Britain’s proposed “blanket” amnesty on murders and torture during unrest would violate its international obligations, a human rights commissioner has said.
In a damning letter to the British government, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said the amnesty would lead to “impunity” and denounced the lack of prior consultation with victim groups.
Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic is scathing in her criticism of the UK government’s own guilt in creating a situation where “time is running out” for victims to receive justice.
She said successive UK governments have blocked progress, failed to fund legacy inquiries, refused to set up public inquiries and failed to implement European Court judgments on the questions of inheritance for “more than two decades”.
In a three-page letter to Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, the Commissioner said she had consulted with different groups in the North and met with victims.
She stated that the “order document” presented by Mr. Lewis last July, titled, would put an end to all current and future attempts at criminal prosecution.
Ms Mijatovic said she would also ban the PSNI or the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman investigating incidents related to the unrest and end judicial activities regarding current and future criminal and civil cases and investigations.
She said Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights impose obligations on member states, including effective investigations into killings or credible allegations of torture.
The commissioner said that although there is no clear right to obtain prosecution or conviction, investigations must be able to lead to the identification and punishment of those responsible.
She told Mr Lewis that the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) and United Nations special rapporteurs were opposed to generalized amnesties, especially in relation to serious human rights violations, cases of torture and murder and ill-treatment of civilians.
“The general and unconditional nature of the amnesty in your proposal actually means that none of those involved in serious violations will be held to account, which will lead to impunity,” Mijatovic said.
She said the UK government’s argument that moving from “punitive” to “restorative” justice is the only way forward to deal with the past is a “false dichotomy” between investigation and prosecution. on the one hand and truth and reconciliation on the other.
She said impunity and the absence of justice can be a “major obstacle” to achieving lasting justice and reconciliation.
The human rights chief said an approach that embraces both efforts was part of the 2014 Stormont House deal.
She said she fully agreed with the Secretary of State that the people of Northern Ireland have “waited far too long” for progress on heritage issues and that “the time is not on our side ”.
She added that it would have been appropriate for the command document to “at least reflect on the responsibility of the British government in creating this situation”.
Ms Mijatovic said that although the situation is complex, it is hard to ignore that successive UK governments “have failed to make progress” and have “at times put obstacles in such progress”.
She said the non-execution of court judgments on inheritance issues is a “source of growing concern” with general measures “not implemented for more than two decades”.
The commissioner said the lack of consultation with victims, given the radical change in approach, is “a major source of concern” and a “major blow to the already fragile confidence” in the government’s handling of legacy problems.
She said the prospect among victims of facing further delays or an abrupt end to their search for justice was “clearly devastating” for them.
In his response, the Secretary of State said: “The UK government is committed to addressing legacy issues in a way that promotes information retrieval and reconciliation, complies with international obligations in this area. rights and responds to the needs of victims and survivors. as well as society as a whole.
He said that by releasing the proposals on July 14, the UK government made it clear that they did not represent “a final position” but rather to inform a process of engagement.
Mr Lewis said the UK government has sought the advice of victims and survivors and said it is essential that they play a role in the design, implementation and monitoring of any recovery agency. ‘information.
He said the proposed information retrieval organization would include specially trained liaison officers to provide a single point of contact for individuals and families throughout the information retrieval processes.
“Not only are successful prosecutions rare, but the complex and lengthy prosecution of criminal justice outcomes means that alternative mechanisms for providing information to victims and families are hampered.
He said that between 2015 and 2021, “only nine people” were charged with unrest-related deaths.
“Using limited resources – both time and people – to prosecute a small number of cases means that a small number may see prosecution; however, many fewer will see a conviction.
Mr Lewis said there was also a risk that the ongoing lawsuits would hamper and prevent information sharing with families.