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.”

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