Call to Ditch “Shoddy” Legacy Proposals-Newsletter 09/09/19

A human rights body is warning that thousands of victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland will be denied any meaningful justice if proposed legacy arrangements are not fundamentally changed.
Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) is calling for a complete re-think in order to provide closure for as many victims and survivors as possible.
UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “These proposals, as they are currently constructed, are totally out of balance. They attempt to do the impossible by squaring a circle to placate people who are not victims and survivors, but perpetrators of terrorist actions.
“There is genuine concern amongst those innocent victims who have suffered, and still suffer, as a result of terrorist attacks which have caused so many needless deaths and life-changing injuries.
“This is an issue where you cannot equivocate or be indifferent. There may be a desire in some quarters to be neutral in order to assist the political process, but neutrality on this sensitive issue merely serves to re-traumatise victims.
“Victims of terrorism must not be dealt with in some sickening way to placate or meet a political demand or political agreement.
“Ulster Human Rights Watch is calling for what is right and equitable for victims of terrorism and survivors. The bomber or gunman, or those who assisted them in carrying out their brutal acts, can in no way be regarded as being in the same category as the people they murdered or maimed or those left bereaved.
“The Government must acknowledge the mistake it is making with these proposals and undertake a fundamental review before the process goes any further. An essential first step in this process must be a workable, legal and meaningful definition of a victim and survivor, and not one which at the moment seeks to turn justice on its head.
“Ulster Human Rights Watch acknowledges there may be limited prospects of delivering convictions for some past crimes, but that should not be compounded by insulting those who have done nothing to warrant such shoddy treatment.”

Article by Axel Schmidt-Published in the Belfast Newsletter 09/09/19

Victim’s Pensions Scandal – the Principle at Fault, not just the Person

The recommendation brought forward recently by Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, Judith Thompson, that terrorists injured by their own violence should be included in pensions for troubles victims, has brought widespread condemnation from innocent victims and the organisations representing them, including Ulster Human Rights Watch. Indeed we have been vocal and clear in expressing this concern in the media and, most recently, during our meeting with NIO Minister of State, Nick Hurd MP, when we also stressed our lack of faith in government assurances on this matter, which have yet to be enshrined in legislation.

Unfortunately the position taken by Judith Thompson, while being morally indefensible, sadly is legally defensible. This is because (up to the present moment) no distinction has been made in Northern Ireland at statutory level between innocent victims of terrorist violence, and perpetrators of the same violence, who while attempting to commit mass murder may have hurt themselves in the process.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: the legislation – namely the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, which provides the statutory interpretation of a victim in the Troubles context. This is a legal interpretation that stands alone globally in failing to recognise the moral dimension of victimhood, and the need for victims to be acknowledged as distinct and treated differently to the psychopathic terrorists who inflicted their suffering.

In fact, it is not only inconsistent with international norms, significantly it is inconsistent with other UK legislation, including the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, which brought into force EU Directive 2012/29/EU, which establishes minimum standards on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crime, and to which all UK legislation, including the offending 2006 Order, should conform.

So at the root of all this, victims of terrorism have been granted a statutory victim definition which is not fit for purpose, and which is uniquely appalling. Commissioner Thompson has, unsurprisingly, now brought forward pension proposals in line with this approach and understandably the instant reaction to these recommendations  has been for many organisations to publicly turning their fire on Commissioner Thompson, and demand her resignation.

We fully agree that Commissioner Thompson is rightly due criticism, not least for failing to recognise or to articulate effectively the legitimate disgust of victims of terrorism on being categorised together with murderers and criminals. She has also  failed to advocate for the necessary review of Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, to achieve a definition of victims and survivors that complies with the definition of victim of crime provided in the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 and EU Directive 2012/29/EU.

However, as Commissioner Thompson’ s contract now comes to an end (and it is unlikely that she will be reappointed for a further term, due to the obvious loss of confidence in her position by so many victims and survivors), we believe the emphasis must continue to be focused on attacking the ‘interpretation’ of ‘victim and survivor’ in the 2006 Order, and that innocent victims of terrorism focus every effort to achieve real change by campaigning to see the reform of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 by bringing it into conformity with the rest of the legislation in the UK and the EU directive.

