Report finds “Widespread” State Impunity During Northern Ireland Conflict

A report released today by a panel of international human rights experts concludes that the British government operated a “widespread, systematic, and systemic” practice of impunity to protect security forces from sanction during the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The report, “Bitter Legacy: State Impunity in the Northern Ireland Conflict” was produced by an International Expert Panel convened by the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights after the May 2022 introduction to British Parliament of the controversial Legacy Bill. When it takes effect on May 1, 2024, the act will bar victims’ families from legally challenging the actions of security forces during the Northern Ireland conflict. The panel, which includes Human Rights First’s Senior Advisor Brian Dooley, spent a year assessing British government actions throughout the conflict. 

“After decades of unresolved allegations of abuse, ‘Bitter Legacy’ provides one of the first authoritative studies of state impunity and comes just days before the deeply problematic Legacy Act becomes law on May 1,” said Senior Advisor Brian Dooley. “As a non-judicial body, we cannot provide these families with the justice they deserve, but these findings should serve as a reminder of the international standards that families and survivors ought to expect – and what they are being denied by the British government.” 

Human Rights First’s Innovation Lab developed DocDB, an optical character recognition tool to help the Panel and its researchers search through hundreds of thousands of pages of documentary evidence to identify relevant cases and internal responses by the British Government to human rights violations during the period. This enabled the Panel researchers to identify critical evidence that could have been lost in the huge quantity of documents.

In addition to widespread collusion between state security forces and paramilitaries, the Panel’s report describes much broader evidence of torture and ill-treatment by security forces than previously reported. This includes cases of waterboarding, electric shock treatment, mock execution, drugging detainees, sexual abuse, degradation, and humiliation.

The Panel urges the British and Irish governments to implement  an independent international commission to investigate impunity and other issues related to the conflict. 

The Panel Convener is Gisle Kvanvig (Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo). The current Panel members include: Dr Brian Dooley (Human Rights First), Dr Aoife Duffy (University of Essex), Maria José Guembe (Argentinian human rights lawyer), Kjell Erik Eriksen (Retired Detective Superintendent) and Ron Dudai (Ben Gurion University). Yasmin Sooka, South African human rights lawyer and former member of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was an inaugural panel member and has provided an afterword to the Report.

Human Rights First has been working with local Human Rights Defenders in Northern Ireland on issues of impunity and other human rights violations since the 1980s.


Published on April 29, 2024


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