Amnesty demand 'truth and justice' in the North

Efforts to deal with the North’s troubled past have failed, Amnesty International claimed.

The human rights organisation urged speedy action to investigate allegations of abuse and warned victims and bereaved family members had been denied truth and justice.

Former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass chaired five-party political talks on dealing with more than 3,000 unresolved conflict deaths and associated victims’ issues which ended without agreement at the end of the year.

He will join Amnesty to brief an influential US congressional committee in Washington on Tuesday.

Patrick Corrigan, a director at Amnesty, said: “The longer politicians take to deliver new human rights-compliant mechanisms to deal with the past to replace the current failed approach, the longer victims and bereaved family members are being left to suffer a denial of their right to truth and justice.”

On New Year’s Eve Haass negotiations aimed at resolving tensions over parades, flags and the legacy of conflict ended without agreement.

Even after regular meetings aimed at resolving outstanding issues have been held between parties in the devolved power-sharing administration.

It follows months of sectarian violence over restrictions on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall and contentious loyal order parades which face opposition from nationalist residents.

There are also divisions over how unresolved conflict deaths are dealt with, be that by attempting to prosecute offenders or recovering as much truth as possible through granting limited immunity from legal proceedings for perpetrators.

A series of inquests are being held into troubles deaths and an independent team of detectives is reviewing cases for evidential leads but there is no all-encompassing framework.

While Sinn Fein and the nationalist SDLP aim to implement the Haass document as it stands, the DUP and Ulster Unionists want significant elements re-negotiated.

Mr Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director, added: “The US has been a powerful ally for peace and justice in Northern Ireland over several decades.

“Following the failure of the parties to reach agreement during the Haass talks, it is imperative that US political pressure is brought to bear, not just on Northern Ireland leaders but also the UK and Irish government who have specific responsibilities to discharge with respect to the past.”

The Haass proposals envisaged a Historical Investigations Unit to take on the investigatory responsibilities of the police’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Police Ombudsman’s office.

They included the creation of an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR) probing what happened to victims’ loved ones.

This would encourage killers to provide details with the assurance that their revelations could not be used against them in court – a limited immunity from prosecution similar to that offered to those who decommissioned paramilitary weapons during the conflict and those who passed on information on the location of secretly buried IRA victims.

The draft also bestows the ICIR with responsibility for assessing wider themes and patterns in the conflict, including alleged state security force collusion with paramilitaries or claimed IRA ethnic cleansing campaigns conducted around the Irish border.

Unionists are unhappy at the number of potential themes suggested by Dr Haass that focus on alleged illegal activity by state forces.

The proposals on the past also advocate improvement of victims’ services, including mental health treatment, and the establishment of a Troubles historical archive.

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