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Amnesty for Troubles veterans ‘could breach international law’

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has told the Northern Ireland Secretary that plans to impose a statute of limitations on the prosecution of Troubles veterans could breach international law.

Brandon Lewis announced plans in July to end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998 for military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries. Published in a command paper to inform the engagement process on legacy, which it announced jointly with the Irish government, the proposals would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict. This would mean that there would be no future prosecutions of republican and loyalist paramilitaries, or of former British soldiers and police officers.

In a recent letter to Mr Lewis, Dunja Mijatović warned him that the proposed scheme dealing with legacy matters, “would undermine human rights protections and would cut off avenues to justice for victims and their families.” She stated she was, “concerned about these proposals, which might bring the United Kingdom into conflict with its international obligations, notably the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Ms Mijatović also said the, “blanket, unconditional nature of the amnesty means that none of those involved in any serious violations will be held to account.” She said this was, “problematic from the perspective of access to justice and the rule of law generally” and added: “This proposed amnesty (regardless of the label attached to it), which creates impunity, is being justified on problematic assumptions, fails to meet victims’ needs, and would be incompatible with the UK’s international obligations.” Ms Mijatović also stated that, “the proposals appear indistinguishable from a broad-based and unconditional amnesty for those not yet convicted”.

Mr Lewis insisted that the Government remained, “committed to dealing with legacy issues in a way that supports information recovery and reconciliation, complies with international human rights obligations, and responds to the needs of individual victims and survivors, as well as society as a whole”. He said the proposals, “were clear that these were intended not to represent a final position but rather to inform a process of engagement.” He added that the engagement, which involves meeting with political representatives, representatives from the victims’ sector and victims and survivors directly, was “ongoing.”