Family members of those killed in the Northern Ireland conflict were among the hundreds of people that gathered yesterday in Belfast, demanding that the UK Government scrap plans to provide a form of amnesty to perpetrators in exchange for cooperation with a new truth recovery body. Demonstrators marched from various parts of the city ahead of the event outside Belfast City Hall; most of the bereaved relatives in attendance lost loved ones in killings involving state forces.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconcilliation) Bill has yet to receive royal assent but has already passed through the House of Commons and is currently being debated in the House of Lords. Section 18 of the Bill, in its current form, would allow for accused persons to be granted immunity from prosecution for offences committed during the conflict. Part 3 of the Bill would also place restrictions on proceedings taking place outside of the formal truth and reconciliation process, such as criminal investigations, inquests and civil proceedings relating to the conflict.
‘This Bill of shame will provide an amnesty for British state forces and deny our families basic legal rights to an inquest, an independent investigation and civil actions,’ said Natasha Butler. Butler’s grandfather was shot by soldiers in West Belfast in 1972; preliminary inquest proceedings into his and four other individuals’ death during the shooting have recently commenced, with a full inquest due to be heard next February. ‘It is a slap in the face to victims as it will prioritise the demands of the British military lobby over the legal rights of victims of state violence.’
Addressing the rally, Sinn Fein MP John Finucane – whose father Pat was murdered by loyalists in 1989 in a killing linked to state agents – accused the British government of trying to cover up their role in the conflict and stated that ‘they can no longer deny responsibility’. ‘The new Prime Minister Liz Truss needs to hear that we will not allow our rights to be cherry-picked or traded ever by a British government,’ he said. ‘She must bin this flawed legislation without delay.’
Proposals to grant an effective amnesty for crimes committed as part of the Troubles have previously been criticised by independent bodies and rights groups, who claimed that the Bill was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights, enshrined into Northern Irish law through the Good Friday Agreement. Last May, the chair of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Alyson Kilpatrick gave oral evidence before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and described the Bill as ‘almost certainly fatally flawed’. Kilpatrick argued that preventing prosecutions for serious crimes would amount to a ‘very substantial interference with the rule of law’.
Grainne Teggart, deputy director for Amnesty International Northern Ireland, said that the Bill would deny victims ‘truth, justice and accountability’ and argued that the UK government was ‘cruelly adding to their trauma by closing down all paths to justice forever.’