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Saturday 30 August 2014

Amnesty: Victims of the Troubles ‘have been failed’

Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 12/09/2013 | 08:15

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TROUBLES victims have been failed by a flawed and fragmented approach to dealing with Northern Ireland's bloody past, Amnesty International has said.

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The organisation has blamed an inadequate patchwork of investigations and lack of political will for cementing sectarian divisions and wants a comprehensive new mechanism to replace the troubled Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's international director for Europe and Central Asia said: "There's a cruel irony in the fact that Northern Ireland is held up as a success story when many victims' families actually consider their treatment a failure."

In a major new report, published ahead of crunch talks on troublesome issues such as parading and the past, Amnesty International said victims and their families had been let down by the HET, the Police Ombudsman and various coroners' inquests; each of which had a narrow remit.

The HET has been heavily criticised after a damning report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary found that deaths involving soldiers were carried out with less rigour than those linked to paramilitaries and its head, Dave Cox, is to stand down three months early.

Amnesty has called for the UK Government to establish a new method of dealing with the past which would permit controversial killings and attacks carried out by all sides, including state agents, to be re-investigated.

The new mechanism should be able to identify those responsible at all levels and issue recommendations aimed at securing victims' right to reparation, the report said.

Amnesty also wants retired police officers compelled to co-operate with the Ombudsman's office and for adequate resources to be allocated to address endemic delay in the investigation and processing of historical cases.

The 78-page document detailed experiences of victims from Protestant and Catholic communities throughout Northern Ireland.

Other recommendations also include the establishment of public inquiries into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1988 and the Omagh bomb in 1998.

Mr Dalhuisen added: "Over the last decade a patchwork of measures, including isolated investigations, have failed to establish the full truth about the violations and abuses of the past and left many victims waiting for justice.

"The UK government and all political parties in Northern Ireland need to grasp the nettle now and agree a new approach which is capable of dealing fully with the past."

More than 3,600 people were killed during three decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. A further 40,000 were injured.

James Miller, whose grandfather David Miller was among nine people killed in a suspected IRA bomb attack in Claudy in 1972, said relatives were determined to find answers.

"It's said they are waiting for us to die out. But the next generation will still keep asking questions about what happened. Look at me, it was my grandfather who was killed and I am still going to keep asking for the truth," he said.

Peter Heathwood, who was shot and left paralysed in an attack on his home by suspected loyalist gunmen in September 1979, said: "People say let's forget about the past and move on, it was 30 years ago. That's a load of bunkum."

Mr Heathwood, whose father died at the scene after suffering a heart attack, added: "In Northern Ireland the past is the present. If we don't deal with the past, I don't want my grandchildren to have to suffer this again. As injured people, we are living scars in society and we need to have it recognised that we have suffered."

Amnesty International has also called for the Irish Government to support the establishment of a single new mechanism for dealing with the past.

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