Disputes over divisive issues like flags, parading and the past could be resolved with new human rights legislation, Amnesty International has claimed.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director said a new human rights framework would enable decisions on politically sensitive issues to be taken in a fair and transparent manner.
He said: “If the Haass talks are going to deliver long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes, then they must deliver a new human rights based approach to tackling contentious issues in Northern Ireland.
“At their heart, disputes about parades, flags and dealing with the past are all about conflicting rights: freedom of assembly, freedom from fear, the right to cultural expression, the right to truth and justice.”
Addressing a conference organised by the British Institute of Human Rights, Mr Corrigan also said politicians had to choose between short term fixes and long term solutions.
Last week, former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass completed the first round of a new talks initiative aimed at finding consensus on contentious issues not dealt with by the peace process.
Mr Corrigan said the negotiations, which will run until December, must see a re-invigoration of the debate on the Bill of Rights.
“The potential prize is great. Secure a new fairness framework and we can finally unlock a way to tackle contentious issues which, to date, have prevented us from forging a genuinely shared and peaceful future,” he said.
Dr Haass, who has to produce recommendations on the way forward, will return for another series of engagements in Belfast, London and Dublin next month.
Northern Ireland has seen one of the most difficult years since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Loyalist anger over a decision to limit the flying of the Union flag over Belfast City Hall last December sparked mass street protests which, in some cases, descended into violence.
There was also public disorder related to parading disputes in Belfast during the summer months.
Republicans were also criticised for their decision to stage an IRA commemoration parade in Castlederg, a Co Tyrone town which suffered significantly during the Troubles.
Tension on the street has taken its toll on political relations and yesterday First Minister Peter Robinson was forced to deflect Sinn Fein claims that the power sharing Stormont institutions were in crisis.
Mr Corrigan claimed a Bill of Rights could help tackle the difficult issues and expressed frustration that it had not yet been implemented.
He said: “The Bill was to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland and to provide additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities.
“In short it was to meant to provide a fairness framework, within which ‘conflict of rights’ issues could be addressed.
“Yet, tragically, while our community has degenerated into deepening distrust and disorder, the government has left recommendations on the Bill of Rights gathering dust in Hillsborough Castle.”