Human rights and narrowing the scope for telling lies about the past | Belfast and Beyond | 20 Oct 2008 | Amnesty International UK

Human rights and narrowing the scope for telling lies about the past

Some detailed leaks in the News Letter this morning about the supposed likely recommendations of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland. As I have blogged before, their report isn't now due for publication until December or January, but today's news reports gives a fair few details.

The Belfast Telegraph's story describes the proposals as follows:

"… there will be a five-year commission to investigate murders – headed by an independent international commissioner. The British and Irish Governments would appoint that commissioner with the agreement of the Executive and there will be an Investigations Unit and an Information Recovery Unit.

The plan is for the Investigations Unit to take over the work of the current Historical Enquiries Team and the legacy cases that are dealt with by the Police Ombudsman’s office.

"… if prosecution is not possible — then with the agreement of families cases can go to the Information Recovery Unit. Anyone with knowledge of killings will be encouraged to “tell what they know” — and any information they would give would not be admissible in court. That means there would be immunity from prosecution."

My sources tell me (yes, I have a few!) that on this occasion the leak isn't from Eames-Bradley themselves and that they are a bit disconcerted that it has taken place, but we can probably assume that the report is fairly accurate.

If so, then their proposals seem to be well worthy of close examination as they struggle to provide for the possibility of further investigation of and prosecution for unsolved killings and other crimes (by State and non-State actors), and at the same time provide for maximum truth recovery in order to tell our recent history and help prevent its recurrence.

As Prof Kieran McEvoy of Queen's University Belfast reminded me today at a CAJ event, the purpose of a truth recovery process can't be to reveal the whole truth about our past – that is impossible – but rather it is to narrow the scope for telling lies about our past.

Obviously, reconciling such aims has the potential to be very uncomfortable work, and the Group seems to be placing emphasis on a two step process, with the first focus being on investigation with the possibility of prosecution; the second stage being on truth recovery to aid reconciliation.

For Amnesty, as a human rights organisation with a key objective of challenging impunity, the search for justice must be the primary aim of any truth recovery process.  Consequently we would welcome recommendations from the Consultative Group that demonstrate that they share this view. The converse would also be true.

Beyond that, like everyone else, we will have to wait the full publication of the report from the Consultative Group.

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