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Wednesday, February 3, 1999 Published at 13:43 GMT


Amnesty to probe punishment beatings

Victim: Andrew Peden lost his legs in a so-called punishment beating

Human rights group Amnesty International is sending a mission to Northern Ireland to investigate so-called paramilitary punishment beatings.


Ireland Correspondent Mark Devenport: "41 punishment attacks have been carried out this year"
The group, which investigates allegations of human rights abuses throughout the world, said that it was sending a team to the province after a request from the Northern Ireland Assembly's First Minister David Trimble.

The team, which will not include any UK citizens, will investigate the on-going beatings carried out by both republican and loyalist groups that are threatening to disrupt the peace process.


[ image: Amnesty: Dscussing involvement with ministers]
Amnesty: Dscussing involvement with ministers
Latest police figures show that more than 40 beatings have occurred this year, but some community groups insist that far more go unreported.

The attacks have sometimes led to the victims losing limbs or other serious injuries, and the RUC says that the attacks are being carried out by paramilitaries on both sides of the sectarian divide.

But while unionists have accused Republicans of failing to act over beatings carried out by the IRA, Sinn Fein has welcomed the Amnesty International move, saying that all abuses including those carried out by the RUC must be investigated.

Speaking to the BBC, Jill Heiney of Amnesty International said that the organisation had been surprised by Mr Trimble's request.


Jill Heiney of Amnesty International: "We have concerns about all abuses"
"We have written to David Trimble, the government and leaders of other political parties to speak to them about the implementation of the human rights aspects of the Agreement.

"We had received no response from David Trimble until this letter."

Ms Heiney said that Amnesty has monitored Northern Ireland on a regular basis, and it had concerns not just over punishment beatings but also the use of plastic bullets by the police, and the restrictions to access to lawyers under emergency anti-terrorism provisions.

'End kneecappings'

Mr Trimble, who held talks with Mr Blair on Wednesday, said he believed that Amnesty International's presence could end "kneecappings" for good.

In his letter to the organisation, Mr Trimble wrote: "These human rights abuses would rightly be denounced if they were happening in Africa and South America. They should not be tolerated in the United Kingdom."


[ image: Rising violence: RUC report more than 41 incidents this year]
Rising violence: RUC report more than 41 incidents this year
"Perhaps now you could give us the help needed to ensure the paramilitaries observe the conditions of non-violence they signed up to in the agreement."

Under the current timetable, the Northern Ireland Assembly's executive is scheduled to begin work in March but unionists are refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein unless the IRA begins decommissioning of weapons.

Conservative leader William Hague has already called for a halt to paramilitary prisoner releases while the violence continues. Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected the call, saying that it could destroy attempts to implement last year's political agreement.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Blair said: "The best way that we can push the process forward is for all aspects of the agreement to be implemented.

"We have made enormous progress and I hope both sides of the House can work to make more."



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