PRESS RELEASE, EMBARGO: 3.00pm on WEDNESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2002

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION PUBLISHES ANNUAL REPORT

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission published its third Annual Report today.

The report gives details of the Commission's work from April 2001 to March 2002. It provides an account of work carried out on the Bill of Rights project, the right to education, casework, investigations, policy development and the establishment of a Joint Committee with the Irish Human Rights Commission.

The protection and promotion of human rights within policy-making and the drafting of legislation have been a strong focus for the Commission. During the year the Commission sought, successfully in many cases, to develop acceptance of international human rights principles within the Northern Ireland Assembly, Northern Ireland Executive Departments and the Westminster Parliament.

Professor Brice Dickson, Chief Commissioner, said:

"This last year has been an exceptionally busy one for Commissioners and staff across all areas of our work. I believe we have continued to demonstrate a clear vision and a definite strategic direction in favour of the promotion and protection of the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland. More remains to be done, not least as regards acquiring more powers for the Commission itself, but we are well on the road to the creation of an appropriate human rights culture throughout Northern Ireland."

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Media contacts: Prof Brice Dickson, tel 028 9024 3987 or 07901 853005
and Ms Paddy Sloan, tel 028 9024 3987 or 07967 148537.

1. The Annual Report will be laid in Parliament on Wednesday 23 October by the Minister with responsibility for human rights, Des Browne MP.

2. A summary of the Commission's main activities in 2001-02, is appended. The full text of the Annual Report can be obtained from the Commission's website: www.nihrc.org <http://www.nihrc.org/> (from 3.00pm today). A copy, under embargo, can be obtained by email or hard copy from the Commission (tel: 028 9024 3987).

3. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory body set up by section 68 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It became operational on 1 March 1999 and has its office at Temple Court, 39 North Street, Belfast. The Commission aims to protect and promote the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland and is recognised as a National Human Rights Institution by the United Nations.

4. The functions of the Commission are:
* to advise the governments in Belfast and London on measures required to be taken to enhance the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland,
* to promote an awareness and understanding of the importance of human rights,
* to investigate alleged abuses of human rights, and
* to consider taking cases to court where there appears to be a human rights violation.

5. During 2001-02 there were 13 members of the Commission, who were appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Two Commissioners resigned in September 2002 making the present number of Commissioners 11. The Chief Commissioner, who works full-time for the Commission, is Prof Brice Dickson. At present the Commission employs 15 staff.

APPENDIX

Amongst the notable achievements of the Human Rights Commission in the year ending 31 March 2002 were the following:

* The publication of the Commission's draft Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, in the form of a consultation document entitled Making a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. More than 300 responses had been received by the end of the year.

* 583 individuals were trained as facilitators in furthering the Bill of Rights work of the Commission.

* The submission of 76 responses to draft policy and legislative proposals sent to the Commission for comment, including several responses to the Justice (NI) Bill.

* The submission of eight responses to proposals on policing, including draft Force orders on the Use of Force, the Role of Defence Lawyers and the Handling of Threats, and the draft PSNI Code of Ethics.

* The handling of 516 telephone inquiries concerning alleged human rights abuses. 54 applications for assistance were dealt with during the year and assistance of some kind was provided in seven of these.

* Co-hosting, with the Department of Education, a major conference on "Human Rights in Education".

* The publication of a major investigation into the care of children detained in juvenile justice centres in Northern Ireland - In Our Care: Promoting the Rights of Children in Custody (March 2002).

* The publication of reports on Enhancing the Rights of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in Northern Ireland (August 2001) and Enhancing the Rights of Older People in Northern Ireland (October 2001).

* The publication of a research report on the methods used by the police for recording the use of baton rounds in Northern Ireland (May 2001).

* The establishment and development of a Joint Committee with the Irish Human Rights Commission.

* The submission of written and oral reports on human rights in Northern Ireland to the UN's Commission on Human Rights and the UN's Human Rights Committee.

* The hosting of visits by Sir Nigel Rodley (UN Special Rapporteur on Torture), Professor Paul Hunt (Member of the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), Mr Olara Otunnu (UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict), Professor Jaap Doek (Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child) and Judge Albie Sachs (member of South Africa's Constitutional Court).

Lisa Gormley
Administrative Officer
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Temple Court
39 North Street
Belfast BT1 1NA

PH: 028 90 243987
FAX: 028 90 247844