Government proposals for dealing with the legacy of the past must be abandoned

The UK Government Command Paper proposals to introduce a statute of limitations for terrorist crimes and create an information recovery body with an oral history initiative are unacceptable for victims of terrorism and former members of the security forces, who defended and protected democracy and human rights against terrorism during the Troubles.

The justification given for the introduction of a statute of limitations is that there is a diminishing prospect of seeing successful prosecutions. However, this is not a valid reason for removing the possibility of seeing justice done. Perpetrators of acts of terrorism should always be made accountable if new evidence, that could lead to a conviction, becomes available. Recent investigations against security forces are not a reason for introducing such a statute of limitations either, as any perceived unfairness can be considered during the investigation carried out by the police and the way the Public Prosecution Service makes its decisions.

What the Government calls a statute of limitations is in fact an amnesty. An amnesty applies to past offences, which is what the Government is seeking to do, while a statute of limitations usually has no retroactive effect. Furthermore, a statute of limitations is prohibited under international law for crimes against humanity which many, if not all, crimes committed by terrorist organisations during the Troubles were. Consequently, a statute of limitations is an ill-advised idea and should be abandoned by the Government.

The proposed information recovery body is to deal with deaths and serious injuries. It is suggested that once the threat of prosecution is removed by way of a statute of limitations, those with potentially useful information about a Troubles-related death or serious injury would be encouraged to come forward. Clearly, this process would serve the interests of terrorists and their sympathisers, who would be free to re-write the history of the Troubles, vilifying security forces and justifying terrorism. It will be of little help to victims of terrorism since there will be no way of verifying that the information provided is truthful. The disclosure of information should instead come from State agencies following a reliable legal investigative process that would allow the information to be challenged and verified.

If the possibility of prosecuting terrorists is removed, the proposed oral history initiative would favour storytelling from people from all backgrounds, including those who engaged in terrorism and their sympathisers. Those involved in terrorism would seek to justify their engagement in terrorism and to blame the authorities and the security forces for the Troubles. Innocent victims and former members of the security forces would be deterred from engaging in this process and the educational use of this initiative would be doomed to failure. There is a fear that such an oral history initiative would have the opposite outcome of encouraging radicalisation among younger generations.

The fulfilment of human rights obligations by the United Kingdom, mainly under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, implies that the existing legal processes are to be maintained for the recovery of information with a view to identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of acts of terrorism. There is therefore a need for a positive alternative that prevents terrorists and their sympathisers from corrupting the investigative processes designed to establish the truth, deliver justice and create historical archives for educational purposes with the potential for achieving reconciliation. Law-abiding citizens and former members of the security forces throughout the United Kingdom should be prepared along with the Ulster Human Rights Watch to engage in the implementation of such an alternative.

Ulster Human Rights Watch urges Governments to drop legacy proposals ‘to prevent justification of terrorism’

The human rights charity, Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW), has written to the British and Irish Governments urging a re-think of legacy proposals in order ‘to prevent the glorification and justification of terrorism.’

The Lurgan-based organisation that represents innocent victims of terrorism sets out its concern following publication of the UK Government’s Command Paper.

Letters to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis MP, and Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD, states that UK Government proposals ‘are both unnecessary and unreliable’ and says victims of terrorism view them as ‘totally unacceptable.’

The letter urges the Government to abandon its proposal to introduce a statute of limitations which, in effect, is an amnesty.

It states: “The Consultation was supposedly designed to find an agreement between interested parties, in particular with victims of terrorism, as to how best to deal with the legacy of the past.

“We have been told that nothing has been decided yet and that apparently both the UK and Irish Governments are still considering the best way forward.

“However, the various meetings we have had to date with representatives of the NIO and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have heightened our concerns that neither Government has any intention of reintroducing the possibility of seeing justice done about Troubles-related cases.

“We would insist once again that the Government abandon its proposal to introduce a statute of limitations (in effect an amnesty) for Troubles-related terrorist crimes, especially as these proposals will only encourage terrorists and their sympathisers to justify their engagement in terrorist activities.

“There is a viable alternative to the Command Paper proposals (which we have advised both Governments of on a number of occasions) and we would ask the Government to review its approach for dealing with the legacy of the past in order to ensure the possibility of justice being done where evidence exists and to prevent the glorification and justification of terrorism.”

Victim’s Scheme opens at end of month

Ulster Human Rights Watch, which campaigns on behalf of innocent victims of terrorism, is reminding victims that the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme opens for applications in just six days.

UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, says victims must not lose out on the payments which can be as much as £10,000 per year.

Mr Schmidt said: “Ulster Human Rights Watch is here with our partners to help innocent victims with the application process. Already, we have seen significant interest in the scheme with people contacting us directly for support.

“What we must avoid at all cost is genuine victims of terrorist violence slipping through the net because they find the process a bit bureaucratic or daunting.

There is considerable detail on the Victims’ Payment Board website ( but we appreciate that not everyone will be used to navigating online and will require some assistance.

“This scheme is long overdue, but at least it’s now up and running and our job will be to maximise the numbers of legitimate applicants who seek to avail of the financial help.

“The money paid under the scheme will help ease the financial burden faced by victims although it will never extinguish the pain and anguish many thousands still suffer.”

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