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Victims’ families protest against new N.Ireland ‘Troubles’ law

Families of victims of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ protested in Belfast on Wednesday against a new British law that will halt coroner’s investigations into crimes from that era and grant immunity to past fighters.

A total of 36 investigations into the deaths of 74 people during the Troubles will not proceed after the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 comes into force.

Relatives of those who lost their lives said at the demonstration outside the British government’s representative office in Northern Ireland that this destroyed any remaining hope for justice for their loved ones.

Protesters held up a coffin reading “Justice” and signs reading “Legacy families have the right to a judicial investigation,” “Bill of Shame” and “RIP rule of law.”

“It is a very dark day for the families and for justice,” said Suzanne Kerr, whose grandfather John Kerr was shot dead by British soldiers in Belfast in 1971.

Decades later, the Brown family is still waiting for information about what really happened.

“Today’s message is clear: we are not giving up, shame on this British Conservative government,” Kerr, 39, told AFP.

– Legal challenges –

Ministers say the bill is intended to draw a line under the period known as the Troubles, the three decades of unrest in which more than 3,500 people died.

In particular, it will halt judicial investigations, civil cases and criminal prosecutions for crimes related to the conflict and grant conditional immunity to former combatants from all sides.

Opponents say its essence is to protect veterans of the British army and security forces who served in Northern Ireland, as well as paramilitaries.

Critics include victims’ rights groups, all political parties in Northern Ireland, the United Nations and the EU’s Council of Europe.

The law is also the subject of legal battles in courts in Belfast and Europe.

Amnesty International denounced the new law as “an abyss for truth, justice and accountability for the victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland” and a “dangerous international precedent”.

Earlier this week, an international panel of experts led by the Norwegian Center for Human Rights said this would damage Britain’s reputation abroad and could provide authoritarian regimes around the world with a model for similar laws.

Ciaran MacAirt, of the victims’ rights group Time for Truth, developed that idea in comments to reporters.

“Britain is a serious violator of human rights, but this blatant attack on our human rights would embarrass the tin-pot dictators of the so-called Third World,” he said.

“Britain wants to bury its war crimes in Ireland and protect its killers.” He called for the new law to be repealed.

From Wednesday, responsibility for all investigations related to the Troubles will be transferred to a new investigative body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

At the protest, the victims’ families said they had little confidence that ICRIR would conduct open and effective investigations.