IRA victims not entitled to compensation, insists senior Libyan diplomat
British should block release of frozen Libyan assets, says Reg Empey
Lord Empey wants the British government to use its veto on the UN Security Council to gain commitments about compensation before it would agree to the unfreezing of the Libyan assets in England.
Any attempt by the British government to use frozen Libyan assets in England to compensate IRA victims of weapons and explosives smuggled into Northern Ireland from Libya would be in breach of United Nations resolutions, a senior Libyan diplomat has insisted.
As an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Bill proceeds through Westminster to allow a portion of about £10-12 billion (€11.4 - €13.6 billion) of frozen assets to be used to assist IRA victims, the Libyan chargé d’affaires to the, UN Elmahdi S Elmajerbi stated that such action would be legally, ethically and morally wrong.
“The [Libyan] government of national accord is confident that the government of the United Kingdom will uphold its responsibility to stop such a Bill,” said Mr Elmajerbi in a letter to the UN Security Council.
Lord Empey of the UUP who introduced the private members’ Bill and DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has campaigned for several years to try to win some £1.5 billion (€1.71 billion) in compensation from the Libyan authorities for IRA victims, have acknowledged that Mr Elmajerbi appears to be correct in his legal interpretation.
Lord Empey, however, argued that the British government could use its veto on the security council to gain commitments about compensation before it would agree to the unfreezing of the Libyan assets in England.
Mr Elmajerbi said a number of UN resolutions dictated that such frozen assets when released must be used “for the benefit of the people of Libya”.
“The passing of such a Bill is a clear violation of the related Security Council resolution and would place the government of the United Kingdom in breach of its obligations under security council resolutions,” he added.
Lord Empey’s Bill has passed through the House of Lords and is due to be addressed in the House of Commons later this month.
The Bill is part of long-running attempts to win compensation for IRA victims killed by weapons or by Semtex bombs smuggled into Northern Ireland at the behest of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gadafy.
London-based solicitor Jason McCue was involved in a legal case against Libya on behalf of more than 150 people who lost relatives in IRA attacks where Libyan explosives and weapons were used. These included relatives of the 12 people who died as a result of the Enniskillen bombing in 1987 and the six people killed in the Harrods bombing in London in 1983.
In 2009-2010 there was a degree of confidence that up to £1.5 billion (€1.7 billion) in compensation would be paid by Libya but that possibility was shattered when Col Gadafy was ousted and killed in 2011.
Lord Empey acknowledged that Mr Elmajerbi appeared to have correctly interpreted UN resolutions but said his Bill was designed to provide a “platform” to create the conditions where compensation ultimately would be paid by Libya.
“This is not a smash-and-grab raid on Libyan assets but I want to see negotiations where a tiny fraction of Libyan assets around the world would be used to benefit IRA victims,” he said.
Lord Empey pointed out that Britain was one of five members who could exercise a veto on the security council.
“The assets can only be released with the consent of the security council,” he said. “Britain has a veto and that is where the pressure point is. We believe the UK government should use its leverage if necessary to ensure that a settlement is achieved.”
Lagan Valley MP Mr Donaldson agreed that the British government could not unilaterally unfreeze the assets. He said the British government should put “some money on the table” for such victims and when assets were released and returned to Libya, pressure should be exerted on the Libyan administration to pay proper compensation.
Mr Donaldson noted how in 2003 Col Gadafy agreed to pay an estimated $1.5 billion (€1.3 billion) in compensation to victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. In that attack, 270 people were killed when a bomb exploded on Pan AM flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Libya accepted responsibility although Col Gadafy said he never gave the order for the bombing.
“British victims should be treated with parity and that is something we intend to hold Libya to account on,” said Mr Donaldson.