The Tory’s new Legacy Bill would put justice out of reach for victims of British military violence in the North of Ireland, campaigners fear. The proposed legislation had its second reading in the Lords on 23 November.
Titled the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, the proposed law is meant to reduce criminal investigations. It would also replace proper legal processes with reconciliation committees. These would hear stories and grievances but have no legal standing.
However, the families of those killed and hurt by British forces have been speaking out against the proposal, which some have branded a ‘Bill of Shame’:
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy & Reconciliation) Bill reaches the House of Lords today. Dubbed a ‘Bill of Shame’, it will deny justice to families and victims of the Troubles, breach international law, and provide impunity for state murder and torture. 🧵
— Charlie Whelton (@cwhelton) November 23, 2022
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, now a peer, told The Irish News that the bill sent a message to families that their trauma did not matter:
By offering a low-bar immunity to the perpetrators of some of the most horrific crimes imaginable it is telling them that what they did no longer matters.
And it is saying to victims and survivors of the Troubles in Northern Ireland that what happened to you and your loved ones no longer matters.
This will only inflict more pain and anxiety on the already severely traumatised
Meanwhile, senior figures in the North of Ireland clergy warned that the bill would deepen divisions between Loyalist and Republican communities. In a joint letter, Archbishops Eamon Martin and John McDowell said they were baffled that the bill even featured the word ‘reconciliation’:
On the contrary, it will deepen division and further demoralise all but a tiny minority of those it purports to help. It seems almost as though it has been designed to fail
Legacy of injustice
The Legacy Bill parallels the Overseas Operations Bill, which was designed to stop war crimes prosecution relating to Iraq and Afghanistan. As The Canary wrote in 2020, the Overseas Operations Bill was an establishment stitch-up.
Former soldiers, lawyers and human rights campaigners were all critical of that proposed legislation, and yet in the end it became law.
The British state is intent on escaping scrutiny and challenge in relations to its wars. The danger is that its victims, whether in Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan, become victims not once but twice.
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