By Mark Thompson
Early start by bus to the capital for a flight to Chicago this morning.
Building on previous work in the US RFJ has been invited by the AOH/LAOH Freedom for All-Ireland Committee (FFAI) to address key meetings across the Midwest and East-coast of the US over the next 11 days including a range of meetings with US legislators and addressing the House Foreign Affairs Relations Committee at Congress. We’re also delighted that Professor Mark McGovern, author of the recent book Counterinsurgency and Collusion, will be joining us in Washington specifically for these meetings where his book will also be submitted into the official record.
Key issues will be;
*The failure of the British government to honour its domestic and international legal obligations to independently investigate killings by the British army and RUC, including killings evidencing collusion, in accordance with Article 2 – The Right To Life – of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). These killings were never properly investigated;
*To counter the push by right-wing conservatives and unionists to limit accountability for state killings whilst the British government speaks out of both sides of its mouth on this matter. On one hand it again told the Committee of Ministers (CoM) to the Council of Europe (CoE) in September (including the Committee for the Executions of Judgments following landmark European Court rulings indicting the UK and vindicating families whose loved were killed by the state) that it will comply with rulings and independently investigate all these killings as it is legally complied to do under the ECHR, and in London panders to the extremists in its parliament and so-called military lobby groups to ‘protect’ British soldiers involved in killings. And in recent days Boris Johnston have reiterated that pledge to ‘protect’ British soldiers from ‘prosecution’ in their election manifesto.
*To maintain US and international support for the families’ objectives – their right – for truth, justice and accountability. This work to date by RFJ and our US partners has resulted in bi-partisan Congressional correspondences directly with the British government raising families’ concerns about deliberate delay and obstructions to due process by the authorities in the North and in London.
*Raising the fact that the UK government have conflicting public positions on ‘upholding the rule of law’ V’s ‘protecting’ their soldiers.
*Reiterating to the UK and stating firmly that the primacy of the rule of law must be applied regardless.
*Reminding the UK of their joint agreement with the Irish government and political parties in the North to address legacy and raising why this has not yet been implemented. *Pointing to the lack of resources for legacy more generally enabling cases to proceed especially with regard to the Police Ombudsman’s Historic Directorate.
Of course the above significant Congressional interventions would not be possible without the support of groups, and not least, the AOH/LAOH, FFAI, the Irish American Unity Conference, and the Brehon Law Society among others. These interventions, including Congressional hearings that RFJ have testified at, all contribute to holding the UK to account and lessening the space – wriggle room – they seek to evade their legal duty to hold to account those that served in their armed forces who were responsible for killing Irish citizens.
*To maintain vigilance around attempts to legislate for either the UK’s Advocate General, who is a cabinet member, and/or the North’s Attorney General to determine, rather than the Public Prosecution Service in Belfast, as to whether or not prosecutions of British soldiers, RUC et al, could proceed in that the guns used in the killings were supplied ‘legally’ in the course of their duties and somehow these killings were ‘legal’. There are also concerns that such deplorable attempts, if ever realised, could extend to weapons supplied to state agents by their state-handlers which were then used in some of the most heinous killings of the conflict. This provides a glimpse – a measure – of the lengths these people are prepared to go to in order to prevent truth and accountability when it concerns British forces and their agents. It shows the utter contempt the British government – including many other British MP’s across all the political spectrum at Westminster who also champion this ‘cause’ – has for justice, the rule of law and due process. It shows the contempt for Irish families bereaved by British state forces.
RFJ are ensuring that this appalling position is challenged at every level whether through our work with CoM/CoE, through the development of our work around strategic litigation, lobbying internationally, politically and especially in the US where our voice is heard and concerns positively actioned.
It’s worth remembering that in uniform British state forces killed 367 people during the conflict. The vast majority were uninvolved and unarmed civilians from the nationalist and republican community. Over 80 were 18 years and under. Many combatants were killed in circumstances in which safe and effective arrest under the rule of law was clearly an option but political, policing and military decisions to deploy covert operations to ambush and kill was prioritised. The overwhelming majority of combatants killed were republican and many were unarmed and posed no threat. It’s also worth noting that covert operations were very seldom deployed against loyalists resulting in arrests or killings. Indeed the evidence available shows the majority of covert operations deployed in respect to loyalism were to observe loyalists carrying out attacks without these being prevented or those responsible being apprehended afterwards. Collusion too claimed many hundreds of lives. For the most part British forces were engage in a campaign of aggression, violence, brutality and killings against the broad nationalist community for which there existed no domestic legal redress as the investigative remedy – the rule of law in the North – was corrupted. That equates to impunity. That campaign of violence was sectarian.
International human rights standards are key to addressing legacy most-conflict. International pressure not least from the US is key. Monitoring the UK, calling them out, ensuring they are held to account is crucial. Equally crucial in all of this is the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention remains the only mechanism by which families can hold the British government to account. And it is this very mechanism – Article 2 – that guides and governs the resolution of legacy cases currently, whether through inquest, investigation, inquiry or the proposed legacy mechanisms such as those agreed in December 2014 by both the Irish and British governments, and the five main political parties. And this is precisely why there is so much stalling, prevarication and blockage to the implementation of proper independent investigations as contained within that agreement. Instead the Tories and unionists want to maintain a skewed narrative of the past that whitewashed state crimes whilst they tortured, interned and convicted well over 20,000 nationalists and republicans. It means preventing – slowing and stalling any process that exposes wrongdoing on the part of the state – trying to prevent historical clarification, truth and justice to families. Trying to politically tamper and interfere with the rule of law much in the same way they did during the conflict. This is what we are challenging – this is why we are in the US.
Being a signatory to the Convention means the UK must retrospectively address their actions on extrajudicial and summary executions, the use of lethal force, and the legacy of impunity. It is why, alongside Brexit, they also talk about leaving the Convention in the continuing bid to avoid accountability. But the Convention is also a key part of the GFA, enshrined into domestic law through the Human Rights Act 2000, and it’s not as simple as they think as it is an internationally and legally binding agreement between two governments. Even if the UK managed to leave they are still legally obligated to investigate as the killings occurred during their tenure as a signatory. And there’s no doubt that any future trade deal post Brexit, if we end up there, would be tied to ensuring the UK met its legal obligations under the Convention. RFJ and our US partners would certainly make the case.
UK actions tell us that they fear the truth and that they have much to hide about what they did in Ireland. It demonstrates more than anything the power of families in never giving up and the threat that the application of the rule of law contains when permitted to be applied without fear or favour. And despite the obstructions, insults and attacks on due process the truth still manages to emerge slowly through those handful of cases in the courts; through film-documentary, through NGO reports and families taking agency.
So the message is that families are determined never giving up!
The international community is alert reiterating the call by families for proper effective investigations.
The CoM/CoE continue to also monitor the UK and have since the McKerr group of cases in May 2001 refused to sign off on scrutiny measures having not been satisfied that the UK has put in place proper independent and compliant investigative remedy.
These issues must be dealt with and cannot be avoided.
There is no way around this.
The legacy of the past is ever present and must be dealt with.
The best way forward is the full implementation of the 2104 legacy agreement.
Crucially Irish-America is aware of this and we welcome US support and interventions – hopefully this trip will assist in maintaining pressure and keeping a focus in the midst of the Brexit chaos that also presents a threat to the GFA and the rights that derive from that agreement.