By Mark Thompson
In the midst of rightful protests expressing revulsion at the killing of George Floyd, racism, and racial violence perpetrated by those in uniform, as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign, I want you to pause for a moment.
I want you to imagine how you might feel if at some point in the future the families of those killed in the above circumstances were to be publicly harangued and vilified by government politicians and spokespersons. Harassed continually by the perpetrating force.
If, in the absence of investigation and justice, evidence gathered by the bereaved and grieving families that necessitated proper investigations and prosecutions, were to be ignored.
Family homes of the bereaved raided, ransacked and grieving relatives arrested and threatened. Evidence seized and destroyed. Witnesses intimidated. Lies and perjury committed as part of the cover-up. No justice. The rule of law corrupted.
If the few lawyers brave enough to take a stand on behalf of these families and who successfully challenged such injustices were to be harassed and threatened.
If eventually some of these lawyers were to be murdered and it was established that the same authorities issuing the threats were directing the extremist groups responsible for the murders.
If in spite of such incontrovertible evidence these same government politicians described calls for effective investigations and application of the rule of law as “vexatious”, “disproportionate”, “unfair” and “unbalanced” and those responsible positioned as “victims” of “witch-hunts” and praised for their service.
What if this rhetoric were to reach such a jingoistic crescendo so as to drown out the calls for justice that it led to legislation prohibiting any investigations into killings by the authorities and its agents within extremist groups?
Well that’s exactly what is happening today in relation to British State violence in Ireland by this Tory administration. In particular by “Armed Forces Minister” Johnny Mercer who seeks to extend the “Overseas Operation Bill” (OOB) – essentially an impunity bill for British soldiers involved in human rights abuses abroad – to cover the North of Ireland.
All but a handful of the almost 400 killed by the British army and RUC during the most recent conflict were Irish Catholics. Overwhelmingly they were unarmed and civilian and included scores of children, women and even two parish priests administering to the injured and dying. This was a sectarian campaign that was accompanied by virtual impunity. Only two of these killings resulted in convictions, which then saw soldiers released and reinstated back to their regiments. Compare that to approximately 25,000 republicans interned and imprisoned.
Irrefutable evidence of systemic collusion between the UK’s military, security services, the RUC and right-wing loyalist paramilitary extremists also claimed hundreds of Catholic lives. This included the provision of weapons and intelligence.
On March 18th the UK government moved unilaterally to abandon the intergovernmental and all-party agreement made at Stormont House in 2014 to address the legacy of the past in Ireland as part of the peace process.
That Agreement was to have independent investigations into all unsolved killings within a human rights framework, compliant with the UK’s domestic and international legal obligations under the ECHR’s Article 2 – The Right To Life. Extending the OOB to the North of Ireland is about ensuring challenging State impunity through the law becomes almost impossible.
Like Africa, Asia and elsewhere the history of Ireland is one of British colonialism, military occupation, plantation, forced evictions, forced hunger, forced cultural assimilation, forced emigration and partition.
The legacy of this is still acutely felt today where the lives of those who don’t identify with and refuse to celebrate such dreadful history, or indeed rightfully oppose it, are at best seen as less. And in death by the hand of the State, certainly not worthy of investigation.
The struggle for rights from language, to historical clarification, to the right to truth and accountability for State crimes in our most recent past must be addressed.
The UK government should not be permitted to use its sovereignty to shield systemic wrongdoing through policy or by its policing, military or security service agencies in Britain, Ireland or elsewhere. They must be amenable before the law, not exempt from it.
We need to confront the horrors of colonialism, its awful legacy and prevailing mindset whether on the streets or in Westminster as witnessed though this dreadful bill; a bill that has all the hallmarks of modern day colonialism.
We need to stand together for justice and the application of the rule of law and not least when this applies to government and its forces.