A total of 3,500 relatives of victims have signed an open letter calling on the London and Dublin governments to implement previously agreed proposals to deal with the legacy of the recent conflict in the north of Ireland. A commentary by Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice on the background to the letter, included below.
In December 2014, and after many failed initiatives to address the past by all sides to the conflict, the Irish and British governments and all the main political parties finally agreed a set of mechanisms, that for the first time ever, held hope for human rights compliant investigations and accountability for the harms experienced by all those bereaved.
However, after failing to implement the agreement, the British government unilaterally broke its pledge last March saying they would seek a different way forward.
As the UN seeks a progress report on the implementation of legacy mechanisms 3,500 relatives of those killed, by all sides, have penned an open letter to the Irish and British governments calling for the agreement to be finally implemented.
Accounting for the past is a prerequisite to establishing a secure future for all our people across this island and between the islands of Ireland and Britain.
Fundamental to this is the promotion of human rights, justice and equality for all and an adherence to the rule of law. Under domestic and international law families have legal rights to effective remedy for the killings of their loved ones and the British government is denying these rights.
On December 14 Brandon Lewis said he would extend legislation equivalent to the Overseas Operations impunity Bill to the North. This will ensure British State forces, and by extension their agents, will be protected from prosecutions; thus dashing the hopes, and rights, to proper investigations to establish accountability.
Framed in a veil of jingoistic patriotism the British government alongside those with vested interest have peddled the lie that there are ‘witch-hunts’, ‘recycled investigations’ and ‘vexatious prosecutions’ surrounding State killings.
This lie, juxtaposed with presenting British soldiers and RUC members responsible for killings as ‘victims’ is an affront to human decency and the families of those they killed. It is beyond shameful. There is not one single example to back such dishonest claims. We challenge Brandon Lewis to provide evidence to the contrary.
What this is really about is avoiding any form of scrutiny that exposes the full extent of Britain’s role in the conflict.
In contrast the dignified call by thousands of relatives is a unified voice for lawful independent investigations through the proposed legacy mechanisms as contained within the Stormont House Agreement. It also an opposition to any form of amnesty.
Approximately half of those relatives who put their names to this letter are under the age of 35. This is the current and future generation, determined that the past will be resolved and accounted for.
This speaks to the transgenerational impact within families and communities of unspeakable and unresolved truths and is a clear message that the past isn’t going to be fudged or wished away.
The past is ever present. The demand that the past be dealt with is self evident. Avoidance and denying rights is not sustainable. There is no different way forward. The only way forward is for full implementation of the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House.
A Thaoisigh, agus British Prime Minister,
We are writing to you as relatives bereaved during the conflict to seek your assurances that our human rights as victims will no longer be disregarded or denied.
As you are aware the legacy of our conflict has not been resolved. The peace process has repeatedly failed to deliver on our rights to truth, justice and accountability.
In 2014 with the signing of the Stormont House Agreement we had hope that at last, we would see human rights compliant investigations, a truth recovery process, proper archiving of lived experiences and an examination of themes and patterns. And we hoped to see important statements of acknowledgement from all actors to the conflict.
On March 18th 2020 the British Secretary of State ignored the wishes of
the bereaved and wider society when he unilaterally broke this promise to all victims, affected by all actors to the conflict. Brandon Lewis totally disregarded over 17,000 submissions to the NIO consultation calling for the full implementation of the above legacy mechanisms.
We are further dismayed at attempts to secure an amnesty for British State forces and their agents. Recent comments by the British Secretary of State that he is committed to a form of the Overseas Operations Bill to the island of Ireland are an attempt to justify and continue State impunity. No amnesty can be countenanced. Not for any actor to the conflict.
We the below signed wish to state that the Stormont House Agreement was a compromise, however it offered a human rights pathway to addressing our rights as citizens and as bereaved relatives. This would address the legacy of State impunity and independently investigate all actors equally.
We urge both of you to immediately turn your attention to this matter and fulfil the commitment in the New Decade New Approach document that the Stormont House Agreement be implemented in full without further prevarication or delay.
Is Sinne Le Meas,
An Irish language version of the letter, and the names of those who signed it, can be downloaded from relativesforjustice.com