When national security undermines human rights


By Jarlath Kearney (for Irish News)

In December, Britain’s Ministry of Defence published a strategic analysis entitled ‘Future Operating Environment 2035’.

The document identifies the “survival of the state” and “pursuit of national security” as foundations of Britain’s security doctrine.

It’s a reminder that Britain’s security elite systematically invests time and energy in long-term planning and forecasting.

That factor, as much as anything, underwrites the British government’s current handling of national security in relation to dealing with our past conflict.

Britain sees national security in terms of twenty years ahead, weighing the implications of today’s decisions for tomorrow’s outcomes; never ham-stringing itself for future unknown conflicts.

In tragic contrast, victims of state actions here - those seeking truth and justice - see national security through the harsh realities of its devastating effects, stretching over maybe twenty years ago or more (and continuing).

It’s like looking into the same telescope from opposite ends, but distanced by a lifetime’s experience.

Britain’s victims don’t understand how a democratic state defends indefensible practices during the conflict using so-called national security grounds.

Their perspective magnifies every consequence of Britain’s human rights breaches, with hundreds of ghosts staring back at still-suffering relatives.

But Britain’s modern bureaucrats care little about victims’ feelings or views, or indeed, the implications for the present and future from failure to properly address the past.

Their primary objective is the future protection of state interests (and their own careers). They look down the telescope from the wrong end, and - to them - the victims appear as tiny, insignificant and far away.

The state’s approach is a fundamental mistake, even at the level of sustaining its own contested notions of ‘democratic Britain’ and ‘national security’.

Remember, it was Westminster’s studied indifference towards 50 years of sectarian one-party rule which permissively nurtured multi-generational grievances here among nationalists and republicans.

The irony is that Britain’s national security would be strategically strengthened by more honesty and openness about the conflict.

Unfortunately the tactical interests of protecting influential officials and preserving the legends of false reputation are obscuring common sense approaches on the past. (Maybe similar considerations even affect all sides, to some degree or other.)

Writing in The Irish News on Friday, Denis Bradley recalled how, six or seven years ago, a MI5 chief told him that a ‘tsunami’ would rise up on the past.

So does anyone seriously think MI5 have been twiddling their thumbs for the past decade or more, sitting around and sweating on that tsunami’s arrival?

No. They’ve been moving back their deckchairs and buying up the safe inland real estate - working twenty years ahead.

All of which puts an interesting slant on the recent swelling tide of public crisis around truth recovery, now rebranded as ‘legacy’.

New revelations leaked to various media? Confusion generated amongst victims and survivors?

Commentators conditioning people towards limited outcomes? Resource restrictions continually strangling independent accountability, like the Police Ombudsman?

Democratic policing weighed down by some unjustifiable decisions on the past?

When you stand back quietly and look carefully, this supposed chaos actually reveals patterns. Like a recipe.

Frankly, it feels like our society is now being systematically ‘nudged’ towards a particularly unsatisfactory endpoint on dealing with the past.

(Such a strategy comes from the psychology of behavioural insights. States use it to shape public attitudes towards preferred policy outcomes.)

Of course, a positive alternative option still exists.

Any side to the conflict could still take unilateral steps to voluntarily deliver maximum contributions on truth, thereby reshaping the public square and recalibrating the whole debate. That could be a mighty intervention.

Significantly, the most important official counter-narrative to the steady seepage of British national security ‘nudging’ is currently coming from the impressive independence and effectiveness of the High Court.

Two weeks ago, Lord Justice Weir (acting to Lord Chief Justice Morgan) compellingly demolished every shocking excuse for the state’s ongoing obstructions and delays of conflict-related inquests.

Likewise, last May, Mr Justice Stephens found the British government once again in procedural breach of Article 2 of the ECHR - the right to life - in relation to the murder of lawyer Pat Finucane.

Mr Finucane’s anniversary occurs this Friday - his twenty-seventh.

Perhaps if Britain’s political, military and security elite had not authorised and caused his murder, Mr Finucane might even be sitting today on the High Court bench calling the past to account (with characteristic brilliance) and upholding the rule of law for the safety and security of all.

And it’s the colossal sadness of such stolen potential which, above all, reveals how counter-productive and bankrupt Britain’s position can become when national security undermines human rights.

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