Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson tenure comes to an end

Innocent victims of terrorism who were killed, maimed or otherwise injured have constantly been put on an equal footing with the perpetrators of acts of terrorism which led to the death or injuries of their victims. On many occasions Ulster Human Rights Watch respectfully challenged Ms Judith Thompson, the Victims and Survivors Commissioner, to take a stand for and champion the cause of victims of terrorism.

It is therefore, as she leaves the post, a matter of great disappointment and hurt that throughout her tenure the Victims and Survivors Commissioner did not appear to question the ‘interpretation’ of ‘victim and survivor’ provided in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 – a position she may have sincerely held to – but in the opinion of the UHRW and victims of terrorism we represent, a position which was sincerely wrong.

It is now essential and a matter of priority that the future Commissioner addresses this vital issue of a proper definition of victim of terrorism, as being victims of crime, as a result of the Troubles. Only by doing this will a way be opened to adequately address and resolve the legacy of the past.

Newsletter Campaign 14: Plea to MPs not to treat terrorists like victims

A victims’ group has written to all 650 MPs urging them to put pressure on the UK government to make sure that Sinn Fein do not derail the pension for victims of the Troubles.

The regulations for the pension were passed by Parliament and are therefore a national scheme. The guidance provided by the secretary of state excludes terrorists ‘injured at their own hand’ and this, Ulster Human Rights Watch maintain, is precisely in line with the purpose of the scheme.

Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) has told the MPs that terrorists must not be treated the same as the people they harmed.

The scheme stalled at the 11th hour in a disagreement at Stormont over the definition of a victim that had been approved in Westminster legislation.

The UHRW letter says the postponement of the scheme was a shattering blow to innocent victims.

“Innocent victims have waited years for a scheme that acknowledged their pain and suffering and held out the prospect of some much-needed financial assistance for them”, the letter states.

The guidance provided by the secretary of state excludes terrorists ‘injured at their own hand’ and this, the UHRW maintain, is precisely in line with the purpose of the scheme.

The letter continues: “Literally hundreds of victims with life-changing physical and psychological conditions have been treated appallingly and inhumanely.”

UHRW managing director, Robert Campbell, and advocacy manager, Axel Schmidt, state: “The Victims’ Payment Scheme must be implemented without further delay.

“There is an impasse within the devolved Northern Ireland Executive due to the stance adopted by Sinn Fein. There is little real prospect of bridging the divide that separates the parties.

“That being the case, there is a clear and moral responsibility on the United Kingdom government to step in. These regulations were passed by Parliament and are therefore a national scheme which some of your constituents may be entitled to.

“Ministers at Westminster and the NIO cannot go on indefinitely waiting for a political change of heart at Stormont. It therefore falls to the UK government to take control of the operation and management of the scheme to end this scandalous state of affairs.

“We would strongly urge you to lobby ministers. We would ask you to be the voice for innocent victims of terrorism not only in Northern Ireland, but in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.”

The letter continues: “The terrorists who murdered, bombed and maimed do not deserve to be treated in the same way as the innocent people they so grievously harmed. The life-changing injuries sustained by the innocent do not in any shape or form equate with the individuals who planted the bomb or pulled the trigger.

“We respectfully ask you to bring the voice of the innocent to the floor of the House of Commons and the ear of Cabinet. It is time to bring this shameful delay to an end and your support would be invaluable in persuading Ministers to intervene in order to bring this appalling injustice to an end.”

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Newsletter Campaign 13: Orange grand master: Sinn Fein have hijacked the victims’ pension to equate innocent victims with people who engaged in terrorism

The Grand Master of the Orange Order, Edward Stevenson, has hit out at Sinn Fein for hijacking the Victims’ Payment Scheme and delivering ‘a calculated insult’ to innocent victims.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson as he prepares for the Twelfth of July celebrations at home. He criticised the pension delay, to appease republicans.

Speaking ahead of today’s Twelfth celebrations, and as part of the campaign by the News Letter and Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) to pay the pension, Mr Stevenson said innocent victims should not have to wait another day for what was promised.

Backing the scheme in its agreed form, which excludes terrorists injured ‘at their own hand’, the grand master says the United Kingdom government should intervene if local agreement cannot be reached.

Asked how the Orange Order regard the delay that is being experienced in the Victims’ Payment Scheme, he said: “A total of 340 members of the Orange Institution were murdered by terrorists — almost 10% of all of those killed in the ‘Troubles’.

“The youngest Orange victim was 18-years-old, the eldest 86. More than half of those killed were singled out because they were serving the community in the security forces. Others were targeted simply because they were Protestants or members of the Orange Institution.

“In addition to those killed, many thousands of Orange members were left with life-changing physical, mental and emotional injuries because of the terrorist campaign.

“Almost 500 children were bereaved as the result of the death of a parent who was a member of the Orange Institution. In most cases, these murders remain unsolved.”

Mr Stevenson added: “In November 2019, the Orange Institution was pleased to lend its support to those campaigning for the introduction of the Victims’ Payment Scheme. In our comprehensive response we welcomed the long overdue assistance the scheme proposed and the difference that practical intervention could make in the lives of those innocents who were injured mentally and physically by terrorists.

“We are therefore deeply disappointed that this issue has been hijacked by those who wish to equate innocent victims with those who made a conscious decision to engage in acts of terrorism. This is a calculated insult to those who have already endured so much hardship and humiliation over the years and who have gained no comfort or material benefit from successive political agreements seeking to deal with the legacy of the past.”

Asked the impact of this delay having on brethren who may qualify for long overdue payments, Mr Stevenson said: “Many innocent victims and their families have lost hope of ever finding answers or justice. The early release of many of those convicted of some of the worst atrocities coupled with the subsequent revelations around so called ‘letters of comfort’ issued to dozens of terrorists have caused immense hurt, frustration and despair amongst innocent victims.

“The welcome news that the Victims Payment Scheme would not allow those injured by their own actions to benefit was quickly undermined however when Sinn Fein used their political influence to effectively veto the scheme in its proposed form.

“The subsequent delay has further compounded the immense hurt, frustration and anger of innocent victims and their families who have waited so long for official recognition and support for the life changing injuries they have borne in some cases for 50 years.

“In purely economic terms, innocent victims awaiting the implementation of this scheme continue to be financially disadvantaged due to the lack of support. Many have had to shoulder the burden of not being able to work, other have had to meet the cost of adapting their homes to meet their specific needs. Some have been forced to employ carers at their own expense.”

Mr Stevenson continued: “Those who most need help from the proposed scheme have again been painfully reminded that apologists for the terrorist campaign still have the ability to inflict suffering and misery on the lives of their victims, long after the bullet was fired, or bomb detonated.”

Mr Stevenson said that the Order’s message to the NI Executive and the government on this issue was as follows: “The republican movement continues a campaign of re-writing the history of the period known as the ‘Troubles’.

“Their narrative aims to ensure that in future, those who examine the period will consider that the campaign of terror was somehow justified and that all sides share in the blame for the causes and consequences of the period.

“It is therefore entirely predictable that they will seek to amend and further delay a scheme which sets the needs and rights of the victim above those of the perpetrator.”

He added: “Innocent victims should not have to wait another day for what has been promised. If local agreement cannot be reached which allows the immediate implementation of the Victim’s Payment Scheme in its agreed form, we would call on the United Kingdom government to intervene and take steps to ensure that these individuals and families, whose lives have been broken by the actions of terrorists, are supported without any further delay.”

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