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Northern Ireland: New Bill must not betray victims by 'handing out free pass'

Responding to comments made by the newly-appointed Veterans Minister Leo Docherty who today pledged to give ex-soldiers who served in Northern Ireland the “protection” they deserved, Amnesty International said the focus should be on the justice victims of the Troubles deserve.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland Campaigns Manager, said

“Mr Docherty has stormed into office pledging to give troops who served in Northern Ireland the protection they deserve, but what of the justice the victims deserve?

“No-one should be above the law. Handing out a free pass to people who committed abuses in Northern Ireland, would pull up the drawbridge for victims and their families and would be a betrayal of their fundamental right to justice.

“Rather than singing from the same hymn sheet as his predecessor, Mr Docherty should reflect on the tears and heartache of the many families in Northern Ireland long denied justice.

“The Northern Ireland Office needs to go back to the Stormont House Agreement and bring forward a Bill that finally puts in place mechanisms to deliver truth, justice and accountability for all victims, without fear or favour.”

Mr Docherty replaces Johnny Mercer, who left Government yesterday after expressing frustration at a lack of progress over legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Northern Ireland conflict.

The former defence minister had been leading the Overseas Operations Bill through the Commons. The Bill seeks to introduce a statutory presumption against prosecution, making it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident.

It was developed in response to legal claims made after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but does not cover incidents in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at a debate on the Bill today, new defence minister Leo Docherty told MPs: “A Bill will soon come forward from the Northern Ireland Office that will protect our Northern Ireland veterans of Operation Banner and address the legacy of the Troubles.”

The new legislation is set to be confirmed in the Queen’s Speech on May 11, according to the government.

In 2019, a consultation on Stormont House agreement mechanisms proposed to deal with past, found that a majority of the Northern Ireland public is opposed to legislating for impunity through a statute of limitations.

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