Troubles amnesty proposals more expansive than Pinochet’s, report says

UK move would ‘fundamentally undermine the rule of law’, QUB and CAJ report says

The UK government’s new proposals to deal with the legacy of the Troubles represent “one of the most sweeping amnesties introduced in any jurisdiction since 1945” and are “significantly more expansive” than those brought in by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, according to a report published today.

In a damning report by the Model Bill Team at Queen's University, Belfast (QUB)'s School of Law and Belfast-based human rights NGO the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), its authors concluded that the introduction by the UK of a "sweeping unconditional amnesty" would be "in clear breach of binding human rights standards".

The UK’s proposals would also “fundamentally undermine the rule of law” and “breach the guarantees in the Good Friday Agreement”, they said.

"Quite apart from the legal flaws in this proposal, the widespread political opposition to its content from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, civil society and from the Irish government would suggest that it is also politically unworkable and unfixable," the report found.


In response a UK government spokesman said the proposals “do not propose the prohibition of investigations into Troubles-related incidents. Nor do they constitute an amnesty - there will be no pardons.

“The Government continues to engage with a wide range of stakeholders on the proposals set out in the Command Paper, and to reflect carefully on what we have heard,” the spokesman said.

In July the UK government published a Command Paper outlining its plans to introduce a “statute of limitations” which would ban all police investigations into Troubles-related incidents and end prosecutions. There would also be a bar on legacy inquests and civil cases.

The report, Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland's Past: The Model Bill Team's Response to the NIO Proposals, benchmarked the contents of the Command Paper against binding international and domestic human rights law, the Belfast Agreement and other conflicts where amnesties had been introduced.

Though the UK government’s paper uses the term “statute of limitations”, the report noted, it was “unmistakenly an amnesty”

The proposed Information Recovery Body (IRB) would have "fewer powers to recover information than both the existing and planned mechanisms under the Stormont House Agreement (SHA)", it said. The SHA was reached between the British and Irish governments in 2014 to address legacy issues but was never implemented.

The report also challenged a number of claims made by the UK government in the Command Paper, and said some international examples had been “misrepresented - particularly the South African and German experiences.”

The claim in the Command Paper that the “vast majority” of killings by the security forces were “lawful” was “not backed by any evidence,” the report said.

Professor of Law and Transitional Justice at QUB and one of the report’s authors, Kieran McEvoy, said that “underpinning these proposals is a misleading suggestion that progress on information recovery and indeed oral history and memorialisation initiatives is dependent on closing down access to the courts.

“These proposals represent a unilateral abandonment of the Stormont House Agreement, a breach of the Good Friday [BELFAST]Agreement and a betrayal of repeated promises made to victims.

“This government’s policy on legacy in Northern Ireland is seemingly driven primarily by concerns in Westminster for the fate of a small number of British army veterans being prosecuted for conflict-related offences,” he said.

Daniel Holder, the deputy director of CAJ, said what was being proposed "is the least likely model to get at the truth. Victims and survivors will get less information, not more."

The report compared the UK government proposals to the amnesty introduced by General Pinochet, which it described as "generally regarded as one of the most egregious amnesties since World War Two," and outlined a number of areas in which the British plans went further than those implemented in Chile.

"The proposed UK amnesty is Pinochet plus," said Professor Louise Mallinder from QUB.

The report noted that “the Pinochet amnesty was enacted by an illegitimate military dictatorship that was subject to strong international condemnation.

“The enactment of a broad, unconditional amnesty by the UK would send a dangerous signal to other states that they too can legislate for impunity and evade their international legal obligations.

“It would also be highly damaging to the UK’s international standing,” it said.

The report concluded that the SHA “remains the basis for maximising political consensus on legacy” and its authors “respectfully urge the UK government to return to such a lawful, honourable and politically workable position.”

In a statement, the UK government said: “The current system for addressing the past is not working well for anybody; most importantly victims and survivors. It is delivering neither justice nor information to the vast majority of families.

“We recognise that access to information and accountability, via a thorough and robust investigative process, is absolutely vital to victims and survivors. That is why obtaining information through an investigative process - supported by full disclosure by the State - is the cornerstone of the proposals the Government has put forward.

“It is time that we build on the difficult but necessary compromises of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and seek finally to address the past in Northern Ireland in a way that delivers for victims and survivors and helps society to move forward.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times