Council of Europe denounces legacy bill

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A report by a top European human rights official has called on the British government to withdraw its notorious legacy bill.

The bill offers an amnesty to those accused of conflict-related crimes, including war crimes perpetrated by the British state.

It is a unilateral move away from previous peace deals in which both the Dublin and London governments agreed to set up an independent unit to investigate controversial killings.

The new report said the bill should be stopped from its passage through parliament due to the widespread opposition against it, and raised “fundamental questions” about its compatibility with human rights laws.

It was written by Dunja Mijatović (pictured), human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe (CoE).

In previous criticism of the bill, she said it ran a very significant risk of being ruled unlawful by the courts.

The CoE is the leading human rights organisation on the continent of Europe. It has 46 member states, including Britain and Ireland.

Ms Mijatović stated a new approach based on previously agreed principles in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement “must be brought forward promptly to ensure that truth-finding and justice are no longer delayed.”

She stressed: “Any further steps on legacy must place the rights and needs of victims at its heart.”

The northern human rights group, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, welcomed the report.

“This report from Europe’s top human rights official adds to the chorus of international concern about the bill,” said deputy director Daniel Holder. He said the call to withdraw it “is very welcome”.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly also welcomed the call.

“The British government’s cruel, callous, and offensive Legacy Bill seeks to give an amnesty to British soldiers who killed Irish civilians and shut down victims’ and families’ access to the courts in an effort to achieve truth and justice,” he said.

“The British government should stop treating victims and their families with contempt and implement the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House in a human rights compliant manner.”

The 26 County Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has been holding a number of meetings on the issue, including with the 90-year-old mother of a Catholic teenager killed by the UDA.

Maureen Rafferty described the British government’s legacy proposals as “callous and cruel”. Her 14-year son Philip was abducted and shot dead by the UDA 50 years ago next month.

Others who took part in the meeting included Mark Kelly, whose 12-year-old sister Carol Ann Kelly was shot dead by a plastic bullet fired by a British soldier in Twinbrook, on the outskirts of west Belfast in May 1981.

Mr Coveney later held talks with British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris. He said the Dublin government had “deep concerns” with London’s approach.

And a relative of Aidan McAnespie has called on the Dublin government to take a case to Europe if the controversial legacy Bill is enacted.

Una McCabe is a niece of Mr McAnespie, who was shot dead by a British soldier at a border checkpoint as he made his way to a football match in 1988. His killer was last month found guilty of manslaughter, but has not yet received a sentence.

Ms McCabe said: “If this legislation goes through, I want Leo Varadkar to make it clear to Rishi Sunak that the Irish Government will take a case to the European Court of Human Rights.

“I want the Irish Government to take the case on behalf of all the victims to prove that nobody is above the law and even after the passage of time that justice can still prevail.

“Aidan’s case should be a platform for other families and give so much hope to families who have been subject to lies and cover-up.”

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