Belfast Telegraph

NI human rights chief slams government leadership over legacy issues

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Northern Ireland's top human rights official has said that a lack of leadership from the UK government is holding up progress on legacy issues.

This comes as the UK is set to clash with the United Nations over its adoption of a number of human rights recommendations made earlier this year as part of universal periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council - something which each member state is subject to every five years.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, Northern Ireland Human Rights Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: "We’re disappointed by the lack of leadership on human rights across the UK Government, and would like to see a concerted effort to address the mounting number of outstanding recommendations from the United Nations human rights system.

"In particular we note that the UN Human Rights Council has now joined with the Council of Europe and numerous UN Treaty Bodies in calling for a swift and effective investigations on all the deaths linked to the conflict in Northern Ireland, through implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and the Human Rights Council have specifically highlighted the need to providing funding for the Lord Chief Justice’s proposal to address legacy inquests."

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is accredited by the United Nations and receives funding from the UK government, but operates independently.

The comments were made ahead of a commitment from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire to publish plans for dealing with legacy issues before the end of the year - whether or not there is a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore the Stormont Executive.

Human Rights Council discussion

Head of the UK-wide Equality and Human Rights Commission David Isaac is due to appear before a regular session of the Human Rights council on Thursday, where he will be representing the UK's three national human rights institutions. 

In May of this year, the United Kingdom attended a working group of the Human Rights Council and received 229 recommendations - but has opted to support just 96, or 42%, of the total number made.

The average for international rate for supporting the recommendations sits at 72%, and during its previous review in 2012 the UK supported 54% of recommendations made.

The meeting on Thursday will give UN member states their first opportunity to discuss the UK's updated human rights position.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Isaac said that the UK had historically been a champion of human rights, but that reputation was now under threat due to "the negative tone of debate from some politicians and many parts of the media around the Human Rights Act, and the potential risk to people’s equality and human rights protections when the UK leaves the European Union".

Northern Irish issues

Resolution of legacy cases involving some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles has been a bone of contention for Northern Ireland's top judge Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan since he took up the position in November 2015.

In a speech earlier this month to mark the start of the legal year, Sir Declan said that it was a point of "deep frustration" that it had not been possible to implement a five-year plan for dealing with legacy issues that he had recommended in February 2016, due to a lack of resources.

As well as allowing the justice system to deal effectively with legacy issues, recommendations were also made to the United Kingdom in relation to law governing access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

On the issue of abortion, the report of the working group from the Human Rights Council recommended the UK should: "Ensure that the law governing access to abortion in Northern Ireland fully complies with international human rights law, by decriminalising abortion and ensuring access to abortion in cases of severe and fatal fetal anomalies and where the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest."

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