Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Committee on the Administration of Justice


  The Good Friday Agreement, for a variety of reasons, focused on the future rather than on the past. The Agreement did not necessarily seek to ignore the past, but rather to affirm a better future to avoid a repetition of the past. The opening preamble makes it clear that it is precisely to honour those who have died, been injured, and their families, that we need to make a fresh start, and dedicate ourselves to a future of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the rights of all. With hindsight, there is now some doubt as to whether it is desirable or indeed possible to fully commit to a shared and peaceful future, without some addressing of the legacy of the past.

  There has been significant discussion recently regarding mechanisms to deal with the past. The Chief Constable has suggested that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission be established to examine the past and particularly 1,800 unsolved killings. There have been references by government ministers to the possibility of establishing such a Commission. It may well be that a variety of processes will be needed properly to examine the past.

  CAJ has worked for many years with families who have lost loved ones during the conflict in Northern Ireland. We have campaigned on individual cases, on improving the inquest system, and have successfully taken cases to the European Court of Human Rights on article 2 of the Convention. We believe that any new proposal to deal with the past needs to be measured against certain criteria to ensure that is will act in accordance with domestic and international human rights standards and that it will properly engage with the rights of victims and others.

  While our mandate relates only to the actions of the state we believe that the issue of truth can only be addressed in the context of a full and informed examination of the past including the actions of all relevant actors.


  Any process must be completely independent of all parties to the conflict including the state. Those who are charged with chairing the process must be persons of. sufficient standing in the international human rights community to command respect across the community in Northern Ireland.


  Co-operation on the part of the state must include full disclosure of material including documents relevant to the conflict. Nothing should be exempted from this undertaking save information which would clearly put someone's life in danger. Any process must involve public hearings.


  The process should be primarily about ensuring that institutions and individuals are held accountable for their actions or inactions. This need not necessarily be about punishment or actual imprisonment. A range of accountability measures could be considered.

Procedures should be article 2 and 3 compliant

  In the Jordan el al cases the European Court of Human Rights laid down a series of tests to ensure that any investigation into a violation of the right to life should be compliant with article 2 of the Convention. Any process suggested by the government to examine past cases in Northern Ireland must comply with article 2. Similarly the European Court of Human Rights in a series of cases has laid down tests for article 3 investigations.

There cane be no impunity or blanket amnesty

  Truth processes which grant unqualified amnesty for those accused of serious violations are in violation of human rights law. There is a growing legal debate about what—short of a blanket amnesty—is an acceptable compromise when reconciliation and political stability are major concerns. In South Africa for instance, amnesty could only be obtained in return for a full and frank admission of one's activities.

The process should be voluntary

  Families or victims should retain the option of pursuing their case through general legal processes and should not be forced to take part in a truth and reconciliation process.

Process of acknowledgement of wrong-doing

  There must be acknowledgement from the state and all parties to the conflict that wrongs were committed and there must be undertakings by all parties to co-operate with a fair and impartial truth seeking mechanism.

Integrity of criminal justice process should be upheld

  The conflict in Northern Ireland has warped the criminal justice system and undermined public confidence in it. We believe any truth process should not repeat this pattern. Indeed a crucial aspect of any process will be to try and restore confidence in the criminal justice system by making recommendations where appropriate about how to improve it.

Must comply with international human rights law

  We have already highlighted out view that any truth and reconciliation process examining deaths or allegations of torture and ill-treatment should comply with articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which of course is now partof domestic law. However, other relevant international human rights standards should be the parameters for any such process.

No hierarchy of victims

  Victims of the conflict should be self-defined. There should be no discrimination as between different classes of victims.

Report should be produced and published

  The process should culminate in a published report which, in addition to describing the work undertaken, will make recommendations to ensure that such violations do no recur. In addition the process should be capable of making reparations where appropriate.

September 2003

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