Victims-led truth body the best way to deal with past: Amnesty
A leading human rights body is calling for the Government to establish a truth commission to deal with Northern Ireland's difficult legacy issues – but has no idea how much it would cost or how long its work would take.
Amnesty International today released a scathing report in which it claimed a flawed and fragmented approach by authorities to dealing with the past here has resulted in successive governments, politicians and police "disgracefully" failing thousands of victims and their families.
Days ahead of major new all-party talks, Amnesty has called on Stormont politicians and those at Westminster to "grasp the nettle" and devise a new way forward to tackle the hugely contentious issue of the past.
Amnesty has called for investigations into human rights violations and actions by armed groups on all sides as well as illegal state activity. It wants a victim-focused commission to be formed tasked with investigating all outstanding cases.
Amnesty said that body must have the powers to compel witnesses to cooperate and be able to deliver recommendations aimed at bringing closure to victims and their families.
The organisation said such a commission ought to be allowed to take over the work currently being done by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
When asked about the cost of such a Truth Commission, Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, admitted he didn't know.
He said it would be impossible to put a figure on the bill, for which the UK government would be liable, he said.
"It would depend on the design of it, what the cost might be but we would point to the fact there is huge cost with not addressing the legacy of the conflict and we see that not only in the police bills for policing public disorder over the past year but also the lack of inward investment, the economic impact of ongoing disorder," said Mr Corrigan.
"So this would be an investment in our future."
Mr Corrigan said the past could not simply be swept to the side.
"Now – with Northern Ireland still facing violence and division, but with the opportunity of the Haass talks – is the time for leaders to garner the courage to finally agree an effective process of how we should address our past and build a future that is both shared and sustainable," he said.
"Richard Haass may have a problem to solve. But come December, he will be heading home to the US.
"The rest of us are the ones with the real problem – we live here. We either agree a new process to deal with the past or we run the risk of condemning our children to repeat it."
Amnesty also wants a Bill of Rights established for Northern Ireland, taking into account its particular circumstances and history. Amnesty has also called for the Irish Government to support the establishment of a body to deal with the past.
Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the 78-page report – entitled Northern Ireland: Time to Deal with the Past – claims victims and their families have been failed by successive attempts to investigate abuses.
The report claims the limitations and narrow mandates of each process has meant that they cannot provide the full truth about human rights violations and abuses committed by all sides during the Troubles.
More than 3,600 people were killed and more than 40,000 injured during the Troubles. In most cases, no one has been held responsible.
The report is based on research conducted by Amnesty over the last 18 months, including meetings and 47 detailed interviews with relatives of people from different communities who died in conflict-related killings in Northern Ireland and with people who were seriously injured during the Troubles. Amnesty met with representatives from the PSNI, the Office of the Police Ombudsman, the Historical Enquiries Team, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, the Commission for Victims and Survivors, the Public Prosecution Service, and Policing Board members.