Northern Ireland: “Twenty years on, the UK is yet to fully address the legacies of the past” – UN rights expert
LONDON / GENEVA (19 November 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on transitional justice, Pablo de Greiff, said that “the legacies of the past in Northern Ireland continue to generate challenges and divisions that call for urgent and decisive attention.” He stressed that, “despite some significant initiatives, especially in the area of truth, justice, and institutional reforms, these have not been comprehensive and are characterized by fragmentation.”
The human rights expert’s comments come at the end of his ten-day official visit* to the United Kingdom (9-18 November) to assess the initiatives undertaken to deal with the legacies of the violations and abuses that took place during the period known as ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
“Much has been accomplished in Northern Ireland, including the very significant fact that an almost 20 year-old peace agreement involving a particularly complex set of arrangements concerning political devolution and an international dimension, continues to hold,” Mr. de Greiff said. “While this and other achievements deserve to be celebrated, much remains to be done.”
The UN Special Rapporteur told journalist in London that this situation broadly applies to the four pillars of a ‘transitional justice policy’: truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.
“In relation to truth and justice, several initiatives should be commended and represent an important progress,” the expert said highlighting the public inquiries, inquests, the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, the subject of varied assessments and several very important reports by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. “Yet these efforts have focused on specific events and therefore, important dimensions of the problem remain to be fully clarified.”
Pointing to the progress achieved on police reform, Mr. de Greiff noted that “the creation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland was not merely a cosmetic change of the former Royal Ulster Constabulary.” In his view, the process involved “significant personnel turn-over, changes in operations and training, the appointment of a human rights advisor, and the creation of oversight bodies such as the Police Board, and importantly, the Office of the Police Ombudsman, which has made crucial contributions.”
“There is a need for mechanisms which are apt to examine the more structural and systemic dimensions of the rights violations and abuses of the ‘Troubles’. Such mechanisms should be in addition to, not as a substitute for, procedures that might bring satisfaction to victims in terms of truth and justice,” the expert argued.
“This approach would also help overcoming the stand-off recently witnessed in the just-concluded negotiations at Stormont on discussions about national security concerns in relation to the disclosure of information to victims and their families,” he underlined.
The human rights expert cautioned that cases leading to death have received most of the attention, leaving out serious other violations, ranging from illegal detention to serious injury and torture, among others. “These victims, many of them in situations of particular vulnerability, and they deserve urgent attention,” he underscored.
“I am calling for a comprehensive redress and prevention policy, which must encompass also strategic work towards an integrated schooling system, including on history teaching, the establishment of a trustworthy entity to deal with records and archives on the ‘Troubles’ and more emphasis on psychosocial support to victims and their families,” Mr. de Greiff stated.
“I have been particularly impressed by the work of some civil society organizations, which respond not only to one constituency but are available to any type of victim. This approach significantly contributes in the long-term to rebuilding social trust between and within communities,” the Special Rapporteur concluded, calling for more sustained support for these initiatives.
During his ten-day visit, the expert met, at both the national and devolved levels, with Government officials, representatives of the legislative and judicial branches, law enforcement officials, a broad range of victims and civil society actors in London and various places in Northern Ireland, including Belfast and the Counties of Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Londonderry.
The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive country visit report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16778&LangID=E