Northern Ireland Troubles Bill
Introduction to the Bill
Murder is murder, whether it happened 5, 15 or 50 years ago in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. Torture is a crime with absolute prohibition under international law. The UK Government is trying to let people off with murder, torture and other serious crimes through the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.
Below we've answered a few of your questions about the Bill, to help you understand more easily what the Bill means, why it's been created, and what it means for the future.
- What are the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’?
The Northern Ireland Troubles was a conflict that occurred between the 1960s and 1990s. The conflict claimed the lives of over 3,600 people and injured 40,000. In most cases, no one has ever been held accountable.
After decades of bloody conflict, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led to a largely successful peace settlement which has lasted to this day.
- What does the NI Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill mean?
Over decades, there has been a piecemeal approach to dealing with the past. Many victims are still waiting for justice. The UK Government is now betraying those victims by permanently removing any chance of truth, justice and accountability. The Bill protects perpetrators and means that if they give an account of conflict related events best to their knowledge and belief, that they will be given immunity from prosecution.
For example, if they confess to murdering someone during the Troubles conflict, they will be given impunity.
- What is wrong with the NI Troubles Bill exactly then?
Put simply, A LOT. If the Bill comes into place, it will:
- Give impunity to murderers, and those responsible for torture
- Block victims from accessing justice via legal action
- Be a significant interference in the justice system
- Breach the Good Friday Agreement
- Go against existing agreements between the UK and Irish Governments and NI Political Parties on legacy
- Create a two-tier justice system in the UK
- Fail to deliver human rights compliant investigations
- Set a deeply concerning international precedent - signalling to other States that they too can ignore their human rights obligations
- What do victims and Amnesty International think about this?
Victims and Amnesty International and believe that it must be scrapped. Victims have told Amnesty that the Bill is a betrayal of their rights and loved ones.
- When will the Bill be law/what are the next steps?
The bill has reached 2nd reading in the House of Lords where it will face resistance. However, the Government has a majority to push this Bill through. When the Bill becomes law, it will inevitably be challenged in the courts for its lack of human rights compliance.
- How does this affect global justice?
The UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and G7. The Bill sends a wrong message to the international community and sets a dangerous precedent as it violates our domestic and international human rights obligations.
- How does this affect me?
The issue is bigger than Northern Ireland. Firstly, the Troubles were not limited to Northern Ireland, victims in other parts of the UK will be denied justice too. This is the government giving impunity to those responsible for murder and torture in the UK. If the Government get their way, and this becomes law, it will show to the world that the UK government does not stand for the rule of law, will significantly interfere in the justice system, ignore its human rights obligations and, in this Bill, protect perpetrators at the expense of victims.
- What can I do to help?
Amnesty International UK will be working to raise awareness of the #TroublesBill. We have also launched an action that calls on the UK Prime Minister to stop the appalling Troubles Bill.
Scale of Opposition to the Bill
While the UK Government spearheads forward with this Bill at breakneck speed, it disregards the opinions of most important stakeholders who either have not been consulted at all, or had their opinions ignored.
- Victims' family members and groups, trauma specialists, and other human rights organisations who advocate for victims' rights have all expressed disappointment about the lack of consideration for victims in the Troubles bill.
- In terms of political parties in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly unanimously opposed the the UK Government's Troubles Bill in 2021.
- In terms of consenus parties in Westminster, all opposition parties have voted against the Bill in all readings, iterations, and amendments proposed until now. The Bill is only supported by Conservative party politicians.
- The Republic of Ireland government has condemned the Bill as a "get out of jail" plan for Troubles-related crimes.
- A study by the team at Queen's University Belfast's School of Law and the Committee on the Administration of Justice has found that the Bill breaches international law and the Belfast agreement.
- The UN Special Rapporteurs have expressed serious concern about the Bill, finding UK Government's plans to be in "flagrant violation of its international obligations".
- The Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, has warned that that the approach is not victim-centered, and that it would "undermine human rights protections".
- A bi-partisan group of 21 US Congress members have also made a public statement opposing the Troubles Bill while calling on the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to speak out against the plans.
Victims Of The Troubles
Aidan McAnespie - The Last Victim To Be Granted Due Process
Aidan McAnespie was fatally shot by a solider on his way to a Gaelic football match in Northern Ireland in '88 during the Troubles. 34 years later, the family have finally secured trial into his death, which is set to conclude in the coming months. The trial represents the due process that the UK Government is seeking to shut down for victims, by introducing the new Troubles law which would introduce a de-facto amnesty for human rights violations committed during the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Soon, victims could be permanently denied justice. But, “every grieving family deserves a chance for justice.” Sean McAnespie, brother of Aidan McAnespie
Majella O'Hare - Innocent 12 Year-Old Girl Shot In The Back By A Soldier
Amnesty International UK is also supporting the brother of a 12-year-old girl, Majella O'Hare, who was shot in the back by a soldier in 1976. The loss had a devastating impact on her family and the grossly inadequate investigation at the time only added to the trauma. Despite a letter of apology from the Ministry of Defence in 2011, no independent investigation has ever taken place, and no one has been held accountable for Majella's killing.
Amnesty International UK is supporting Michael O'Hare in calling for an independent investigation ahead of the 44th anniversary of her death. In July 2020 a letter was sent to the Legacy Investigation Branch of the PSNI requesting the Chief Constable ensure a prompt and independent investigation into her death.