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Northern Ireland Truth Commission moves step closer

A Northern Ireland Truth Commission moved a step closer to reality today with the call by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams for such a body to be established to deal with the legacy of the thirty-year conflict.

His endorsement of the idea and call for it be helped by "all relevant parties", suggests that the IRA, which was responsible for over 1,700 deaths – nearly half of the overall death toll from the conflict – could be ready to participate in a truth recovery process.

The fact that the MP and MLA for West Belfast made the call in an article in today's An Phoblacht/Republican News would seem to underline that his message is meant be read as such and that it is also sending a clear signal to the wider republican community to be ready to support involvement. Adams' message was echoed today in Dublin by Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD.

Sinn Féin has put forward ten principles which they believe should underpin any effective truth recovery process:

· All processes should be victim-centred and deal with victims on an all-Ireland basis;
· Full co-operation by all relevant parties is essential to the success of any commission;
· There should be no hierarchy of victims;
· All processes should be politically neutral;
· Any future panel should be international and independent;
· One of the purposes of any future panel/commission should be to examine the 'causes, nature and extent' of the conflict;
· An objective of any process should be healing – both for direct victims and for society in general;
· A common aim should be to enable society to build the peace;
· Reconciliation should be the core aim of any truth process; and Respect and generosity should inform the parties seeking to reach agreement.

Many of these principles are sound, although a few provide reasonable grounds for some argument. For instance, why only deal with victims "on an all-Ireland basis"? Weren't there also victims in Britain and across Europe?

Most notably missing from the set of principles is that any truth commission should also act as a conduit for justice. Perhaps this should come as no great surprise. Yet, as I have blogged before, Amnesty International's experience of truth recovery processes in over thirty (primarily post-conflict) countries would suggest that the most effective way of moving towards long-term peace, stability and reconciliation is to confront and interrogate the past and maximise the scope for justice.

Adams statement is worthy of a warm welcome – at least as far as it goes. Now, let's hear from the other relevant parties, UK and Irish governments included.

And, while we're at it, let's have the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past publish their much delayed report so we can test responses across the board. As previously noted, the true test of this process is whether or not the parties to the conflict – and the peace – are willing to construct a mechanism which can deliver truth and justice, not just pseudo-reconciliation.


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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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