Legacy proposals: Victims’ group warns of terror ‘propagandising’

Former terrorists should not be allowed to use the story-telling aspect of the new Troubles Legacy legislation to justify their murders and maimings, a victims’ organisation has warned.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 6:00 am
Axel Schmidt said victims should be front and centre of legislation
Axel Schmidt said victims should be front and centre of legislation

Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) said it hoped there could be draft legislation or amendments to the Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill that would prevent ex-paramilitaries being able to “propagandise” their terrorist acts.

As the controversial bill was debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Axel Schmidt, UHRW’s advocacy manager, said: “For legislation to work, it must place innocent victims front and centre.

“The plight of people who suffered at the hands of bombers and gunmen must not be relegated or downplayed.

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“Justice is the cornerstone of our democracy. The door to delivering that justice must not be closed or narrowed. Otherwise, good people who carry the burden of loss or lifelong disabilities will feel betrayed and abandoned.”

Referring to retired members of the security forces who served during the Troubles, Mr Schmidt said: “The state has a duty of care to the men and women who served in the police and Army and any suggestion that they should be treated on par with terrorists is abhorrent and wrong. There can be no equivalence.”

One of the provisions of the legacy bill is that an amnesty for past conflict-related crimes is contingent on suspected perpetrators agreeing to speak openly to a truth recovery commission about what they did.

UHRW, along with other organisations representing victims of terrorism, have expressed concern that such a process might enable former terrorists to justify their individual and their organisations’ violent actions.

“We have reservations about elements of the bill such as the story-telling provisions and during its passage through Parliament, it would be our hope that the draft legislation will be considerably amended to prevent easy access to former terrorists to propagandise and re-set their heinous acts as somehow justified or legitimate,” Mr Schmidt added.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the bill as “a de facto amnesty designed to make perpetrators of heinous crimes untouchable”.

Grainne Teggart, campaigns manager for Amnesty International UK, said: “No matter how government dress this up, the bill is not designed to deliver for victims and promote reconciliation.

“Instead, it will remove victims’ access to the courts and send a message that they are less worthy of justice than victims of the same crime in any other circumstances.”