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  • Writer's pictureGreg O'Loughlin

Good Friday Agreement Threatened

The ECHR is one of the foundations of the peace agreement and of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, visited Britain for five days, finishing in July, during which she assessed the British government’s system for human rights protection, the situation in the North, and children’s rights. In an article on the Council of Europe’s website it expresses its concern at the proposal by the Tories to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and of its policing, justice and equality elements.

The Council notes that if voted through the proposed Bill of Rights “would alter the interpretation of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rights by UK courts, widening the gap between the protection of those rights by the UK courts and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.”

The Commission said: “the proposed legal reforms might weaken human rights protections at this pivotal moment for the UK, and it sends the wrong signal beyond the country’s borders at a time when human rights are under pressure throughout Europe.” She also noted that these changes come in a wider context of recent laws and policies already heavily impacting on human rights in concrete areas, such as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, or of specific groups, such as refugees and asylum seekers or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Commenting on its impact for the North she pointed out that the protection of ECHR rights is one of the foundations of the peace agreement and of the Good Friday Agreement. She said that: “It is crucial that this foundation is not undermined as a result of the proposed human rights reforms.”

The article by the Council also addresses the Legacy legislation being pushed through the British Parliament. It raises serious questions for the Council about the extent to which the proposed mechanism to “review Troubles-related cases is compliant with ECHR standards on independent and effective investigations. The possibility to grant immunity from prosecution on a low evidentiary bar raises concerns that this could lead to impunity.”

It notes that the “virtually unanimous, cross-community rejection of the proposals also casts doubt over their potential to contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The proposals fail to put victims at the heart of legacy. The Commissioner added: “unilaterally shutting down options that many victims and families value greatly as part of their way of dealing with the past ignores their needs and wishes, and is causing many of them deep distress.”

The Commissioner’s report on her visit is expected to be published soon.

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