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House Panel Focuses on Slain Irish Human Rights Attorney's Case

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Location: Washington, DC

The British government's refusal to conduct an inquiry into its collusion with paramilitaries responsible for murdering human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane was the topic of a hearing held Wednesday by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees human rights.

The British government committed to hold the inquiry in 2001, as part of the peace process following on the Good Friday Agreement. It has ever since evaded following through on its commitment, and in 2011 announced that it would not do so, though at that time it admitted collusion and apologized for it. Human rights groups and the Finucane family continue to press for an inquiry so that the individuals responsible for the murder -- which an advisor to Prime Minister Cameron admitted was "the big one" in Northern Ireland - can be held accountable.

"Our purpose today is to assess progress on the unfulfilled British commitment -- broken commitment, unless the British government reverses course -- in the Finucane collusion case, and how this affects the peace process in Northern Ireland," said Smith, Co-Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs and Chairman of the House human rights subcommittee. "In connection with the Good Friday peace agreement, the British government promised to conduct public inquiries into the Finucane and three other cases where government collusion in a paramilitary murder was suspected. Subsequently the British government backtracked in regard to the Finucane case -- the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane." Click here to read Chairman Smith's opening statement.

Witnesses Michael Finucane, son of the slain human rights attorney, and U.S. Brig. Gen. James P. Cullen (RET), a human rights attorney, addressed members of the House panel about the known details of the assassination, the need for justice.

"From the time Pat Finucane was murdered in 1989, suspicions abounded that the State might have had a hand in his murder," testified Michael Finucane. "These concerns began initially as a result of threats made against Pat by RUC detectives in police holding centres during the 1980s. The threats were relayed by clients of Pat's law practice who would say, with increasing regularity that the men conducting the interviews were denigrating and threatening him… . In the twenty four years since the murder, my family and I have campaigned relentlessly for a public judicial inquiry into the circumstances. In the earliest years, we were met with denial and refusal by the British Government and were told that accusations of collusion between the State and Loyalist paramilitaries in the murder were without foundation.

"The undertaking to establish an inquiry in the case of Pat Finucane was one given by the British Government during negotiations between the Northern Ireland political parties and the British / Irish Governments at Weston Park in 2001," he said.

Brig. Gen. Cullen, a lawyer practicing in New York, is a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. He said the police Special Branch and the infamous military intelligence unit called the Force Research Unit ("FRU") point to government collision in the murder.

"The prior knowledge of the Special Branch and the FRU about the murder, together with coordination of Special Branch and FRU activities at the very top of their command chains, make clear the extent of the governmental collusion in Pat Finucane's murder," Cullen said. "The refusal by the British government to convene a credible independent inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder ensures there will be no accountability for those who orchestrated and sanctioned the murder of Pat Finucane. Faceless securocrats and their political protectors have successfully neutered the rule of law in Northern Ireland and have sadly intimidated the current political leadership of the U.K."

The hearing entitled "Recent Developments in the Investigation of the Murder of Human Rights Attorney Patrick Finucane," was held before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations chaired by Smith.

"The deliberate decision not to proceed with a public inquiry is a glaring, public breach of faith. It is the source of enormous frustration to Patrick Finucane's family and friends. It resonates throughout Northern Ireland, calling into question the British government's commitment to peace and reconciliation," Smith said. "This is particularly sad because the British government has taken so many other positive, truly honorable steps, many of which were painful for large sectors of British public and official opinion -- such as the Bloody Sunday inquiry, released in 2010. To call all that into question by reneging on the promised Finucane inquiry is a tragedy."

"On behalf of my family, I ask for the support of this Committee, the support of the House and Congress to persuade the British Government to honour its long standing promise to establish a public judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane," Michael Finucane said.


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