UN expresses ‘grave concern’ over proposed Troubles amnesty

Plan will place UK in ‘flagrant violation of its international obligations’, say experts

The proposal, Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, was announced by the Northern secretary Brandon Lewis last month. Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA Wire

United Nations (UN) experts have expressed serious concern about the UK government's plan to "ban all prosecutions, impede investigations and preclude victims' civil claims" in connection with the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In a statement on Tuesday, they said this would effectively institute “a de facto amnesty and blanket impunity” for the “grave” human rights violations committed during the period.

The UN experts have been in contact with the UK and Northern Ireland regarding the matter.

The proposal, Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past, was announced by the Northern secretary Brandon Lewis last month.


It would ban all conflict-related prosecutions through the introduction of a statute of limitations to apply equally to all Troubles-era incidents. It would not apply to cases already adjudicated on.

The UN experts who expressed the concerns are Fabián Salvioli, special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

"We express grave concern that the plan outlined in July's statement forecloses the pursuit of justice and accountability for the serious human rights violations committed during the Troubles and thwarts victims' rights to truth and to an effective remedy for the harm suffered, placing the United Kingdom in flagrant violation of its international obligations," they said.


The UN’s statement explained that under the proposal, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland would be statutorily barred from investigating Troubles-related incidents, and judicial activity would be ended across the spectrum of criminal cases, and current and future civil cases and inquests.

“This would effectively also preclude coronial inquests and victims’ claims in civil courts,” it said.

In his statement to parliament last month, Mr Lewis justified the measures by saying that criminal justice can impede truth, information recovery and reconciliation.

“The experts expressed concern that such a justification conflates reconciliation with impunity and noted that criminal justice is an essential pillar of transitional justice processes, alongside truth-seeking and reconciliation,” the UN statement said.

In this regard, they recalled the importance of adopting “a comprehensive approach in a transitional justice process” that incorporates the full range of judicial and non-judicial measures.

“The essential components of a transitional justice approach – truth, justice, reparation, memorialisation and guarantees of non-recurrence – cannot be traded off against one another in a ‘pick and choose’ exercise,” the experts added.

The UK government’s proposal foresees the establishment of a new independent body to enable individuals and family members to seek and receive information about Troubles-related deaths and injuries, and the adoption of an oral history initiative.


The experts noted that the proposed plan does not seem to include measures for establishing “the full extent of the truth about the human rights violations perpetrated during the Troubles and about the circumstances, reasons and responsibilities that led to them”.

“Nor does the proposal seem to ensure that this truth is accessible to all victims and to society as a whole, with due consideration of the needs and safety of victims and with their full consent, as established in international standards,” the experts said.

They further noted the “insufficient clarification” provided regarding the proposed statements of acknowledgement by the “various actors” of the Troubles and how would this comply with international standards regarding the provision of public apologies.

The experts also expressed concern at “the lack of clarity” concerning the role that victims will play in the design, implementation and monitoring of the proposed transitional justice institutions and measures, including those relating to memorialisation, archiving and truth recovery, and how “their full and effective participation will be guaranteed”.

The experts urged British authorities to “refrain from regressing on their international human rights obligations” through the establishment of a statute of limitations for conflict-related prosecutions and barring all related investigations, inquests and civil claims.

The Relatives for Justice group said it welcomed the “searing statement” from the UN.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times