FAIR
Representing Victims of Terrorism in South Armagh
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16/12/05
NIHRC Support Welcomed

FAIR welcomes the stance taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in opposing the Northern Ireland Offences Bill which creates an amnesty for terrorists. We met with a number of Commissioners and with Chief Commissioner Professor McWilliams specifically on the issue and urged them to make a prompt and decisive statement on the matter. Only last week at a conference the same issues were raised in regard to the present Bills impact on Victim's rights.

We have consistently held the position that the Bill is incompatible with international human rights, and are pleased that the NI watchdog has agreed with our position. We presented three reports to the Commission which outlined our views on a victim's right to justice, our detailed analysis of the Bill and a further independent legal opinion. We are happy that the Commission has highlighted the position and rights of victims, as their primary concerns. This is indeed a landmark decision - for perhaps the first time a Human Rights Agency has sided with victims of terrorism in a practical and effective way against the state and those terrorists who were responsible for the worst human rights violations. The right to fair trial and freedom from arbitrariness of the criminal justice system are all in question and "serious concerns" about the independence of the process from the government and the "excessive powers" of the secretary of state, particularly in relation to disclosure of information and evidence, are all concerns we outlined and now share with the Commission. We would endorse the Commission when it says that it is "concerned with the lack of clarity in relation to the rights of victims and their involvement in the process" as proposed in the Bill. and "The commission does not consider that the limited provisions of the Bill establishing a requirement of liaison with victims are sufficient to address their concerns, However, the commission regards the Bill in its current form as incompatible with the state's obligations under international human rights standards." These are the real issues and while amendments, about forcing the terrorists to appear are welcome they are mere window dressing and do not reach the heart of the matter. We would ask all the democratic political parties to unite around the core Human Rights and victim centred arguments and reject this Bill in its entirety rather than tinkering with the language and grammar, - no amount of semantic sugar will sweeten this bitter pill.

We also call upon all those who now are united in opposition, including the political parties and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to work along with victims groups to co-ordinate opposition to the Bill if it becomes law. We now ask them to make a public commitment to legally challenge the scheme if it is enacted. A case taken to the highest courts of Europe is the only way that victims rights will be secured in this matter.

 



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