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Panel

Condemning the Murder of Rosemary Nelson and Urging Protection of Defense Attorneys in Northern Ireland

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

106th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce a bipartisan resolution which condemns the brutal murder of Northern Ireland defense attorney Rosemary Nelson and calls on the British Government to launch an independent inquiry into Rosemary’s killing. The resolution also calls for an independent judicial inquiry into the possibility of official collusion in the 1989 murder of defense attorney Patrick Finucane and an independent investigation into the general allegations of harassment of defense attorneys by Northern Ireland’s police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). I am pleased that Mr. Gilman, Mr. King, Mr. Crowley, Mr. Payne, and Mr. Menendez are original sponsors of this resolution.

 

Mr. Speaker, Rosemary Nelson was a champion of due process rights and a conscientious and courageous attorney in Northern Ireland. She was the wife of Paul Nelson and the mother of three young children: Christopher (13), Gavin (11), and Sarah (8). Her murder was a cowardly act by those who are the enemies of peace and justice in Northern Ireland. Her death is a loss felt not just by her family and friends, but by all of us who advocate fundamental human rights.

 

I first met Rosemary Nelson in August, 1997, when she shared with me her genuine concern for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. She explained how, as an attorney, she has been physically and verbally assaulted by RUC members and how the RUC sent messages of intimidation to her through her clients. Many of her clients were harassed as well. Notwithstanding these threats, Rosemary Nelson still carried an exhaustive docket which included several high profile political cases. She became an international advocate for the rule of law and the right of the accused to a comprehensive defense and an impartial hearing. She also worked hard to obtain an independent inquiry into the 1989 murder of defense attorney of Patrick Finucane. For this, Rosemary Nelson was often the subject of harassment and intimidation. For her service to the clients, on March 15, 1999, Rosemary Nelson paid the ultimate price with her life, the victim of a car bomb.

 

Last September, 1988, Rosemary testified before the subcommittee I chair, International Operations and Human Rights. She told us she feared the RUC. She reported that she had been “physically assaulted by a number of RUC officers” and that the RUC harassment included, “at the most serious, making threats against my personal safety including death threats.” She said she had no confidence in receiving help from her government because, she said, in the end her complaints about the RUC were investigated by the RUC. She also told us that no lawyer in Northern Ireland can forget what happened to Pat Finucane, nor can they dismiss it from their minds.

 

She said one way to advance the protection of defense attorneys would be the establishment of an independent investigation into the allegations of collusion in his murder. Despite her testimony and her fears, the British government now wants to entrust the investigation of Rosemary Nelson’s murder to the very agency she feared and mistrusted most, the RUC. Instead, I believe that in order for this investigation to be beyond reproach, and to have the confidence and cooperation of the Catholic community that Rosemary Nelson adeptly represented, it must be organized, managed, directed and run by someone other than the RUC. It just begs the question as to whether or not we can expect a fair and impartial investigation when the murder victim herself had publicly expressed deep concern about the impartiality of RUC personnel.

 

Mr. Speaker, the major international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights , British/Irish Human Rights Watch Committee for the Administration of Justice, and Human Rights Watch have all called for an independent inquiry. Param Cumaraswamy, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who completed an extensive human rights investigative mission to the United Kingdom last year, has also called for an independent inquiry of Rosemary Nelson’s murder. At our September 29, 1998 hearing, Mr. Cumaraswamy stated that he found harassment and intimidation of defense lawyers in Northern Ireland to be consistent and systematic. He recommended a judicial inquiry into the threats and intimidation Rosemary Nelson and other defense attorneys had received. It’s hard not to wonder if the British government had taken the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations more seriously, Rosemary Nelson might have been better protected and still with us today. I express my heartfelt condolences to the Nelson family and I urge my colleagues to support the following resolution.

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