Relatives for Justice wishes to express its anger at the vindictive proposals from the British House of Commons today. This marks the single worst day for all victims during our peace process. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis have combined to assault the rights and sensibilities of victims and survivors from across our community.
These unilateral proposals have no political or community support whatsoever. The British government signed the Stormont House Agreement on legacy in 2014, which provided for human rights compliant investigations with full accountability for all sides. From that day and hour, it has attempted to back track and undermine the agreement. Despite these efforts the consultation on the Stormont House Agreement legislation received over 17,000 responses, overwhelmingly positive. Even since then, the British government has sought to ignore the Irish government, ignore the local political parties, ignore victims and survivors, ignore the rule of law, and ignore their own consultation. Now they wish to tell us what is good for us. The usurping of political agreement, community agreement, victims’ rights and international law is not good for us.
The focus of the media has been on the amnesty measures contained in this legislation, this has drowned out the ending of inquests, the ending of Police Ombudsman investigations and the ending of civil litigation by families.
Over 900 civil cases currently reside in the courts regarding actions by all actors to the conflict. There are over 450 complaints residing with the Police Ombudsman’s Office which relate to RUC misfeasance in public office and criminal wrongdoing regarding state and non-state killings. There are over 45 inquests waiting to be heard and 40 awaiting progress, these inquests largely involve the state withholding information, even from coroners.
For two decades a cabal of senior officers in the PSNI, former members of RUC special branch and the Ministry of Defence have been fighting families tooth and nail, and using secret courts and other proceedings to prevent effective investigation, delay investigation and discredit investigations. Their work has resulted in today’s announcement.
This proposal is the mother of all cover ups.
Having perniciously fought families for all of this time for the British government to now somehow suggest that without the rule of law the UK government will hand over truth and information to families out of the goodness of their hearts is an insult to our collective intelligence and a denial of our collective experience. These proposals will legalise state impunity. In order to achieve this the UK government is willing to make the interests of every single person affected by every single killing expendable – this is breath-taking.
These mealy-mouthed statements of good intent were accompanied by the repetition of the vitriolic lies which have been thrown at families who merely seek legal redress. For the British Prime Minister to stand up and claim in the House of Commons that there have been vexatious prosecutions is a blatant lie. It builds on the campaigns where families and the criminal justice system itself have been accused of witch hunts while simultaneously members of the British army being asked questions about killings are portrayed as victims. For anyone in any doubt these proposals will not contribute to peace building or reconciliation. For this Tory government to use words like “moving forward” and “reconciliation” is beyond insulting. These words are cover for the UK government using its sovereignty as a shield to prevent exposure of its criminal actions during the conflict. The proposals announced today will prolong the suffering of generations of families, some of whom were not even born when the violations occurred, but whose whole lives have been framed by the pursuit of truth and justice.
As families face another dark and bleak day we now issue a call to Irish America, to the enforcement bodies of international treaties – the United Nations and the European Council – we need your intervention.
The United Kingdom now stands as a rogue state in violation of its legal obligations to the worst affected of the conflict. They are denying the rights to citizens who live on both of our islands, to citizens who are affected by the actions of the state and of non-state actors, to those who live with the effects of the most serious violations known. These proposals must be resisted by all interested in the law, in human rights and in peace.