Achieving reform of the Statutory Instrument 2006 would ensure any present or future Commissioner’s representations and recommendations would have to reflect a true and accurate definition of victims and survivors – perpetrators NOT included – and that is where our focus must and will remain.

Published in the Newsletter 29/08/2019. Click here to view.

Human Rights Body Calls for New Approach to Dealing with the Past

Meeting with Nicholas Hurd, Minister of State, in Stormont House

19-08-2019

Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Service is calling today for ‘a completely new approach’ to dealing with the legacy of the past.

The victims and survivors service, which is publicly funded and a registered charity, told the Minister of State, Nick Hurd MP, that proposed measures contained previously in the Stormont House Agreement and recently republished following a consultation exercise by the N.I.O. would serve to ‘launder’ the actions of terrorists and do a great disservice to those who suffered and society at large.

At their Stormont House meeting, Ulster Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Service Manager, Axel Schmidt, said the government had to re-think its plans on how to deal with the past if it is to avoid an unbalanced and one-sided system that favours the bomber and gunman.

 Mr Schmidt said: “During a positive and productive meeting with the new Minister we set out our view that proposals on a Historical Investigations Unit will be anything but fair. It is unconscionable to think you can have parity between the terrorist and the victim or members of the security forces who, over a period of nearly four decades have protected the whole of society throughout Northern Ireland.

“The present proposal is heavily biased against police officers and will lead to one-sided investigations against the security forces. Security forces keep formal records, terrorists don’t. They can pick and choose to suit their warped agenda and can readily destroy and have done so in the past, any incriminating evidence.

“The inclusion of what is termed ‘non-criminal police misconduct’ means officers could be investigated twice by the proposed HIU. Consequently this means that officers who protected the community against terrorism and have long since retired could be hauled back into the spotlight to be investigated by the HIU, causing, once again, great stress and trauma to both them and their families.”

Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Service also set out the reasons why it is opposed to an Independent commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) and the Oral History Archive (OHA), which are tailor-made for terrorists to tell their stories without fear of prosecution, and also submitted to Minister Hurd detailed alternative proposals which the organisation believe would be a fair and equitable solution to this intractable problem.

Mr Schmidt added: “The Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) strongly believes that dealing with the legacy of the past requires a completely new approach, with the clear three-fold objectives of upholding the rights of all innocent victims of terrorism, respecting former members of the security forces and strengthening the hand of the State in the fight against terrorism.”

Troubles Legacy Needs Completely New Approach of Supporting Rights of Terror Victims and Ex Security Forces – Newsletter 16.08.2019

Perpetrators of terrorist atrocities, who have injured, maimed and murdered innocent people could hardly dream of a better status under the law, as to be put on an equal footing with their victims.

Hence, the deep concern following the recently publicised NIO proposals analysis of the 17,000 responses that were received as a result of the consultation on ‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past’, which ended on October 5 last.

Among the many issues raised by respondents, two are of particular unease to the Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) Advocacy Service and other victims and survivors groups: the definition of a victim and the unfairness of the proposed institutions, particularly the Historical Investigation Unit (HIU), towards former members of the police and armed forces.

The present Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 ‘interpretation’ of a victim and survivor is all the more unacceptable as it runs contrary to the EU Directive 2012 (2012/29/EU) that obliges the United Kingdom to bring its own legislation into compliance with it.

The EU Directive provides a ‘definition’ of a ‘victim of crime’, namely ‘a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence’.

The definition, which also applies to victims of terrorism but excludes perpetrators, has been implemented in Northern Ireland by the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (Section 29).

However, surprisingly, the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 has not been revised to keep in step with the Justice Act and consequently appears to be in breach of the EU Directive definition.

This issue must be urgently addressed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as a matter of priority. A review of the Order 2006 providing a definition of a victim of crime, including a victim of terrorism, that is compliant with the EU Directive, in the opinion of the Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW), would dispel immediately the confusion that has been maintained for so long between genuine victims and perpetrators.

