Amnesty Report: Northern Ireland criticised for failure on ‘dealing with the past’, abortion and marriage equality

“The last year has been marked by failure to deliver on key human rights issues facing Northern Ireland” – Patrick Corrigan

Amnesty International has criticised political failure in Northern Ireland to deliver new mechanisms to investigate deaths during the conflict, marriage equality and abortion law reform, in its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights published today.

The world’s leading human rights organisation is critical of the failure of the UK government and the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to deliver progress on key human rights challenges for the region.

Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan said:

“The last year has been marked by failure to deliver on key human rights issues facing Northern Ireland.

“Despite seemingly endless political talk, yet again there was no delivery for Troubles victims, for women who need access to abortion, nor for same-sex couples who want the same right to marry as the rest of society.

“People are increasingly frustrated with the apparent inability or unwillingness of politicians to deliver for those in society who need their human rights upheld. 2016 must become a year when such failure is replaced by success.”

Amnesty’s report notes that in August the UN Human Rights Committee called on the government to amend Northern Ireland’s law on abortion to allow for terminations in cases of “rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality” and the December High Court ruling which found existing legislation to be incompatible with international human rights law.

Despite the ruling, earlier this month the Northern Ireland Assembly voted down a number of amendments to the law which could have paved the way for terminations in such circumstances.

In November the Northern Ireland political parties and the UK and Irish governments concluded the ‘Fresh Start’ talks without agreeing on new mechanisms to investigate human rights violations committed during nearly thirty years of conflict in the region.

Amnesty criticised the failure as “a further let-down for victims who’ve been failed repeatedly for decades.”

Amnesty’s Annual Report also notes that Northern Ireland is now the only region of the UK without marriage equality legislation.

In April 2015 and again in November 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly failed to pass votes in favour of marriage equality. On the second occasion, while a majority of legislators voted in favour of the measure, the motion was defeated by the use of a ‘petition of concern’ mechanism.

Global overview

Amnesty International has documented how many governments have brazenly broken international law in 2015: more than 122 states tortured or otherwise ill-treated people and 30 or more illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger. In at least 19 countries, war crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were committed by governments or armed groups.

“Millions of people are suffering enormously at the hands of states and armed groups, while governments are shamelessly painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national ‘values’”, said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Amnesty International Annual Report 2015/16 available here: summary or full version available as downloadable PDF.

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