May 10, 2022Impunity Northern Ireland Human Rights Act Accountability and Access to Justice
(London, 10 May 2022) – The UK government risks creating large accountability gaps for human rights violations, Rights & Security International (RSI) said today following the announcement of planned legislation in the Queen’s Speech.
‘The UK government risks creating impunity for conflict-related crimes in Northern Ireland – even as peace remains fragile,’ said Jacob Smith, UK Accountability Officer at RSI. ‘And reforms to the Human Rights Act would weaken fundamental human rights for everyone. The uncertainty and crises the country is facing make it even more essential – not less – for people to be able to go to court and demand that their human rights be respected.’
The Queen’s Speech indicated the government’s intention to bring legislation to ‘address the legacy of the conflict’ in Northern Ireland, as well as to introduce a distinct ‘Bill of Rights’ to overhaul the system of fundamental human rights protections in the UK. Both pieces of legislation reflect government commitments that had already been expressed: first, to halt investigations into potentially criminal conduct and serious human rights violations by the military and security services in Northern Ireland and abroad; and second, to create more room for the government to act on immigration and other matters without having to respect human rights laws.
Right now, the Human Rights Act and other UK laws require the government to respect certain fundamental rights, such as free expression, freedom from torture and due process. They reflect commitments the UK has made under international human rights treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights.
Reforms to the Human Rights Act would make the government less accountable when it acts unlawfully. The proposals suggested by the government would create additional hurdles for victims of human rights violations who want to go to court, sacrificing fundamental freedoms in the name of government efficiency. As the Act remains a cornerstone of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, any altering of its protections and procedures would also likely put the fragile peace process at risk.
Other legislation mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, which the government says would address the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland, will likely contain an amnesty for all conflict-related crimes, as well as the removal of other important legal processes which have helped victims and survivors access the truth. The UK government has had multiple opportunities to create transparency and accountability about what happened during ‘the Troubles’, but many civil and criminal cases remain pending, affecting people from across the religious and political spectrums in Northern Ireland. The proposals mentioned in the Queen’s Speech have been criticised over the past year by voices from across these spectrums, partly due to concerns that the government has failed to consider the views of victims and survivors.
‘Rather than making it harder for people to hold the executive to account, the government should focus on compliance with its international human rights obligations,’ Smith concluded. ‘Human rights are for everyone, and they benefit all of society. Ignoring or erasing them would be a self-inflicted injury – one that no community in the UK can afford.’
Sign up to our mailing list for all the latest news, views and events from Rights and Security International.