It would also enable significant progress to be made in dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

This equivalence between perpetrators and their victims in the Order 2006 is echoed in the proposed Stormont House Agreement institutions by a parity of treatment between terrorists and members of the security forces.

The distrust expressed by many consultation respondents comes as a result of the Historical Investigation Unit (HIU) proposals being undoubtedly biased against former members of the security forces and most particularly against police officers. Inevitability, as a result, there will be an increase in one-sided investigations against the security forces who keep records of their actions which can be accessed and used against them in contrast with the terrorists who don’t keep formal records and destroy incriminating evidence.

The position of former members of the security forces will be made even worse since the HIU will have the power to carry out, not only criminal investigations, but also non-criminal police misconduct investigations.

This will be patently both unfair and degrading for police officers who may be investigated twice by the same body, while terrorists can only be investigated once for criminal activities.

Consequently those who committed themselves to protecting the community against terrorism and have long since retired may be hauled back into the spotlight to be investigated by the HIU, causing great stress and trauma to both them and their families.

Such investigations will, without doubt, generate stories that will disproportionately draw attention to the actions of the security forces while leaving in oblivion the atrocities carried out by terrorist organisations.

Security forces will have limited means of defending themselves against untrue or biased stories being told against them.

In addition their position will be further aggravated by narratives that will emerge from the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) and the Oral History Archive (OHA), which are tailor made, intentionally or not, for terrorists to tell their stories, while protected from any form of prosecution.

There is little doubt that terrorists and their sympathisers will use the opportunity provided by these three proposed bodies, the HIU, the ICIR and the OHA to blacken the reputation of the security forces, justify their engagement in terrorist activities and glorify terrorism with a view to rewriting the history of Northern Ireland.

They will be assisted in doing so, perhaps unwittingly, by the Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG) whose mandate will be to prepare the ground for a final report, based on summary reports of these bodies, and to be delivered by academics after a period of five years.

The Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) strongly believes that dealing with the legacy of the past requires a completely new approach, with the clear three-fold objectives of upholding the rights of victims of terrorism, respecting former members of the security forces and strengthening the hand of the State in the fight against terrorism.

Click here to view published article

 

Troubles Pension Law Does Not Bar Terrorists – Newsletter 26.07.2019

At least not until we get in the legislation absolute certainty, clarity and transparency around the introduction of a pension for victims and survivors of the terrorist campaign that has blighted a generation.

We have seen the headlines, the government assurances given on the floor of the House of Commons as well as the apparent relief that followed. Northern Ireland Office Minister, John Penrose MP, said that while it was right and proper to provide a pension for victims of Troubles-related terrorist incidents, “this should not become a pension for terrorists.”

And for good measure, in a further most welcome contribution, Mr Penrose stated that “there is no moral equivalence between a bystander badly injured in a terrorist explosion through no fault of their own, and the people who manufactured the bomb, placed the bomb and detonated the bomb.”

Why, therefore, is the Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Service not satisfied with what on the face of it, at least, is an unambiguous Parliamentary statement? What has changed since the unfortunate and ill-advised recommendation by the Victims’ Commissioner who refused to close the door to terrorists qualifying for pensions?

Pension parity between victims and the perpetrators of scores of murders, bomb attacks, so-called punishment shootings and beatings, abductions and untold economic damage inflicted on Northern Ireland and Great Britain would be an outrage and an insult. The Urgent Question tabled by the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly extracted from the Minister a reply that was required – but only as a first step.

So far, so good or so it would appear.

It’s only when you delve into the detail of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, the legislative instrument, that you find a dearth of detail and certainly nothing that matches the weighty and welcome Ministerial words of Mr Penrose.

In fact, the legislation offers no guarantees whatsoever that terrorists will be denied a pension. The devil is in the detail, specifically Section 3(11) and Section 6.

According to Section 3 (11), the Secretary of State must publish a report before 4 September ‘on progress towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents.’ This is in line with the ‘interpretation’ of victim and survivor in Article 3 of the Order 2006 – an ‘interpretation’ which clearly and intentionally equates the perpetrator with the innocent victim.

