Northern Ireland news

Panel to examine extent of human rights impunity in the north

Daniel Holder from the Committee on the Administration of Justice
Connla Young

AN independent panel of experts has been set up examine the extent of impunity in relation to human rights violations in the north.

The International Panel on Impunity has been brought together by the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the request of the Committee on the Administration (CAJ) of Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre.

It comes as the British government continues to press ahead with its controversial legacy proposals. Under The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill only inquests which have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill will be allowed while civil cases have been stopped.

Immunity from prosecution will also be offered in some circumstances.

The proposed legislation has been branded the “UK Amnesty Bill of Shame” by some campaigners.

The independent panel has drawn members from across several continents including Dr Brian Dooley, who is a senior advisor at Human Rights First, a Washington DC-based NGO. Human rights scholar Dr Aoife Duffy holds a lectureship at University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre while Maria Jose Guembe is an Argentinian human rights lawyer.

Others include former Norwegian assistant chief of police Ivar Husby and South African human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka, who previously served as a member of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Gisle Kvanvig, who is director of multilateral cooperation in the international department at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo completes the line up.

Daniel Holder from the CAJ, said the “panel has been asked to provide an authoritative independent assessment of the extent to which there has been impunity in relation to human rights violations during the Northern Ireland conflict”.

"The panel includes experts from Norway, Argentina, South Africa and Ireland and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights has agreed to provide secretariat and research support for the panel,” he said.

"The Human Rights Clinic at the University of Essex has also committed to providing research support through a postgraduate student team convened for that purpose."

Dr Dooley said there has been concern in the human rights community "at the retreat of the present British Government from human rights norms and standards".

"The recent legacy proposals, the controversy around the prosecution of former soldiers, the attacks on lawyers and the European Court of Human Rights and the general failure to provide for European Convention of Human Rights Article Two compliant investigations all point to a potential pattern of impunity in respect of human rights violations," he said.

"It is the intention of the panel to subject these claims to a rigorous and exhaustive investigation and report on our findings."

A British government spokesperson said:

"The government's Legacy Bill will deliver a significantly different and improved approach to addressing the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, focused on information recovery and reconciliation.

"This legislation deals with legacy issues in a way that complies with international human rights obligations, supports information recovery and reconciliation, and responds to the needs of individual victims and survivors, as well as society as a whole.

"The legislation includes various measures to ensure the body is equipped with the necessary powers to secure information and conduct thorough, Article 2 compliant investigations. We are confident that these measures fulfil our Article 2 obligations."

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