Villiers faces call for assurances over human rights convention

Relatives for Justice director Mark Thompson said any attempt by the British government to walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights would be a 'retrograde step'
Connla Young

Human rights groups have called on Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to give an assurance that the British government will not walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Villiers was a key figure in the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum debate.

It is now expected that she will land a key role in any new Tory government formed after David Cameron resigns later in the year.

Campaigners are now worried that those who campaigned for a Brexit may now turn their attention to the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Britain is a signatory.

The convention, which came into force in 1953, led to the establishment the European Court of Human Rights.

In the past the families of people killed by the security forces in the north have taken their cases to the court.

The ECHR is the basis on which the British government is obliged to carry out investigations into Troubles killings, often involving security force shoot to kill and collusion allegations.

Daniel Holder, Deputy Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, last night called on Ms Villiers to give an assurance she will not walk away from the convention.

"Given the forces that are now in the ascendancy we need a categoric assurance from the Secretary of State that she will respect the Good Friday Agreement and rule out any attempt to now seek to repeal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights,

Mr Holder said the convention “is nothing to do with the EU but is the basis the UK is obliged to hold independent legacy investigations, including inquests, into the human rights violations of the past”.

Director of Relatives for Justice Mark Thompson said his organisation raised concerns over a potential Brexit with a Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights during a visit to Belfast in 2014.

Mr Thompson said that the commissioner told his group that because many of the alleged “violations” of the convention took place while Britain was a signatory to the convention it will continue to have legal responsibility.

“For us it has been the only forum for which we have been able to go to that has held Britain to account,” he said.

“It would be a huge step and retrograde step.

“It’s a worrying time ahead for human rights.”

“If they were to pull out of the convention in the near future that would have huge implications for human rights generally.”

The Northern Ireland Office did not respond to requests for a comment.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Consortium, which represents 160 member groups, has called for the British government to introduce a bill of rights.

“In the aftermath of the leave vote, the impact on human rights will not be immediate. However, the Consortium is concerned that the process of negotiating the exit of the UK from the EU could lead to a lowering of human rights protection,” a spokesman said.

“To safeguard against the dilution of human rights standards, we now urge the UK government to fulfil one of its outstanding obligations under the peace agreements and to implement a strong and inclusive Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

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