Northern Ireland: UK Government must not legislate for impunity through statute of limitations

Amnesty International has called on the UK Government to reject the idea of a statute of limitations to block the investigation of alleged crimes committed by soldiers and other security forces personnel in Northern Ireland.

The call comes in response to a Westminster debate today on the recommendations of the Defence Committee that the Government enact a statute of limitations “covering all Troubles-related incidents, up to the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which involved former members of the Armed Forces”. 

Amnesty said that any ‘statute of limitations’ imposed to block investigations for killings and torture carried out by members of the UK armed services during three decades of political violence in Northern Ireland would perpetuate impunity and be an utter betrayal of victims’ fundamental rights to justice.

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

“The UK Government must reject any moves to legislate for impunity through a statute of limitations. The effect of such would be to grant a blanket amnesty for human rights abuses committed by former members of the security forces.

“All victims of human rights violations and abuses from Northern Ireland’s conflict have a right to an independent investigation, with the possibility of prosecutions to follow where the evidence leads.

“This is true, whatever the identity of the victim and whatever the identity of the perpetrator. To remove this recourse would be a betrayal of victims’ fundamental right to justice."

The debate comes as talks are underway to restore the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.

Ms Teggart added:

“Victims are paying the price for the failure of government to effectively deal with the past. The current political impasse has served to exacerbate this. The UK Government and all political parties in Northern Ireland need to grasp the nettle now and agree a way forward capable of dealing fully with the past in line with international human rights standards.”

Amnesty’s 2013 report, ‘Northern Ireland: Time to deal with the past’, found that the patchwork system of investigation that has been established in Northern Ireland has proven inadequate for the task of establishing the full truth about human rights violations and abuses committed by all sides during the three decades of violence.

The human rights organisation is calling for a comprehensive mechanism to be set up to review the conflict as a whole, establish the truth about outstanding human rights violations and determine responsibility.

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