Britain acted with ‘systematic’ impunity regarding state killings and torture during Troubles, say international experts

Report says Legacy Act designed to curtail efforts to achieve accountability

Britain acted with an impunity that was “widespread, systematic and systemic” in regard to state killings, torture and collusion during the Troubles, according to a report by international human rights experts.

This indicated an “extraordinary level of institutional failure” by the British state, the report concluded. “The evidence does not point to ‘a few bad apples’.”

The report was also highly critical of the Legacy Act, which comes into effect on May 1st and will replace criminal and civil cases and inquests with inquiries carried out by its own investigative body, the ICRIR.

“Impunity for state security forces during the conflict largely continues and appears likely to be assisted by the implementation of the Legacy Act,” the report concluded.


There has been “little progress towards achieving overall accountability and the truth” and the Legacy Act” seems “designed to curtail such efforts,” it said.

The 200-page report, Bitter Legacy: State Impunity and the Northern Ireland Conflict, is to be launched in Belfast on Monday morning.

It was written by an international expert panel of academics convened by the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo at the request of Northern Ireland human rights organisations the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and the Pat Finucane Centre.

The panel found the UK government failed its international human rights obligations as it “did not conduct fair and effective investigations” into state killings and, overall, investigations “failed the relatives’ rights to truth, justice and reparation”.

Complaints of torture and ill-treatment by the security forces and allegations of collusion also went uninvestigated, with collusion “clearly regarded by the British state as a useful tactic”, the report noted.

It said that in many cases there was enough evidence to charge perpetrators accused of involvement in collusion at the time.

“An unknown number of lives would have been saved if correct processes had been followed during the conflict,” the report said.

“The failure of the [British] state to provide accountability, truth, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition has had and continues to have negative consequences on victims, relatives, communities and societies at large,” it concluded.

The panel called for the repeal of the Legacy Act “in its entirety” and for a return to the existing Stormont House Agreement – which was signed by the UK and Ireland in 2014 but never implemented.

The Irish Government should also legislate to establish a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), it said, and both countries should seek to establish an independent, international commission to examine human rights violations and impunity during the Troubles.

The report noted that while its specific focus was on [British] state policies and actions, any future mechanism for examining the conflict should also “examine the actions of armed non-state actors, hold them to account against binding international standards and provide adequate reparations to their victims”.

It also highlighted “failures” by the Irish Government “in relation to the treatment of victims and survivors of attacks carried out in its jurisdiction” and, in regard to collusion, said it was “evident” that cases from the early 1970s on “were not properly investigated”.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times