The Helsinki Commission was urged by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to make a contribution to the public debate on Northern Ireland. Human rights reports by well-respected NGOs such as Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch have documented persistent human rights abuses by security and paramilitary forces. Serious questions have been raised about the administration of justice as well. And to this day, issues of social and economic justice dominate the political dialogue between the two communities of Northern Ireland. Prior to its visit, the Commission was warned that, given its complex realities and historic passions, Northern Ireland often defies understanding. Nevertheless, the delegation, which in. addition to Senator DeConcini, included Commission Deputy Staff Directors Jane Fisher and Mary Sue Hafner, as well as, Mary Hawkins of Senator DeConcini’s personal staff, came away with a better perception of what drives this conflict.
The delegation began its fact-finding trip on the premise that any evaluation of the situation in Northern Ireland must consider not only traditional human rights violations, bu he erosion of a democratic system by terrorist activity. Indeed, the delegation viewed errorist acts by paramilitary forces from both communities as one of the worst recurring auses of human rights violations. At the same time, the delegation agreed the root causes of that terrorism should also be examined. As local religious leaders admonished, “an valuation of Northern Ireland based upon CSCE standards and principles must addres he dangers it confronts.” This view reflected the competing interests that challening Northern Ireland today: on the one hand, efforts by one of the world’s oldest democracies to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law; on the other, the need to combat a vicious terrorist movement that has taken thousands of lives.