Human rights body calls for Government clarity on legacy legislation

A human rights charity that campaigns on behalf of innocent victims of terrorism is seeking urgent clarification from the Government on proposed new legacy legislation.

Lurgan-based Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) is worried that the legislation, to be introduced within 100 days, will ignore the voices of the victims and favour terrorists who carried out heinous crimes against them.

UHRW says the document, ‘New Decade, New Approach’, which was approved by all of the main parties and the two Governments, raises serious questions of fairness, integrity and transparency that must be addressed.

Ulster Human Rights Watch Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “It seems innocent victims of terrorism are once again pawns in this political game. The views of victims of terrorism that were submitted to the NIO by the Ulster Human Rights Watch during the consultation on addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland past do not seem to count. We now have an end point, and it is the 20th April, and we will be re-doubling our efforts to ensure victims of terrorism are not abandoned and discounted by legislation.

“These are people who have suffered enough and deserve better. They do not need to hear concessions to those who planted bombs and murdered their loved ones. They certainly do not need to be relegated in importance in order to placate some politicians or to keep them anchored to the restored devolved institutions.

“What is proposed in the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) raises the greatest concerns for law abiding people and innocent victims. It has the potential to turn natural justice on its head. In effect, it provides equivalence between the terrorist and the police and military personnel who did everything to protect lives and property.

“The SHA proposes the creation of a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) which enables investigations for ‘non-criminal police misconduct’. That is where former or deceased police officers can be pilloried for making genuine mistakes. Just imagine the upset that that would cause the family of a decorated police officer?

“We have written to the Secretary of State Julian Smith MP requesting an urgent meeting to get clear (some) answers. The Government is now engaged in ‘an intensive process’ with the Northern Ireland parties and we would like certainty and transparency on what it has in mind. On the evidence so far, this process raises questions of fairness and integrity and given our legitimate and serious concerns, what is required for victims of terrorism to deal with the past cannot be ignored any longer.”

UHRW looks ahead to 2020

It’s hard to believe that we are a week into a new year, and therefore it is timely to reflect and look back and also to consider what’s ahead of us.

For many of you, our steps in 2020 will be little different from those we took in 2019: the issues that confront us are a little different; the challenges, many; the anguish experienced by our innocent victims of terrorism remains the same and our determination to do all we can for them is undiminished.

Ulster Human Rights Watch is about working to extract facts for people still searching for details and information about the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks that consigned them to a lifetime of pain. In the absence of hard factual information, closure remains elusive.

Survivors still want to obtain answers to the most basic of questions. They want to know who planned and executed the terrorist attacks. They ask why their brother, sister, son, daughter, father or mother was singled out for murder. They know there is little or no chance of securing answers from terrorist organisations. These self-styled ‘armies’ kept none or few records even though they professed some legitimacy in their rank structures. In the attacks – we do not like the word ‘incidents’ – that were investigated by the authorities on either side of the Border, relatives ask why certain avenues of inquiry or leads weren’t pursued and, in the worst cases, why the files and paperwork are almost non-existent, destroyed or excessively difficult to obtain.

In 2020, we will make every effort to get to the truth in every case we undertake – that includes travelling  to Dublin, when necessary, in search of answers and we will pressurise  the Republic of Ireland Government to give us access to documentation that could help the relatives of those kidnapped, interrogated and murdered across the border.

In Northern Ireland, part of our workload will continue to be dominated by legacy and unacceptable proposals included in draft legislation for dealing with the past. These issues cannot be one-sided and any attempts to demonise those who served ‘in uniform’ to frustrate and thwart terrorism can never be equated with the perpetrators who caused such misery and heartache.

We know that there is a silent community of thousands in Northern Ireland who grieve in the privacy of their own homes for those lost to them a generation ago. We also know many of these innocent victims don’t know where to turn to for help and advice. We want them to understand that Ulster Human Rights Watch is there for them. Our Advocacy Service can take up their cases, do the investigative spadework and deliver more information about what happened to their loved ones. Often knowing even a little more can help in the healing process.

