July 26, 2021Featured Article Impunity Northern Ireland International Security and Rule of Law Accountability and Access to Justice
(London, 26th July 2021) – The UK Government will create impunity for serious conflict-related abuses in Northern Ireland such as killings, torture and cruel and degrading treatment, Rights and Security International (RSI) said today in response to the Government’s Command Paper outlining plans, amongst others, to introduce an amnesty for Troubles-related crimes committed before 1998, alongside the halting of civil cases and inquests.
‘In plain violation of international law, the UK Government seeks to introduce an amnesty for Troubles-related crimes,’ said Jacob Smith, Research and Development Officer at RSI. ‘The UK has repeatedly skirted its international obligations for accountability. This is yet another cruel blow to victims and families who have faced barriers to justice for almost half a century.’
Last week, the Government’s Command Paper announced three new “legacy” methods for ‘drawing a line under the past’. These include an information recovery mechanism, an oral history archive, and a so-called ‘statute of limitations;’ the statute’s intent being to stop future prosecutions and may also prevent pending cases from continuing. This announcement follows the Government’s manifesto commitment to protect ex-soldiers from reinvestigation and prosecution for alleged crimes committed prior to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, but the proposals additionally extend to civil cases and inquests.
The UK has consistently been held in violation of its international obligations to effectively investigate serious human rights abuses in both domestic and international courts, due to the lack of scrutiny and independence of these mechanisms. International human rights law requires states ensure accountability for unlawful killings and other serious human rights abuses committed during conflict. This also extends to the prompt conduct of investigations as well as providing effective remedies for victims.
RSI has repeatedly criticised the Government’s approach to “legacy” in Northern Ireland. Despite concluding the Stormont House Agreement with cross-party agreement – which provided for the creation of a Historical Investigations Unit that would work alongside the information recovery efforts – the UK Government has repeatedly reneged on promises to implement the agreement, instead unilaterally opting to limit accountability. The long-awaited Command Paper is further evidence of this attitude, normalising impunity for paramilitary and state actors in Northern Ireland.
‘The Government argues that evidence is unavailable, yet cases are still in the criminal justice system and even last week new evidence was being found,’ Smith added. ‘A blanket amnesty provides no additional encouragement for witnesses and perpetrators to come forward after such a long time in the shadows. We have seen this in South Africa and in many other post-conflict societies worldwide.’
RSI is further concerned that the legislation will stop civil claims and inquests. The inquest system is vital providing information for the UK and other actors to learn from in the future, so as not to commit the same violations again in the future. There is widespread evidence to suggest that the UK has a lot to learn from its actions during the Troubles.
‘For too long, the UK has stalled on its promises to provide justice for victims and families from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, in violation of human rights and the country’s international legal obligations,’ concluded Smith. ‘Rather than creating barriers to accountability, the Government should make up for lost time by ensuring effective and independent investigations of human rights abuses allegedly committed during the Troubles.’
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