An open letter to John Reid MP

An open letter to;
Secretary of State Dr. John Reid MP
October 2nd 2002

Dear John a chara,

Since the introduction of the new plastic bullet, June 01, there has
been growing concern at the indiscriminate use by both the PSNI and the
British army of this lethal weapon resulting in numerous injuries. In
addition to this there has also been considerable levels of physical
assaults on members of the public by these same forces, particularly
within interface areas across Belfast.

It must be stressed that the policing tactics deployed around the
interface areas in general have been at best ambivalent to attacks on
family homes and local residents, and at worst aggressive and hostile
in terms of reacting to local frustrations about the PSNI inaction in
curbing and ending attacks. This has contributed greatly to the
generally held view that the PSNI have simply continued with the old
and outdated practices of sectarian policing that characterised the RUC.

Additionally members of Relatives for Justice living in rural areas
have been visited by the PSNI recently and told that they are under
threat from loyalist paramilitaries. These are families that have
already lost loved ones in circumstances where collusion is either
evidenced and/or strongly alleged. It is also apparent that loyalists
are still in possession of both information and weapons as a direct
result of the activities of the RUC and Military Intelligence, which
once again came to light this summer.

It is the strongly held belief of significant sections of the community
that the threat of collusion has not disappeared. In this context many
still live under daily threat and in the knowledge that the
protagonists within the RUC are now comfortably slotted into the PSNI.
It is also the case that the whole area of collusion remains completely
outstanding and unaccounted for the many thousands it affected.
Furthermore your government’s response by way of the Stevens Enquiry,
yet again, is non-compliant with the demands of the bereaved, injured,
and international community, and is therefore insufficient in terms of
addressing this institutionalised crime. To date, this administration
has failed to properly comply with requests to thoroughly and
independently examine collusion and makes a mockery of its so called
‘Ethical Foreign Policy’ and calls to ‘champion human rights’. It is an

It is clear that the Office of the Ombudsman falls far short of the
public’s expectation of an independent authority that can fulfill the
obligations envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement in protecting human
rights in an effective and transparent manner.

This is evidenced as the British army have been regularly deployed as
part of the ‘policing operations’ supporting the PSNI on the ground. In
the course of this the British army have fired numerous plastic bullets
causing serious and life diminishing injuries. Despite your own
assurances that all plastic bullets fired would be subject to full and
rigorous scrutiny the Ombudsman has no legislative remit to investigate
such incidents.

A lack of confidence in the Ombudsman was further evidenced by the
manner in which it was completely isolated and left undefended by your
government regarding its findings on the Omagh bomb investigation,
whilst full confidence was expressed in the then leadership of Ronnie

The Military Provost to whom complaints against the British army are
directed has no legislative investigative powers and is in reality
equally ineffective in scrutinising the use of plastic bullets.

It is clear that confidence in the bodies set up under the terms of the
Good Friday Agreement to promote and protect human rights, and where
alleged violations occur investigate, has eroded. Of course this is not
to impugn the commitment or integrity of those individuals involved but
rather to focus on the deliberate inaction of your government to
provide proper powers and resources.

As an organisation representing people bereaved and injured by State
and State sponsored violence it is evident that the current
investigative mechanisms in place to monitor State actions are failing.

If you, and your government, are genuine about the promotion of human rights then the spin has to stop and the real work begin.

As part of Relatives for Justice’s role in seeking to promote human
rights we propose that should a ‘Violence Monitor’ be put in place in
the coming weeks then they must have a remit to examine ongoing
hostilities by the PSNI and the British army, namely the third
protagonist to the conflict. Such would be a measure of commitment and
a small step towards building confidence.

This remit will act as a stopgap. In the meantime we suggest that the
legislative requirements necessary to effectively place the Office of
the Ombudsman, the Policing Board, and indeed the Human Rights
Commission, at the hub of protecting human rights commence immediately.
It is essential that these new bodies become fully functional and gain
the confidence of those that they are tasked with serving.

Is mise le meas
Mark Thompson, Director, Relatives for Justice