Dé Domhnaigh, Eanáir 24, 2010

British and PSNI Actions Contravene Human Rights

Earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Section 44 stop and search powers of the British government's 'Terrorism act' was an invasion of people's right to liberty and privacy and contravened Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These same powers, which the court described as “coercive”, have been used by the PSNI in the six-counties with increasing frequency in recent months.

The landmark judgement stated that “it considers that the powers of authorisation and confirmation as well as those of stop and search under sections 44 and 45 of the 2000 (Terrorism) Act are neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. They are not, therefore, ‘in accordance with the law’.”

Despite such a damning indictment of the draconian and arbitary powers that the PSNI and other British police forces have been given by their political masters in Westminster, what followed has been a shameful silence among the media and by human rights bodies and politicians on both sides of the border.

The reality is that this judgement is of importance in casting a spotlight, not just on police forces in Britain, but specifically on the PSNI and the way they operate in the six counties. As éirígí have regularly highlighted, the use in the six counties of such stop and search powers condemned in this judgement, has risen dramatically in recent times.

Back in November of last year it was revealed that during the nine month period from January 1st to September 30th last year under the British government’s ‘Terrorism Act’ and ‘Justice & Security Act’ over 20,000 different stop and search's took place in the Six Counties.

Between July and September alone there were more than 12,000 stop and search operations carried out by the PSNI, an average of 110 a day, three times the number for the previous quarter and more than the total number for all of 2008.

Section 44, the act now found to be illegal was the legislation used by the PSNI to carry out the vast majority, more than 17,000 in fact, of these stop and search operations.

What these figures show is that the PSNI, contrary to the image and media spin presented by the constitutional nationalist politicians who now fully endorse and support them, are a force that employ repressive measures, not reluctantly, but with great enthusiasm. These stop and search figures, coupled now with the European Court's judgement, shatters the myth repeated over and over by those politicians that we were witnessing a new beginning to policing. Rather, it reveals a true picture of the arbitary and repressive nature of British policing in Ireland.

The lack of concern at increased British government and PSNI repression from those politicians who now wholeheartedly support the re-named RUC as they administer British rule from Stormont comes as no great surprise however.

They have failed to challenge the step up in repression that has occurred in recent times. On top of the staggering increase in stop and search incidents, over the past twelve months we have seen the introduction of 28-day detentions, the firing of plastic bullets once again and the re-deployment of the British army's undercover Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR).

The PSNI powers of arrest have increased. They continue to intercept email and telephone communications, to retain fingerprint and DNA samples of innocent people (also ruled illegal by the European Court just twelve months ago), to secretly colloborate with MI5, and to harass and intimidate political activists.

The ECHR judgement was crystal clear in pointing out how the stop and search powers of Section 44 could be misused against political activists and other peaceful demonstrators which would contravene Article 10 and/or 11 of the Convention. An example of this being the PSNI’s use of those powers against éirígí activists and supporters during a peaceful demonstration last November at a British army telecommunications post on Belfasts' Black Mountain.

Despite the current hype and speculation surrounding a deal on the devolution of policing and justice powers to the administration at Stormont, any agreement will see little improvement in protecting human rights. Power over what is termed matters of “national security”, the excuse used to enact and enforce repressive legislation, will remain firmly in the hands of the British government. As if to prove the point, following the ECHR judgement, the British government declared that they would continue using the stop and search powers of Section 44 despite it being declared illegal.

The bottom line is that, regardless of whether policing and justice powers are devolved to Stormont or not, the increased repression, the European Courts judgement on the use of Section 44, and the decision to continue using those illegal stop and search powers, have torn to shreds the lie that the PSNI are a civic police force.

While they may have changed their name and uniform, the PSNI remain the same discredited, human rights abusing, British paramilitary police force enforcing British rule in Ireland, intent on stifling all political opposition to the British occupation. Its long past time that those politicians that now endorse this police force, faced up to the reality of the PSNI and the continuing British occupation and withdrew their support for both.

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