Interestingly, Section 3 (14) provides that the Secretary of State must also publish a report before the 4 September ‘on whether the definition of “victim” in Article 3 of the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 should be revised to apply only to a person who is injured or affected wholly through the actions of another person’. A report is one thing, but there is no mention here of progress towards legislation for a ‘new definition of a victim’.

The likely outcome is that on 4 September we will have proposed legislation for a pension and only an opinion as to whether or not the definition of ‘victim’ should be changed. As long as the definition of victim is not changed, there is nothing to prevent terrorists from getting the pension whatever Ministers may be saying along the way.

In the Ulster Human Rights Watch’s view, this is a very dangerous, if not a deceitful, omission. There is a definite requirement for nothing less than watertight legislation to prevent perpetrators from benefiting financially. Bad enough that terrorists of whatever hue should cause such heartache and pain, but it would be an act of unspeakable callousness and a double injustice to victims and survivors if they were to gain in any way from their barbarity.

For these reasons, the Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Service advises against any premature celebration and instead urges all victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom to continue to be vigilant. We welcome the encouraging words at Westminster, but much work remains to be done before 4 September so that the report on the pension for victims will result in the necessary legislation being proposed and enacted, which protects victims of terrorism and does not reward the perpetrators – anything less is not acceptable.

Click here to view published article

Expediency Should Play No Part in Troubles Pensions – Newsletter 23.07.2019

There is something seriously wrong when a suggested remedy on Northern Ireland’s troubled past causes those in greatest need of help to be re-traumatised and hurt.

Hundreds of good people, some grappling with daily anguish and intolerable pain, have been left financially high and dry because of an inability to sort out and or acknowledge the true meaning of the term ‘victims and survivors’.

Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW), (a registered charity with the remit of helping innocent victims of the thirty plus years terrorist campaign), believes that a person who was shot, maimed or psychologically scarred by the actions of the gunman or bomber, from whatever side, should qualify for a victim’s or survivor’s pension.

In contrast it also asserts that those who planted the bomb or pulled the trigger do not deserve to be rewarded with State funds for attempting to murder and cause mayhem – they are not victims or survivors. The very people who perpetrated countless acts of savagery deserve nothing. In fact, the bomber whose bomb prematurely detonated, causing permanent disability to himself, should not have any expectation of any State ‘reward’ whatsoever.

This is a matter of what’s right and wrong. And, simply, it’s wrong to include the terrorists in the same category as the people they set out to hurt or kill. The Ulster Human Rights Watch believes that political expediency should form no part of deciding who qualifies for a pension.

The dangers of placating and rewarding paramilitary criminals and giving them equivalence with victims and survivors is an anathema, indeed it is an appalling injustice. All it would succeed in doing would be to cause additional unnecessary suffering and make those innocents who bore the brunt of a monstrous murder campaign suffer further enormous distress and a sense of worthlessness.

There is no other civilised country in the world where terrorists are rewarded for their actions. Why should the UK, and specifically Northern Ireland, decide it can be out of step with international norms by essentially saying the terrorist gunman, wounded during an engagement with the security forces, is now on a par with the soldier or police officer left with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or a life-changing physical injury?

Lives scarred by terrorism should not have to be re-traumatised in this manner. Any objective assessment will see that turning natural justice on its head in such a hurtful and disrespectful manner is counter-productive and a denial of the truth. The recent revised advice, offered to the Secretary of State by the Victims Commissioner, lacks decency, sensitivity, empathy and respect for real victims of terrorism.

It should and must be rejected by the Government.

Click here to view published article

Tribute to William Frazer

The members of the Board and staff of the UHRW would like to express their sympathy to the family of William Frazer and particularly to his wife and son.

Those who met or heard Mr Frazer speak at various events were not left indifferent. He went through the trauma of losing his father at the age of 14, who was murdered by IRA terrorists. This harrowing experience was further exacerbated by the murder of four other members of his family by the same terrorist organisation. Yet William Frazer never engaged in any form of retaliation against those who were responsible for murdering his loved ones or who directed acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland. On the contrary he courageously bore the marks of a victim of terrorism and this led him to take a stand against terrorism.

