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Northern Ireland criticised for failures on dealing with past and abortion law - Amnesty global report

Northern Ireland has failed dismally to deal with past human rights violations and to reform its outdated abortion laws, Amnesty International said, as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world today (22 February).

The Annual Report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, highlights repeated failures of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland governments to put in place proper processes to ensure accountability for thousands of cases of killings, injuries and torture dating from the period of recent conflict, despite appeals by figures such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Pablo de Greiff, and Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan.

The global Amnesty International report also notes criticism by two United Nations bodies in the last year of Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws and the criminal prosecution of women for taking World Health Organization-approved medication to induce abortions.

Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director, Patrick Corrigan, said:

“Victims of Northern Ireland’s conflict continue to suffer the consequences of political failure to properly address past human rights abuses.

“This must be an urgent priority for agreement by the UK and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland political parties after next week’s Assembly election.

“Meanwhile, the right of women and girls to access safe and legal abortion services in Northern Ireland is being violated on a daily basis. Most people want to see significant abortion law reform in the next term of the Northern Ireland Assembly and we should expect nothing less.”

Northern Ireland excerpts from Amnesty International global report:


The former and current Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland both referred to those raising allegations of collusion or focusing on human rights violations by state agents as contributing to a “pernicious counter narrative”. NGOs advocating for accountability for victims raised concerns that such language placed their work as human rights defenders at risk.

In November, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence urged the UK government to address structural or systemic patterns of violations and abuses, rather than focusing solely on existing “event-based” approaches. He suggested widening the focus of measures from cases of death to include torture, sexual abuse and unlawful detention, with a gender-sensitive approach. The Special Rapporteur also urged limiting national security arguments against claims for redress, and ensuring that reparations for all victims be tackled seriously and systematically.

The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland set out a detailed five-year plan to address the backlog of “legacy” coroner’s inquests, but failed to receive funding from the Northern Ireland Executive and central government. The government continued to refuse to establish an independent public inquiry into the 1989 killing of Patrick Finucane, despite having acknowledged previously that there had been “collusion” in the case.


Access to abortion in Northern Ireland remained limited to exceptional cases where the life or health of the woman or girl was at risk. The abortion law in Northern Ireland was criticized by both the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in July.

Women in Northern Ireland faced criminal prosecution for taking WHO-approved medication to induce abortions. A woman was given a three-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to two offences under the 1861 law governing abortion in Northern Ireland.

Official statistics for the previous year showed that 833 women from Northern Ireland had travelled to England or Wales to access abortion, and that 16 lawful abortions had been performed in Northern Ireland. In June, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal heard appeals of a 2015 High Court, ruling that the region’s abortion law was incompatible with domestic and international human rights law.

In November, Scotland’s First Minister set out proposals to provide access to abortion services through the National Health Service in Scotland for women and girls from Northern Ireland.”

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