12.The current UK Government’s position remains largely the same as its predecessors. The former Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, the Rt Hon. Alistair Burt MP (the Minister), said that the UK would be more visibly proactive in the future, and that he would follow up with his Libyan counterparts.22 When the Minister later gave oral evidence to us, he said that he had sought to live up to this determination to be more proactive and listed his official engagements.23 However, the Government’s policy of non-espousal on behalf of victims means that very little has changed for victims.
13.Whilst members of the Government in Libya may now be more aware of the issue, there is little evidence to suggest that anything tangible has been achieved. There is no evidence, that we are aware of, of victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi supplied Semtex being successful in claiming compensation from Libyan authorities, despite the facilitation offered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
14.The effect of this failure to secure compensation can have a significant impact on victims. Jonathon Ganesh, survivor of the 1996 Provisional IRA bomb attack at Canary Wharf, has stated that two members of the Docklands Victims Associations have taken their own lives and five others have tried to.24 Whilst financial compensation can never undo the emotional trauma caused by the Provisional IRA bombing campaign, the money could compensate victims for lost earnings and help to pay for the care that some now require.25
15.On 20 November 2017, the Minister and the Head of North Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development Joint Unit, Nicholas Williams, gave evidence to us. The Minister stated that the Government believes that “there is a historical responsibility of Libya to ensure compensation for those who were affected by the transfer of Semtex”.26 The Government therefore sees its principal role as pressing the case with the Libyan authorities. The Minister stated that:
Our position is one of support for and facilitation of contacts between victims and the relevant Libyan authorities in order that claims can ultimately be settled directly.27
16.He added that the Government would support victims in seeking compensation from the Libyan authorities by constantly making the case to the Libyan Government of their responsibility.28 The Minister reiterated, however, that the Government will not enter into direct negotiations on behalf of victims.29 Mr Williams said that “it is a longstanding position not formally to espouse those claims”.30
17.The Minister later wrote to us, stating:
In the case of British victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism, it does not appear that all legal remedies have been exhausted, although we recognise that progress is extremely slow and understand the frustration that this has caused.31
The Minister added that “there is no precedent for HMG espousing victims’ claims against a state alleged to have sponsored a terrorist group’s activity”.32
18.The reference made to legal remedies can be frustrating for victims. These remedies are expensive to pursue, as noted by evidence to our predecessor Committee’s inquiry.33 These cases have also become increasingly difficult to make progress on since the Libyan Civil War, as there is no stable government to deal with and there are dangers posed with travel to Libya to engage with their legal system, which is also affected by the conflict.34
19.The Government has consistently held that it is not its responsibility to secure compensation for victims of Libyan Semtex, and that victims should pursue cases with the Libyan authorities individually. This is an untenable policy position. To state that victims have not exhausted all legal remedies ignores the reality of the current political situation in Libya, with its chaotic and unstable governance arrangements. Time has already run out for many victims. The Government must now enter into direct negotiations with the Libyan authorities to seek a compensation deal as soon as possible.
20.The exact number of victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism is unknown, as is the extent of their injuries. Our predecessor Committee recommended that the Government should establish a list of eligible victims in the UK.35 The report acknowledged that the eligibility criteria needed to be carefully considered, and that this could ultimately impact on the number of victims included.36 The number of victims that require compensation therefore varies according to the criteria used but campaigners suggest that there are more than 3,000 survivors and family members who could be eligible.37 From this list the Government could assess the level of compensation owed to each individual and family affected. It is vitally important that this list is comprehensive and includes all victims of Gaddafi sponsored terrorism. The Minister confirmed that the overall level of compensation owed to victims remains unknown.38
21.The Committee therefore welcomed the announcement from Minister Burt on 24 December 2018 that the Government was considering appointing an independent assessor with a focus on assisting victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism.39 This assessor is intended to evaluate the level of redress and the number of victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism that could potentially qualify for compensation and, ultimately, the precise amount of compensation that should be paid by the Libyan authorities.40 The Minister advised that this position could be introduced to “ensure there is greater cross-government connection in terms of this particular issue”.41 The Minister later told us that Government officials have been asked to explore the terms of reference for such an appointment, and said their work would “be of value to victims”.42 It is important that this role, as with all work in this area, covers all victims of Gaddafi sponsored terrorism, including those affected by the supply of Semtex as well as weapons and training. The Minister made clear, however, that this individual would not espouse the claims of victims directly but would inform the Government’s approach and discussions with Libyan authorities. This role would therefore fall short of the special envoy role we had hoped to see, where the individual would negotiate directly with Libya for compensation.43
22.We are pleased to see the appointment of William Shawcross to the role on 6 March.44 Whilst the precise terms of reference for the appointment are still being finalised, the announcement confirms that Mr Shawcross will advise on the amount of compensation that should be sought.45
23.Whilst we welcome the announcement of William Shawcross to begin the long overdue process of calculating the amount of compensation due to victims, this role should extend much further. The role could help ensure greater cross-government working as previously suggested by the Minister but should also negotiate to secure a compensation agreement. Once the amount of compensation has been calculated, the Special Adviser must also have a role in securing compensation, espousing the claims of victims directly with the Libyan Government. The Special Adviser should regularly report to the Committee on their work.
22 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 15 November 2017
24 “Call for research into scale of suicides caused by Troubles”, Newsletter, 12 January 2019
25 “Docklands bombing survivors claim victims have committed suicide while waiting for compensation”, The Docklands and East London Advertiser, 16 February 2019
27 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 24 December 2018
30 Q31 [Nicholas Williams, Head of North Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development Joint Unit]
31 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 11 December 2018
32 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 11 December 2018
33 Margaret Sefton (LSX0011), para 2; Oral evidence taken by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on 9 September 2015, HC (2015–16) 49, Q1 [Jason McCue, McCue and Partners]
35 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, Conclusions and recommendations
36 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, para 72
37 “Gaddafi funded terror: Raid his fortune to help IRA victims”, The Express, 23 December 2018.
39 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 24 December 2018
40 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 24 December 2018
42 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 24 December 2018
44 “Foreign Secretary appoints Special Representative on UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism”, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 6 March 2019
45 “Foreign Secretary appoints Special Representative on UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism”, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 6 March 2019
Published: 9 April 2019