A hybrid legal and human rights seminar exploring combatting impunity, both internationally and locally, on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile. One core area of focus will be the implications of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.
The event, hosted at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), is organised with the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), and International Expert Panel on Impunity and the Northern Ireland Conflict. This Panel was convened by the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, at the request of the CAJ and PFC.
Both in person and online tickets are available - please make sure to select the correct type of ticket when registering. Joining instructions will be sent the day before the event to all attendees.
CONCEPT AND BACKGROUND:
On 11 September 1973, the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile was overthrown in a military coup, which installed the dictatorship of General Pinochet. This regime strove to provide impunity for human rights violations - most notably bringing in the 1978 Amnesty Act that is generally regarded as one of the most egregious examples of amnesties for the purpose of impunity.
Impunity occurs when there is no mechanism to hold to account those responsible for acts that amount to serious human rights violations, or where legal, political, or other impediments prevent mechanisms from effectively delivering accountability. Combatting impunity is widely recognised in human rights law as essential to ensure truth, justice, and guarantees of non-recurrence.
In March 2020, the UK government, led by former Prime Minister Boris Johnston, unilaterally abandoned the UK-Ireland Stormont House Agreement, which provided for new transitional justice mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict. This was despite the UK having committed to legislating for these mechanisms ‘within 100 days’ just two months previously, in January 2020, in the New Decade, New Approach agreement.
Instead, the UK authorities set out alternative proposals in a parliamentary Command Paper. Driven by a desire to end investigations into military veterans, this included a proposed blanket amnesty that was broader in scope than that that introduced by Pinochet. UN experts expressed concern the proposals would lead to “blanket impunity for the grave human rights violations committed during that period”.
These proposals developed into the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, in which the amnesty has become a ‘conditional immunity’ scheme, with a conspicuously low threshold. The bill is now completing passage in Westminster despite UN concerns that it would, “thwart victims’ right to truth and justice, undermine the country’s rule of law, and place the UK in flagrant contravention of its international human rights obligations”, as well as similar Council of Europe concerns that the law will not be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. If enacted, the Bill would, by May 2024, shut down all the existing mechanisms dealing with NI legacy cases and replace them with a more limited legacy commission to ‘review’ certain cases.
In the context of this planned closure of all existing effective official legacy processes, the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, at the request of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), convened a panel of international experts to examine the question of state impunity for violations during the Northern Ireland conflict. The ‘International Expert Panel on Impunity and the Northern Ireland Conflict’ is scheduled to report later this year.