Amendments to UK’s Northern Ireland Conflict Bill Compound Injustice
By Brian Dooley
The bill proposes immunity for former British soldiers, members of the police force in Northern Ireland, and others for crimes committed during the 1969-1998 conflict. It also proposes ending all future court cases, inquests and official inquiries into any conflict-related crimes.
Now, under one of several new amendments proposed by the British government, inquests which have already begun and are currently hearing evidence will be scrapped unless they are completed by May 1, 2024.
Such limits would halt the pursuit justice for victims of state-sponsored violence.
Take, for example, , when British soldiers killed five people, including three children and a priest. After decades of campaigning, the families of those killed were finally granted a coroner’s inquest, which in February 2023.
The Springhill/Westrock families saw the inquest as a breakthrough in which they could finally get the truth about who killed their loved ones, and why. Coroners can’t prosecute anyone, but witnesses can be summoned and cross examined. The coroner publishes a public report of findings, and determines whether killings were or were not justified.
Such inquests can take a very long time, but under the new amendment, this Springhill/Westrock inquest, and all others currently under way, will be scrapped unless completed by May 1, 2024.
Another , into the 1971 killings of ten civilians in Ballymurphy, Belfast, took two and a half years before it reported its findings. It found that the ten people killed were innocent, and nine had been shot by British soldiers (the coroner could not definitively say who shot the tenth).
To shut these investigations down would be an abdication of the UK’s responsibility to find the truth.
of the new amendments by Belfast-based human rights organization the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) underscores that the new provisions “will shut down existing legacy mechanisms at a time when such mechanisms are increasingly delivering for [bereaved] families.”
Few outside the British government, and some British veterans groups (protected by this legislation), think this bill is a good idea. In a rare show of unity, all the political parties in Northern Ireland condemn the bill, as do victims and survivors of the conflict from across communities. In January 2023, a bipartisan group of 27 Members of the United States Congress the bill.
This week, Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, that by pushing the bill, the UK government “ignores the many warnings that this legislation would violate the UK’s international obligations and put victims’ rights at risk.”
Micheál Martin, Irish Foreign Minister and Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) the British government to stop the bill, saying “it is simply cruel, leaving questions and suspicions hanging and preventing lasting reconciliation.” The Irish government taking legal action against the UK if the bill passes.
Human Rights First joins the many voices condemning this unnecessary and unjust legislation. We have a of working for accountability in Northern Ireland stretching back to the 1990s. This month Mike Breen, President and CEO of Human Rights first, the leaders of other NGOs to urge the withdrawal of the bill.