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Letter from US group: Legacy plans ‘break the law, ignore victims and hurt peace’

Prominent Americans call on US secretary of state to put pressure on Boris Johnson


US secretary of state Antony Blinken

US secretary of state Antony Blinken

US secretary of state Antony Blinken

A group of more than 40 prominent Americans has written to the US secretary of state accusing Boris Johnson of “turning his back on victims and survivors” of the Troubles and “wilfully violating international law”.

The letter to Antony Blinken hits out at Westminster’s Legacy and Reconciliation Bill.

The Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement, the group that sent the letter, is made up of more than 40 people who have spent decades working to support the peace deal, including five former ambassadors and two special presidential envoys.

If passed, the Bill will offer immunity from prosecution to people who cooperate with an information retrieval body.

The proposals passed their second reading last month with the support of Tory MPs but were not backed by a single local MP.

The group said it had held three meetings with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and others in the past eight months to raise concerns.

It added it was left disappointed that promises the Bill would honour the Good Friday Agreement and reflect victims’ concerns had not been kept.

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After seeking independent legal advice, the members said the plans ignored victims and violated the peace deal and human right standards.

They noted the proposals were opposed by all the parties, including the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Victims’ groups from unionist and nationalist communities have also expressed strong opposition to the plans.

“Such public reaction is hardly surprising given that there was no formal, transparent or public consultation with the concerned people and groups in Northern Ireland prior to the introduction of the Bill,” the letter from the Ad Hoc Committee to Protect the Good Friday Agreement said.

“This lack of engagement stands in sharp contrast to the legacy framework that the UK and Irish governments agreed to in the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement and reaffirmed in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach Agreement.”

The group stressed that “well over 1,000 civil cases” were still in the courts, and pointed to the recent Ballymurphy inquest, which declared all 10 victims innocent, as proof that truth and justice could still be secured.

The letter claimed that the proposed legislation violated the Good Friday Agreement and the European Convention on Human Rights, which obliges governments to effectively investigate cases of alleged state killing.

It added: “There is consensus among independent legal experts that the pending Bill fails on all counts.

“The Ad Hoc Committee is doubly dismayed given the repeated personal assurances that British officials gave us that any proposed legislation would be Article 2-compliant.”

The proposals, the group said, would guarantee years of protracted litigation in the UK courts and, eventually, the European Court of Human Rights.

“In this light, there can be no more effective way to undermine peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland with regard to legacy than to enact this proposal,” the letter added.

The signatories include Gary Hart, a US envoy to Northern Ireland between 2014 and 2016; former US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley; and Nancy Soderberg, a former US deputy national security adviser.

Addressing Mr Blinken, the letter concluded: “We understand that the pending Bill is being fast-tracked through Parliament.

“We therefore respectfully call upon you to use all possible diplomatic channels necessary to oppose this potential violation of the Good Friday Agreement without delay.”

Commenting on the letter, a NIO spokesperson said: “The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will put in place an effective information recovery process, underpinned by robust and independent investigations, to provide answers for families, deliver on commitments to those who served in Northern Ireland, and help society to look forward.

“The legislation will ensure that legacy issues are addressed comprehensively and fairly, and in a way that supports information recovery and reconciliation, complies fully with international human rights obligations and responds to the needs of victims and survivors, and society as a whole.”

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