April 14, 2021Northern Ireland Human Rights Act International Humanitarian Law Jurisdiction Accountability and Access to Justice
On 13 April 2021, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, a member of the House of Lords, publicly raised many concerns that RSI has with the UK's Overseas Operations Bill during a report stage debate.
Quoting heavily from a briefing we created jointly with the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Baroness Ritchie proposed amendments which, in our view, would mitigate the impact of the Bill on the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and the broader peace process in Northern Ireland:
“...the Bill, as it applies to the UK as a whole, breaches the UK’s legal obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law and international criminal law. Amendments to remove provisions in the Bill to address these breaches would also, by default, remove the incompatibility with the Belfast Agreement. Should these amendments not be made, the issue of incompatibility with the Belfast agreement would remain and would, I fear, set a dangerous precedent if left unchallenged. I therefore urge the Minister to meet me, and representatives of both organisations, to discuss these issues further.” (Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, col 1181).
The Good Friday Agreement requires the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Irish law, with direct access to the courts and remedies for any breaches. The Overseas Operations Bill could violate this agreement by barring effective access to the courts for victims of human rights violations when the act has been committed as part of an overseas UK military operation.
RSI believes that to ensure respect for the peace process, the Government should carefully consider the negative impact that the Bill could have on the Good Friday Agreement.
RSI further maintains that Part 2 of the Bill – which limits access to justice for claims against the UK's Ministry of Defence arising out of overseas military operations – should be scrapped. We believe that all claimants, whether military or civilian, should be able to access justice when their rights have been violated, and that placing arbitrary or one-sided limitations on claims harms rights without being necessary to advancing any legitimate goals. Scrapping Part 2 would also address concerns about potential impacts on the Good Friday Agreement.
Some amendments that have passed during report stage would disapply the new law to members of the armed forces. However, although these amendments are a step in the right direction, they should be expanded to allow anyone – not just members of the military – to seek justice for human rights harms such as wrongful killings or torture during the UK's overseas military operations.
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