While he never claimed to be well-educated, and was a somewhat private and unassuming person, one could not help being impressed by his fearless approach of those who opposed his views and his stand. He may not have done all things well and wisely, but he was aware of his limitations. Like other Ulstermen before him William Frazer was his own man, independent minded, who tried to follow the course of action he had chosen to the very end.

For those who believe in God, the sadness of his departure is replaced with the joy of knowing that, since he was also a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is now with the Lord, which is far better.

San Francisco Mayor Apologises

The apology made by San Francisco Mayor London Breed for the outrageous award, commending Martin McGuinness for his ‘courageous service in the military’, is welcomed by Ulster Human Rights Watch. Victims of terrorism and those espousing democratic values throughout society were rightly horrified by such offensive glorification of terrorism, and we hope that this humiliating climb down will also reverse the propaganda value of the award for those who continue to justify terrorism and large scale abuses of human rights as legitimate ways to further political agendas.

While criticism has rightly been directed over the Atlantic, we may forget that the campaign to rewrite history in order to whitewash terrorism, and particularly republican terrorism, as lawful and legitimate, and to vilify the security forces, continues apace. Ms. Breed and her award may be seen as just this – legitimising brutal IRA terrorist activity by redefining it as ‘courageous service in the military’.

By the same yardstick the UK government and authorities have acted no better in playing into this agenda – and there is no apology or change of heart forthcoming here. We have a de facto definition of ‘victims’, in the Victims and Survivors (NI) Order 2006, that makes a moral equivalence between the innocent victims of terrorism and the violent perpetrators of terrorist acts. This also serves the terrorist’s agenda in the rewriting of history, whitewashing their crimes by placing them on the same moral level as those they killed.

The proposed Historical Investigations Unit, as a new body for dealing with the past, seeks to make a moral equivalence between police misconduct and acts of terrorism. Again this is a part of the terrorist’s agenda and the rewriting of history.

The message sent from the decision of the PPS yesterday to prosecute a soldier 47 years after Bloody Sunday, while terrorists are let out of prison on license, have letters of comfort and OTRs, again sends the same message that there was legitimacy to terrorist acts which deserve to be ignored, while security forces who were there to stand between terrorists and society, must be vilified as the criminals and chased to the grave.

San Francisco’s mayor was right to apologise, and maybe she even deserves a fool’s pardon. The UK statutory facilitation of the same agenda deserves no such forgiveness and should be stopped.

La Mon Remembered

On Friday 15 February 2019 a commemorative event for the victims of the La Mon House Bombing took place in Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council attended by The Right Worshipful the Mayor, Councillor Uel Mackin.

The service of remembrance took place amidst beautiful sunshine outside Council Headquarters in front of a bench dedicated to the memory of the twelve victims who lost their lives in the tragedy.

Mr Mayor read the names of the victims and two bunches of flowers were laid on the bench and in front of it, one by Trevor, the grandson of Mr James Mills who lost both his wife and sister in the atrocity, and the other by a representative of the Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Service who has been supporting the victims in their quest for truth and justice.

According to the wishes expressed by Mr William McDowell, whose wife was one of the most seriously injured and who passed away in 2013, the Advocacy Support Manager for the Ulster Human Rights Watch, Axel Schmidt, delivered a short address to the people assembled. He spoke on the basis of the last verses of the book of Ecclesiastes (Chap. 12 v. 13-14). The proceedings were concluded with the Lord’s prayer being recited by all those in attendance.

This was the 41st Anniversary of the La Mon House Bombing, when on 17th February 1978 the IRA planted a bomb outside the restaurant that exploded with a napalm effect. The fire spread so rapidly that twelve people remained trapped inside the building and lost their lives. Twenty-three others were injured, some very seriously. To this day the victims of the terrorist attack remain scarred physically and emotionally.

The office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) has just confirmed that the complaint lodged by the victims in this case will be the first to be investigated as soon as an investigation team is available to do so.

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