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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
PA The entrance to Compound 7 at the Maze Prison.
# H-Block
H-Block prisoners subjected to 'systemic inhuman and degrading treatment' during the Troubles, report finds
The report found that successive British governments approved the treatment.

A SIGNIFICANT NEW report released today has concluded that protesting prisoners in the H-Blocks and HMP Armagh were subjected to systemic inhuman and degrading treatment.

The study by the Independent Panel of Inquiry into the conditions at the prisons between 1976 to 1981 is the first review of the experiences of men and women prisoners held at the prisons following the withdrawal of Special Category Status on 1st March 1976. 

This status had effectively made inmates prisoners of war and they were allowed certain concessions, including the wearing of their own clothes. They also did not have to do prison work and were allowed additional visits by family and access to more food parcels. 

The report identified forty-seven findings which the independent group says reflect the abuses of power endured by the men and women held in the H-Blocks and Armagh, and the long term impact on the lives of former prisoners and their families.

The panel was chaired by the late Warren Allmand, former Solicitor-General for Canada; Richard Harvey, Barrister-at-Law, Garden Court Chambers, London; and Dr John Burton, retired family doctor and researcher in Human Rights Law.

Harvey said evidence the panel gathered from the UK Government’s confidential documents show it was known and accepted that “extreme brutality would be used in implementing the withdrawal of Special Category Status in violation of prisoners’ rights under Article 3 of the European Convention”.

The panel heard testimonies from Republican blanket protestors, Loyalist prisoners, former prison governors, medical practitioners (including a consultant psychiatrist) and lawyers, academics, politicians and clergy.

Protests anticipated

Documents accessed by the panel’s researchers found that the UK Government, NI Civil Servants and the NI Prison Service were aware of the consequences of ending Special Category Status. It was even described as “an administrative and disciplinary disaster” within the prisons.

The documents also revealed that sustained protests in the jails were anticipated by the NI prison service as well as the UK government, yet “the Administration would withstand this pressure, even after the deaths of prisoners’ through ‘mass and individual hunger strikes”, the report states.

The independent panel concluded that the inhuman conditions in which prisoners were held were “calculated to cause intense physical and mental suffering with the intention of humiliating and debasing prisoners and breaking their physical and moral resistance”.

Professor Phil Scraton, editor of the report, said: “From the transcripts of in-depth interviews with men and women former prisoners presented in this report, it is evident they endured unacceptable levels of physical and psychological punishment, violence and violation.

“Administered purposefully, without the checks and balances of State institutional accountability, it constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment within the UN General Assembly’s 1975 definition of torture.“

The report concluded that the treatment of prisoners was the consequence of a deliberate policy implemented by the UK Government whose institutions were fully aware that their policies and practices violated international human rights standards. 

A statement released alongside the report said the independent panel concluded that the ultimate legal and “moral responsibility for this level of inhumanity and degradation rested on successive Prime Ministers and their senior cabinet ministers who knew and approved of that treatment”.

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