Statement to Congress by Paul Nelson

17 March 2000

Presented to Congress on behalf of Paul Nelson by the Rosemary Nelson Campaign.

This is obviously a difficult and painful time for our family.

We have been helped by the sympathy and support shown by the international community. Not least in this has been the support of members of Congress for the two requests made by us following Rosemary's murder - for a fully independent international investigation and an independent international judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Rosemary's death.

These requests now constitute the key objectives of the Rosemary Nelson Campaign.

The Campaign brings together members of Rosemary's family, her friends, lawyers and human rights activists who each have a commitment to truth and justice for Rosemary.

Human rights lawyers are in the front line of the defence of human rights around the world. In this context the murder of Rosemary was a direct and profound attack on the human rights of everybody in Ireland and beyond.

Swift movement towards the establishment of a fully independent international investigation and inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Rosemary's death is necessary to ensure that the human rights which were guaranteed by the Good Friday agreement can be properly protected.

The murder of Rosemary was a terrible event with potentially huge implications for policing and human rights in the north of Ireland. It was, however, primarily a human tragedy for her family and friends.

Whatever happens in terms of the pursuit of truth and justice in this case, it bears emphasis that our loss can never be replaced.

It is also true, however, that there will be some solace for our family in the achievement of the truth about the circumstances surrounding her murder.

This is why the Rosemary Nelson Campaign focuses on two fairly simple and palpably reasonable demands -

  1. an independent international investigation, and
  2. an independent international judicial inquiry. These are the only mechanisms capable of securing the truth so desperately demanded by her family, her friends and the wider community.

Rosemary was consistently and routinely death-threatened by members of the RUC. She was subsequently murdered. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done in this case.

If the RUC or other security forces were involved in collusion in the murder, this must be exposed. If they were not, they have nothing to fear from any independent investigation and, indeed, they should welcome it.

If there was security force collusion in the murder of Rosemary, then culpability for that collusion sits not only with the RUC but with the British government.

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers make clear that it is not enough for a government to adopt a policy of non-interference with lawyers - the duty goes much further - it is a positive duty - as Principle 16 provides: Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

There is no greater intimidation to all lawyers than the death of a high-profile human rights lawyer. A fully independent investigation and inquiry is needed for governments to live up to United Nations obligations. From this perspective, it is in the interests of the British government to move quickly to support an independent inquiry and investigation.

The secretary of state and the prime minister have a clear interest and duty to ensure that this case is dealt with quickly and appropriately.

Furthermore, Principle 18 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provides that:

"Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions."

This principle underwrites the independence of lawyers which is a necessary part of the right to a fair trial that all suspects should possess in any democratic society, and which the government have committed themselves to as signatories of human rights conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Human rights lawyers are in the front line of the defence of human rights around the world. This is why Rosemary's death has so shocked the international human rights community. It is also the key to understanding why the campaign will and must be a success.

If we are to have human rights in Northern Ireland, then there can be no place for the harassment of defence lawyers, there can be no place for the death-threatening of defence lawyers, and there can be no place for the murder of defence lawyers. The international human rights community understands this and will be a key part of the alliance to secure truth and justice for Rosemary.

Rosemary's work was, on the one hand, that of an ordinary solicitor serving all communities in Lurgan and beyond. But her commitment to a whole range of human rights work marked her out as a human rights defender in the widest sense.

One of the most common tributes that have been paid to her is that she would work for anyone from any community regardless of their religion or politics. That is the true mark of a human rights lawyer.

We ask Congress to do its utmost to support our aim - truth and justice for Rosemary. We also ask you to support our two objectives - an independent international investigation and an independent international judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding her death.

We cannot overestimate the importance of the continued support of Congress for these objectives. We obviously hope that both of these objectives will be realised swiftly. But we also commit ourselves to campaign for these objectives for as long as it takes. To do any less would be to do a disservice to the cause of human rights which Rosemary so ably and commitedly served.

Thank you for your continuing sympathy and support.