Northern Ireland

UN experts voice 'serious concern' about British government legacy plans

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

Political leaders have welcomed a statement by UN human rights experts voicing "grave concerns" over British government plans to introduce an statute of limitations ending all Troubles related prosecutions.

Under the controversial proposals the Westminster government also intends to end civil proceedings and deny access to inquests.

Nationalists and unionists have united in their opposition to the plans, which were revealed by Secretary of State Branson Lewis earlier this year.

Members of the UN Human Rights Council have said that proposals by Boris Johnson’s government that would provide an effective amnesty for those involved in Troubles violence, including members of the security forces, “thwarts victims’ rights to truth” and would lead to the UK violating its international obligations.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill welcomed the intervention.

“The British government amnesty proposals are clearly an attempt to put state forces beyond the reach of the law and to continue to deny truth to families," she said.

“The proposals have been rejected by the Assembly. It is now clear that if implemented, they will also potentially breach international law."

SDLP leader and MP Colum Eastwood said the concerns raised by the experts "are serious and demonstrate the growing unrest in the international community about the British government’s legacy proposals.

“The Special Rapporteurs have correctly identified that these plans, if implemented, would foreclose the pursuit of justice and accountability for serious human rights violations committed by loyalist and republican paramilitaries as well as the British state," he said.

"Those who inflicted the most harm have the most to gain from the effective amnesty that Boris Johnson’s government is promising."

Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice (RFJ) said: "It vindicates the concerns of families and NGOs.

"RFJ has been lobbying the UN and offices of the Special Rapporteur since the Secretary of State Command Paper was issued."

A spokesman for the UK government said: "We welcome the UN Special Rapporteur's ongoing interest in this important issue.

"The government is committed to continuing engagement with the Northern Ireland parties, Irish government and other key stakeholders, including victims groups, to find a way forward on legacy issues that focuses on reconciliation, delivers better outcomes for victims, and ends the cycle of investigations that is not working for anyone."