Call for US to honour history as guarantor of Good Friday Agreement

Warnings that UK plans to reform the Human Rights Act would ‘significantly undermine’ Agreement

Fourteen human rights and civic society organisations on both sides of the Border have called on the US government to honour its history as a past guarantor of the Belfast Agreement by protecting human rights in the North.

In a written briefing to members of the US president Joe Biden's administration ahead of St Patrick's Day, which has been seen by The Irish Times, Amnesty International in Ireland and the UK warned that plans by the UK government to reform the Human Rights Act would "significantly undermine" the Agreement.

They asked that Washington urge London to honour its obligations under international law and make the protection of the Act a condition of any trade agreement with the UK.

"It would be useful if the US government makes clear now, that in any future trade negotiations with the United States, diminutions in rights are a barrier to the successful conclusion of a trade agreement," the briefing said.

Earlier this month the UK government launched a consultation on its plans to replace the 1998 Human Rights Act with a “modern Bill of Rights” which it said “reinforces our freedoms under the rule of law, but also provides a clearer demarcation of the separation of powers between the courts and Parliament.”

As well as Amnesty International, the briefing document was signed by the Centre for Cross-Border Studies, the Children's Law Centre, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Pavee Point, the Social Change Initiative, the trade union Unison and other organisations.

‘Significantly undermined’

They said their concerns about the protection of human rights in the North had "grown significantly" since their last briefing a year ago, and they were "concerned that the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland is being significantly undermined by the United Kingdom government."

The UK government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act amount to a “fundamental change in the balance between human rights protections and executive power in Northern Ireland,” they said, adding that if implemented, “they will significantly impact on the ability of people in Northern Ireland to protect their human rights and seek effective redress when their rights are violated.

“In our view these proposals are unnecessary, unhelpful and dangerous to the peace in Northern Ireland,” the briefing said.

The groups also highlighted a range of other human rights concerns, including over the UK government’s plans to introduce a statute of limitations for Troubles-era crimes, which they said would result in a “significant diminution of rights” in Northern Ireland.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Director of Amnesty International UK, said the organisation was "deeply concerned that the UK government's plans to scrap the Human Rights Act will undermine decades of work in building peace and human rights protections for people in Northern Ireland."

The plans, he said, amounted to “taking a wrecking ball” to the commitments to its human rights and equality made in the Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.

“London appears not to be listening to these concerns when raised in Belfast, so we are asking the Biden Administration to ensure that they are echoed in Washington DC.

“The United States has been a welcome guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement in the past and we are asking them to assist again now,” he said.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times