The British Government will present a bill whose principles have caused an almost unanimous rejection
British and Irish politicians, already agitated by the convoluted negotiation with the European Union on the regulations that affect Northern Ireland after the ‘Brexit’, will deal with the reopening of Parliament next week on a bill in which the Boris Johnson’s government proposes a form of amnesty for the crimes committed during ‘The Troubles’, from 1969 to 1998.
In this period of “riots” 3,500 people were violently killed and some 50,000 injured. It is not surprising that successive regional governments, necessarily shared by the most representative parties of pro-British unionists and nationalists in favor of the unity of Ireland, fail to quench the embers of the “legacy” left by those decades of extreme brutality.
Various transitional justice initiatives have been promoted, proposing that historical documentation and the exchange of information between perpetrators and victims alleviate their pain, through access to a truthful account of the circumstances in which their loved one died.
At the same time, the regional police created historical investigation teams, to clarify the large number of crimes not closed. While the cases studied by these teams were overwhelmingly attributable to terrorist groups, victims’ associations are also calling for the investigation of crimes committed by the security forces.
The Good Friday Agreement released all prisoners ‘under license’ two years after it was signed, in April 1998. Convicted under more complex circumstances, such as undercover agents, they received a Royal Pardon. The negotiations of Sinn Féin, associated with the IRA, managed to get Tony Blair’s government to send a “comfort letter” to the fugitives, promising that they would not be prosecuted.
The other element associated with an amnesty in the peace process was the legal immunity that London and Dublin reflected in an international treaty for the executors, mediators and witnesses in the disarmament operations of terrorist groups. This chain of decisions benefited the perpetrators of 90% of the crimes committed during “the riots.”
But in recent years there has been a growing complaint from parliamentarians with a past in the Army, from retired commanders of the armed forces or the Police and from conservative newspapers, that Therea May or Boris Johnson put an end to the subpoenas of veterans by the courts of Belfast, to respond to civil lawsuits about the circumstances in which their family members died.
Two examples. In March, a judge found ten civilians shot innocent by British Army soldiers in August 1971 in what is known as the Ballymurphy massacre, an uptown neighborhood in Catholic West Belfast. And a retired English policeman, Jon Boutcher, doggedly investigates the dozens of deaths associated with infiltrators of the security forces at the direction of the IRA.
Minister Brandon Lewis leaked in March, in the middle of the municipal election campaign, that his Ministry was going to propose in Parliament a prescription for crimes committed by security forces. In July it published a document that provides for the prescription of all crimes committed by one or the other before 1998. The Police could no longer investigate them.
The initiative has been condemned by victims’ associations, by all the political parties of Northern Ireland, by the Irish Government, by a UN committee, by another of the Council of Europe, by a group of Democrats in Washington, by Hillary Clinton , … They accuse Lewis of committing “a huge mistake” or of seriously defrauding the victims to avoid the conviction of soldiers.
The Historical Investigations Team made up of police officers analyzed more than 1,600 unsolved cases over 10 years and three convictions were achieved. With each passing year it becomes more difficult to find evidence that would allow a conviction. The bill will describe “truth digging” mechanisms, which will be facilitated by the fact that volunteers to testify will not be in danger of prosecution. Will it be enough to resolve the legacy?
Jonathan Caine, who served as a Northern Ireland advisor to six Conservative ministers in the province, recently warned of the limitations of the legacy projects. “We will never agree unionists and republicans about what happened during those 30 years. People talk about mechanisms to resolve the past. We are not going to solve the past. It will not happen.