The Council of Europe on Thursday (8 June) criticised a British bill aimed at dropping legal proceedings relating to the violence that has shaken Northern Ireland for three decades, opposing mainly Protestant loyalists and mainly Catholic republicans.
In a resolution, the Council, responsible for enforcing the European Convention on Human Rights, expresses its "deep concern" about the UK's failure to resolve differences over the bill.
'Lack of tangible progress'
The Council of Europe notes the "lack of tangible progress" to address concerns about the compatibility of this text with the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. It calls on London to review the measure to grant immunity to those involved in the events, stressing "the importance of gaining the trust of victims, families and potential witnesses". The bill, introduced in May 2022, proposes to drop prosecutions relating to the Northern Ireland conflict for British soldiers and paramilitaries who decide to cooperate with the authorities.
More than 3500 people died during the three decades of the Northern Ireland conflict, which began in the 1960s. Some 1200 deaths are still under police investigation, according to the British government. For London, the law must close hundreds of these unsolved cases. The British government is "committed to achieving better outcomes for those most affected by the Troubles," a spokesman for the department for Northern Ireland said. The proposed commission will have "the necessary powers to conduct criminal investigations ... ensuring compliance with the government's international obligations," he added.
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However, the project aroused the anger of the victims' families, the entire Northern Irish political class, but also leaders of the Republic of Ireland. Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin regretted that the law "continues its legislative journey without the support of Northern Ireland's political parties". "I believe that by providing amnesties for crimes constituting gross violations of human rights, the bill, if passed, would undermine reconciliation rather than promote it," he added. The law, currently being debated in the House of Lords, has been welcomed by veterans' associations, who believe that some soldiers have been unfairly prosecuted.
In November 2022, for the first time since the end of the conflict in 1998, a former British soldier, David Holden, was convicted of killing a man in 1988 with a bullet to the back at a checkpoint. He received a three-year suspended sentence for the death of 23-year-old Aiden McAnespie.