Process on Northern Ireland's past must deal with gender violence

Amnesty International has called on Northern Ireland's political leaders and the UK and Irish governments to agree a new process to deal with the legacy of the conflict, and to include a thematic focus on gender-based violence, in light of allegations made in recent BBC NI Spotlight programmes.

Amnesty said that victims of sexual violence and other gender-based violence related to the Northern Ireland conflict had been failed over many years.

With political talks due to resume in Northern Ireland tomorrow (Thursday), including addressing issues left unresolved by the Haass talks, Amnesty said that political leaders must agree a new, comprehensive process to review the conflict and to establish the truth about outstanding human rights violations, including sexual abuse and other gender-based violence. Any such process must look at broader patterns of sexual violence related to the Troubles, identify failures to investigate, and ensure that victims have access to remedy.

Amnesty is recommending the establishment of a single, overarching mechanism to independently investigate all outstanding cases of human rights abuses, including cases of torture and ill-treatment. The human rights group says the mechanism should examine patterns of abuses - including sexual violence - and the policies and practices of the security forces and paramilitaries, with the potential to lead to criminal prosecutions. Amnesty has previously set out a series of principles for a human rights-compliant investigative mechanism, including the effective participation of victims.

Amnesty said that it was talking to Maíria Cahill, whose allegations about rape and subsequent cover-up featured in yesterday’s BBC Spotlight, and said that if there was new evidence in her case, then there should be a re-opening of the police investigation into her allegations of sexual abuse.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:

"Maíria Cahill's powerful testimony and allegations of sexual abuse are a reminder of the hidden and less talked about episodes of Northern Ireland’s past. The Police Ombudsman's ongoing investigation into possible police failings in her case could give rise to a new investigation.

"Sadly, Maíria's story is one of many cases of sexual and gender-based violence from the Troubles which have surfaced in recent years. There have been allegations of such abuse directed at paramilitaries on both sides as well as the security forces.

"Amnesty International is calling for a new, comprehensive mechanism to investigate key thematic issues arising from the three decades of political violence, and this should include a focus on sexual and gender-based violence and the failure to prevent it in the context of the Troubles.

"The political talks must address this issue, and the unresolved matters from the Haass talks, with an urgency which reflects their importance to victims from all communities in Northern Ireland. This is a responsibility of the Northern Ireland political parties, but also of the British and Irish governments. Further failure to face up to the legacy of the past can no longer be tolerated. Victims have suffered too much injury and indignity already."


The Northern Ireland conflict claimed the lives of more than 3,600 people and injured a further 40,000. In most cases, no one has been held responsible.

Over the last decade a patchwork of measures, including isolated investigations, have failed to establish the full truth about the violations and abuses of the past and left many victims waiting for justice.

The inherent limitations and failings of existing mechanisms for investigating the past have meant that they cannot, even collectively, provide the full truth about abuses committed by all sides during three decades of political violence.

Amnesty is campaigning for a new, comprehensive process to be set up to review the conflict as a whole, establish the truth about outstanding human rights violations and determine responsibility.

Amnesty believes that such a mechanism would be an important step towards ending impunity for human rights violations and abuses in Northern Ireland and could contribute towards establishing a shared understanding of the past as a firm foundation for building a more peaceful future.

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