Setting out what happened to their relatives can also assist. Telling their own stories and having them lodged for posterity to remind future generations of the horrors they endured will also feature high on our Agenda.

It is vitally important that the stories of victims and survivors are a counterweight to the misinformation peddled by terrorists who are determined to secure some legitimacy for their murderous actions and equate what they did with the legitimate forces of law and order.

If you want us to take up your case, or can assist with our efforts to inject objectivity into the story of the ‘Troubles’, then please contact us, without delay on 028 3834 4500 or by email to:

UHRW Twitter taps into wave of widespread revulsion over HIU proposal

The Open Letter to all candidates and political parties calling on them to oppose the creation of the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) has tapped into a wave of widespread revulsion over the draft Stormont House Agreement Bill.

The News Letter devoted considerable space to news that the Open Letter, signed by ten groups, had been sent to all the parties.

Once it appeared in print, Ulster Human Rights Watch took to Twitter to expand the coverage. The UHRW only recently opened a Twitter account and was slowly building up followers on the popular platform.

Days out from the General Election, we extracted a line from the letter and used it in the opening sentence. It read: “There are many of us and we intend to vote.” We captured the on-line News Letter coverage and linked in senior politicians and more than twenty media outlets.

Fast forward twenty-four hours, and even though the UHRW Twitter account had a little more than thirty followers, our tweet packed a punch. In our terms and borrowing the phrase a description from the Twitter phrasebook, the tweet went viral.

By teatime on Sunday, we recorded no fewer than 14,856 impressions – that’s the number of people who saw the tweet – with 1,067 engagements or the number of times people interacted with the tweet.

We attracted 25 ‘likes’ from people who saw it and there were seventeen retweets which widened the net to an even larger audience.

Back to the letter. The letter we were proud to sign alongside either civilian, police or military veterans noted with regret the manner in which so-called ‘legacy issues’ had been handled. It called upon all individual candidates and all political parties “to state without equivocation their stance on the issue of the draft legislation arising from the Stormont house Agreement.”

The letter continued: “In particular, we call upon all parties to express their clear opposition to the proposed creation of a ‘Historical Investigations Unit’ (HIU).

“We believe that this proposal will:

  • create false expectations of long-delayed justice for victims of crime;
  • create new victims and re-victimise existing ones in relation to trauma;
  • undermine centuries of successful development of the rule of law by introducing arbitrary and capricious official opinions as a substitute for due process and judicial decisions;
  • breach numerous articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; and
  • facilitate a huge and expensive exercise in scapegoating those who worked to protect society whilst ignoring the perpetrators of violence.

“We will not countenance the perpetuation of what we see as a witch hunt – a witch hunt which is clearly designed to assist those who seek to re-write the history of the last fifty years in order to deflect attention from their heinous crimes, to justify terrorism and to blame others for the ensuing misery.

“We welcome the references in the manifestos of two of our main political parties to their concerns about the HIU. We now call upon all parties to repudiate the concept of any quasi-judicial definition of ‘collusion’. The law already provides for the investigation and punishment of conspiracy to murder, perverting the course of justice and all other associated crimes. Yet another new definition will only serve to perpetuate the myth of collusion – the greatest piece of ‘fake news’ to hit Northern Ireland.

“Candidates and all political parties – where do you stand? Are you for justice or are you for continuing the witch hunt?”

The organisations supporting the letter were:

County Armagh Phoenix Group (Police & Military Support)

Decorum NI (Police & Military support)

Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans

Mourne Action for Survivors of Terrorism

Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association

RUC GC Association

RUC GC Parents’ Association

South East Fermanagh Foundation

Ulster Human Rights Watch

Wounded Police and Families Association

We await responses from the parties ahead of polling day. Watch this space for updates.

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