Britain’s proposed amnesty for all Troubles killings would be incompatible with its international obligations, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic has warned.
In a letter to Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis, Ms Mijatovic said the proposals could bring Britain into “conflict” with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Under the convention, countries are obliged “to conduct effective investigations into killings or credible claims that a person has been tortured or seriously ill-treated,” she said.
“To be effective, such investigations must, at a minimum, meet the requirements of independence, adequacy, promptness and public scrutiny and participation of next of kin.”
Ms Mijatovic said Britain was proposing “shutting down of the above-mentioned avenues, and their replacement with an information recovery body with limited investigatory powers that would fall short of the requirements under the ECHR, and which would mainly carry out investigations on request of next of kin.”
In July, Mr Lewis announced plans for a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998 and would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries.
The proposals, which British prime minister Boris Johnson said would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”, would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.
It has been widely condemned by campaigners on both sides of the Troubles and across the political divide.
Ms Mijatovic said the proposals “appear indistinguishable from a broad-based and unconditional amnesty for those not yet convicted.”
“In this regard, I recall that the European Court of Human Rights has previously recognised a growing tendency in international law to view the granting of amnesties in respect of grave breaches of human rights as unacceptable,” she said.
“It has further found that amnesties, pardons and statutes of limitations should not apply to criminal cases involving torture, especially in view of states’ obligations under international law to prosecute those who have committed this act.”
The “blanket, unconditional nature of the amnesty” effectively means “that none of those involved in any serious violations will be held to account, leading to impunity,” said Ms Mijatovic.
This would be “deeply problematic” for justice and the rule of law, she added.
“As such, I cannot come to any other conclusion than that this proposed amnesty...which creates impunity, is being justified on problematic assumptions, and fails to meet victims’ needs, would be incompatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations.”
Ms Mijatovic said Britain’s approach to Troubles related killings “is based on a false dichotomy between investigations and prosecutions on the one hand, and truth and reconciliation on the other, as well as on problematic assumptions about how these interact.”
The commissioner said she had recently met with Troubles victims and the “prospect of facing yet more delays or an abrupt end to their search for justice is clearly devastating for them.”
“Rather than delivering for victims, the proposals will deprive them, including those already engaged in ongoing proceedings, of remedies and access to justice,” she said.
“By barring their recourse to well-established judicial mechanisms, the proposals would also put victims of Troubles-related crimes in a disadvantageous position as compared to victims of human rights violations that have occurred in other contexts in Northern Ireland, and in the rest of the United Kingdom more generally.”