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McGuinness could face war crimes trial, legal expert warns

AS HEAD of state, Martin McGuinness could still face a war crimes trial for IRA atrocities, a legal expert on the Good Friday Agreement has warned.

Even if elected President on Thursday, McGuinness would not be immune from IRA victims and families trying to take a war crimes case against him, the author of the definitive legal analysis of the Agreement has told the Herald.

London-based human rights lawyer Austen Morgan said it was "not inconceivable that Martin McGuinness could be investigated personally for crimes against humanity".

The Derry-born barrister has acted as an adviser to people who were suing the late Colonel Gadaffi and his dictatorship in Libya. They were comprised of Irish, British and Americans who were either injured or had lost loved ones to bombs and bullets supplied by Gadaffi to the IRA in the 1970s and 80s.

The group is currently waiting for the new post-Gadaffi government to deal with their multi-million dollar compensation claim.

"Martin McGuinn-ess must have a reason based on legal advice being less than frank about his past.

"If he ever thought he could secure immunity by becoming president, in international law that is no longer the position because of the way international law has changed," he said.

The former legal adviser to Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble said Article 25 of the Rome Convention on war crimes "expressly brings all persons with official capacity -- widely defined including heads of state and government."

Mr Morgan said Article 27 refers to the "respon-sibility of commanders and other superiors" in the commission of war crimes.


Mr Morgan pointed out that McGuinness would be vulnerable on the question of the Disappeared -- the IRA victims the Provos murdered and then buried in secret.

He said that article 7 of the Rome convention lists crimes against humanity in particular "the enforced disappearance of persons".

The lawyer, who works to defend the human rights of asylum seekers in Britain, said there remains the possibility that if IRA victims take on a war crimes case, the President of the Republic could be hauled into an international court.

He added that such a case could take place in the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Holland.

A number of IRA atrocities when McGuinness was the Provos' chief of staff could be constituted as war crimes because civilians were deliberately targeted, Mr Morgan said.

They would include the so-called "human bomb" attack in Derry in 1991 when the IRA forced Patsy Gillespie to drive a van packed with explosives into a British Army checkpoint.

The 42-year-old died along with five soldiers in the blast at the checkpoint at Coshquin, Co Derry.