The Parliament of the United Kingdom has voted to adopt a controversial law granting immunity to fighters involved in the 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles despite criticism from Ireland and the Council of Europe.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, proposed by the Conservative government in May 2022 and approved by the legislature on Tuesday, calls for the creation of a truth and recovery commission offering amnesty to British security personnel and paramilitaries if they cooperate with its enquiries.
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More than 3,500 people were killed during the conflict that began in the 1960s over British rule in Northern Ireland.
About 1,200 deaths remain under investigation, according to the UK government.
The law has been fiercely criticised by families of those who died during that period, by all political parties in Northern Ireland, and by the Irish government, which said earlier this month that it was considering legal action against it.
The new legislation “threatens to harm Britain’s standing” internationally, according to Alan Brecknell, a case worker at the Pat Finucane Centre – a human rights group advocating a non-violent resolution of the conflict on the island of Ireland.
“The number of cases impacted by this bill could run into the hundreds if not thousands,” he told Al Jazeera last week.
“It doesn’t just have implications for this place. You’re going to have a lot of countries – some of them not as democratised as Britain claims to be – saying, ‘Well, look, if Britain can do this and get away with it, why can’t we?’ And I think that is not a good place for Britain’s standing in the world to be seen to be,” Brecknell said.
Europe’s leading rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, has expressed “serious concerns” about the amnesty and its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), of which the UK is a signatory.
But veterans’ groups have welcomed the move, saying former soldiers have been unfairly targeted in prosecutions for taking part in the conflict.
In November 2022, former British serviceman David Holden became the first soldier convicted of a killing committed during the Troubles following the signing of the 1998 peace accord.
He later received a three-year suspended sentence for manslaughter for shooting 23-year-old Aidan McAnespie.
The UN Human Rights Office said on Tuesday: “We deeply regret the passage of the Northern Ireland Troubles Bill despite concerns … that it violates the UK’s international human rights obligations.”
“We urge its reconsideration and call for victims’ rights to be central in addressing the Troubles’ legacy,” it posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.