Northern Ireland: truth comes dropping slow

Depressing news in Belfast this afternoon as a man is shot dead in broad daylight by two masked men on the Shankill Road, while a pipe-bomb explodes outside a Sinn Fein office in Castlewellan. You would think that some people don't want to escape the past they want to inflict it on us all over again.

It was a point I made at the Northern Ireland launch yesterday of Amnesty's 2010 Report on the state of the world's human rights, as I reflected on last year's killings of soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar and of police constable Stephen Carroll, and on the human rights challenges still ahead for Northern Ireland.

Of course, no society can escape the shadow of its history of it tries to brush the untidy bits under the carpet. It's an issue that we have visited over and over again on this blog…

Twenty years after the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, the UK government continues “to renege on its commitment to establish an independent inquiry into state collusion” in his death, as noted in the Amnesty 2010 Report. There's also been a distinct lack of progress in implementing the Eames-Bradley recommendations (or indeed any other substantive ideas) on dealing with the legacy of the past.

Yet, yet, there is progress. The new UK government has announced that the report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry is finally to be published next month. Public inquiries into possible state collusion in the deaths of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright are inching towards conclusion of their work.

Just yesterday the Belfast High Court ordered that files relating to the government’s alleged ’shoot to kill’ policy of the 1980s should be released. Former Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson of the West Yorkshire Police each carried out investigations into 'shoot to kill' allegations. The government has always denied any 'shoot-to-kill' policy existed here but permitted neither the Stalker nor Sampson reports of their investigations to be published.

Now the High Court has ruled the reports, albeit redacted, should be released to the families of victims' shot dead by the police, so that coroner's inquests can proceed. Mr Justice Gillen said he accepted arguments by the coroner that there was a need for a public investigation into issues surrounding the allegation that the state has a shoot-to-kill policy and called for a "generous" approach to disclosure:

"The coroner is constrained by the concepts of fairness, proportionality and transparency inherent in the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. I believe it is an entirely rational and proportionate decision for him to conclude that this means that he must permit the families of the deceased to see the entirety of the Stalker and Sampson reports – he having determined them 'generally relevant'- whilst at the same time, recognising the need to protect sensitive material and the Article 2 rights (to life) under the Convention of police officers etc."

Then today comes the news that John Larkin, in his first move since becoming Northern Ireland Attorney General earlier this week, has ordered a new inquest into the case of Francis Bradley who was fatally shot eight times by the SAS in 1986. It appears that Larkin believes that justice was not done at the original inquest when those SAS members who carried out the shooting were not required to give evidence.

Like peace, truth comes dropping slow. But drop it surely does.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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