News Release ~ 03/16/1999

The Murder of Rosemary Nelson: Impartial Outside Investigation Urged

Washington, DC (March 16, 1999) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) expresses outrage and profound grief over the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson, who was killed by a car bomb outside her home in Northern Ireland yesterday.

“I’m horribly saddened by this senseless and cowardly act which ended her life, but I know that her spirit and her work will live on,” said Association President Larry Pozner of Denver. “Rosemary Nelson exemplified the highest aspirations of the criminal defense bar and personified the role of the lawyer in society. As I wrote in a letter last Christmas to Dr. Marjorie Mowlam, Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, regarding the murder of another member of the defense bar, Patrick Finucane, the U.N. Special Rapporteur has made detailed findings regarding systematic abuse of defense lawyers in Northern Ireland, even by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. On behalf of our 10,000 members on both sides of the Atlantic, I am calling for an immediate and independent inquiry into this case to forestall any possibility of official cover-up of this heinous crime.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur Data Param Cumaraswamy, who investigated official and unofficial abuse and intimidation of defense attorneys in Northern Ireland, found that lawyers are often identified with their clients or their clients’ causes and, as a result, are threatened, harassed, and in the case of Patrick Finucane, even killed by those who confuse mayhem with political action.

Just last September 29, Rosemary Nelson told the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives what it is like defending those suspected of political crimes in Northern Ireland, including her verbal and physical abuse heaped upon her and her clients by officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. “My clients have reported a number of incidents — one of being abused by police officers, including several death threats against myself or my family. I have three young children at home and, obviously, that’s cause for some great concern. I’ve also received threatening letters and telephone calls. And although I’ve tried to ignore these threats, inevitably, I have to take into account the possible consequences to my family and also for the staff that I have in the office.”

But Rosemary Nelson did not give up fighting for her clients and their rights, and for that she has paid dearly.

Because the political murder of a criminal defense lawyer threatens the very rule of law, NACDL calls for:

An immediate and impartial inquiry into Rosemary Nelson’s murder.

An independent judicial inquiry into instances of defense lawyers being harassed and abused by Ulster security forces.

An independent judicial inquiry into the ten-year-old murder of defense lawyer Patrick Finucane, as recommended by the U.N. Special Rapporteur, and as outlined in NACDL’s December 24, 1998 letter to Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, Dr. Marjorie Mowlam.

“If you kill all the lawyers, you’ll just end up killing yourselves, because you’ll destroy the only system of nonviolent dispute resolution” Pozner said. “Law and lawyers are the sure-fire alternative to violence.”

NACDL’s Dec. 24, 1998 letter to Dr. Mowlam and the resolution of the Association’s Board of Directors in support of defense lawyers in Northern Ireland are on NACDL’s website.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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