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Northern Ireland: Amnesty welcomes 'dealing with the past' report but warns against offering impunity to abusers

Amnesty International today welcomed the publication of the report by the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland (CGPNI) and called for the UK government, and all parties in Northern Ireland, to do all they can to bring justice to the victims of human rights abuses in Northern Ireland. The human rights organisation, while welcoming much of the report, rejected proposals to offer effective immunity to perpetrators of human rights abuses in exchange for information about those abuses.

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

“An unwavering commitment to justice must be at the heart of any proposal for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

"So we welcome the fact that the Group has rejected any suggestion of a blanket amnesty or an explicit general promise of immunity from prosecution. As the Group rightly recognised, such guarantees of impunity do nothing in the long run to secure genuine and lasting peace, stability or reconciliation.

“However, we are concerned that victims would be asked to consider waiving their right to see the perpetrators brought to justice, in the hope that this might aid the discovery of the truth. In addition, we are worried by the proposal that the Legacy Commission itself could draw up recommendations for ‘how a line might be drawn’ after the end of its five-year life, perhaps putting justice beyond reach forever.

“Victims of human rights violations should not be forced to choose between learning the truth and seeing perpetrators brought to justice. They have a right to both truth and justice; and to full reparations for what they have suffered.

"There is a real risk that this proposal could amount to an effective amnesty for individuals who have abused the rights of others. Perpetrators of abuses on all sides will know that they need only continue to evade detection and prosecution until they can ‘buy’ their immunity by offering to tell the Legacy Commission details of the killings, kidnappings, beatings or other abuses in which they were involved.

“We urge the UK authorities to reject this part of the Group’s recommendations.

"We also urge the UK authorities not to use the publication of these recommendations as an excuse to further delay the already long-overdue establishment of the promised, genuinely independent, public inquiry into the killing of solicitor Pat Finucane.

“We recognise the immensely difficult and intractable nature of the questions the Group was asked to address. We recognise that there is much in this Report to welcome.

“In particular we welcome the Group’s emphasis on ensuring the independence of the investigations to be undertaken by the Review and Investigation Unit of the Legacy Commission. That independence – which has too often been lacking from investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Northern Ireland – must be robustly guaranteed if these investigations are to command the confidence of the victims and all parts of the wider community.

“Finally, we welcome the increased attention and support to be given to victims and survivors.”

In its report, the CGPNI recommends the establishment of a ‘Legacy Commission’, with a five-year mandate to investigate unsolved killings. This Commission will be headed by an independent international Commissioner. The Commissioner will be appointed by the governments of the UK and Ireland, with the agreement of the devolved Executive in Northern Ireland.

The Legacy Commission will be made up of 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 deemed possible, 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.

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