UK blanket impunity proposal for Northern Ireland 'Troubles' violations worries UN experts

Immunity would allow de facto amnesty, blanket impunity for grave human rights violations committed: Special rapporteurs

Peter Kenny  | 11.08.2021 - Update : 11.08.2021
UK blanket impunity proposal for Northern Ireland 'Troubles' violations worries UN experts


UN experts voiced serious concern Wednesday over a British plan to ban all prosecutions, impede investigations, and preclude victims' civil claims in connection with "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland.

Such immunity would effectively institute a de facto amnesty and blanket impunity for the grave human rights violations committed during that period, said the experts in a statement.

"We express grave concern that the plan outlined in July's statement forecloses the pursuit of justice and accountability for the serious human rights violations committed during the troubles," they said.

The proposal "thwarts victims' rights to truth and to an effective remedy for the harm suffered, placing the United Kingdom in flagrant violation of its international obligations," said the experts.

Fabian Salvioli, the UN special rapporteur on truth, justice, and reparation, and Morris Tidball-Binz, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial or arbitrary executions, said the UK proposal would end criminal investigations into "Troubles-related offenses" and remove the prospect of prosecutions.

Addressing legacy of past

The British proposal, entitled "Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland's Past," was announced in a statement by the UK secretary of state for Northern Ireland before Parliament in July.

It would ban all conflict-related prosecutions by introducing a statute of limitations to apply equally to all Troubles-related incidents. It would not apply to cases already adjudicated.

The Troubles was an era of conflict between the British government and pro-British paramilitaries on one side and Irish Republicans and nationalists on the other.

They ended in 1998 when the Belfast Agreement ended decades of armed struggle in the divided UK region of Northern Ireland.

The UK and the Republic of Ireland signed the deal, brokered by the US and eight political parties in Northern Ireland, on April 10, 1998.

The deal, dubbed the Good Friday Agreement, largely saw the end of the Troubles-era violence, in which 3,500 people lost their lives.

Under the proposal, the Police Service and the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland would be barred from investigating Troubles-related incidents, the judicial activity would end across the spectrum of criminal cases, along with current and future civil cases, and inquests.

Implementing the proposal would effectively also preclude coronial inquests and victims' claims in civil courts, said the experts.

They noted that the UK secretary of state justified the measures, stating that criminal justice can impede truth, information recovery, and reconciliation.

The experts expressed concern that such a justification conflates reconciliation with impunity, stressing that criminal justice is an essential pillar of transitional justice processes, alongside truth-seeking and reconciliation.

The rapporteurs urged British authorities to "refrain from regressing on their international human rights obligations through the establishment of a statute of limitations for conflict-related prosecutions and barring all related investigations, inquests and civil claims."

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