members of Congress should publicly urge the U.K. government to abide by its international obligations to protect human rights lawyers and uphold the rule of law.
- Former and current U.S. government officials should publicly remind the U.K. government that the peace in Northern Ireland remains fragile, families have a right to know the truth about the past, and lawyers and others facilitating that process should be free from media and political attack.
- U.S. lawyers, academics, and legal organizations should publicly raise their concerns with the U.K. government and with U.K. law organizations about the risks to lawyers and others upholding the rule of law.