UHRW calls on Government to hit ‘pause button’ on legacy laws

The advocacy charity for innocent victims of terrorism, Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW), is calling on the Government to ‘hit the pause button’ on legacy legislation.

The Lurgan-based organisation follows comments made by the former Chief Constable, Sir George Hamilton, who described the proposed move by the Government as ‘bonkers’ and ‘crazy.’

UHRW Advocacy Manager, Axel Schmidt, said: “Sir George’s comment on the proposed legacy legislation corresponds with our own views.

“For the former Chief Constable of the PSNI to describe what the Government is planning to do in such graphic language points to the folly of attempting to force through what is effectively an amnesty.

“What is suggested is a denial and a shocking injustice to victims of terrorism. The right to life, which implies the duty to investigate, is sacrosanct and should not be made into a political football. It may be politically expedient and convenient for Ministers to draw a line under the past, but abandoning all hope, however slim, of prosecuting killers is a shameful political manoeuvre.

“Sir George was the most senior police officer in Northern Ireland for five years and his salient, direct and pertinent comment should make the Government reflect and hit the ‘pause’ button.

“What the Government is planning is unacceptable and Sir George has said neither former officers nor military personnel want an amnesty.

“In my view, he has hit the nail on the head with his timely intervention. We must be able to investigate the past and not close the door to justice being done.”

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.”

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