I see the PSNI have charged loyalist Winston Rea in relation to the murders of John Devine and John O’Hara.
For me there are two things this week highlights. First the debate on whether people involved in conflict related actions should face any form of prosecution. Second how victims’ rights are entirely dismissed once that debate starts. And how any voice on transitional justice and truth recovery has been legally and politically marginalised. Oh actually that’s three things. Sorry.
The first question was brought into sharp relief by two social media posts I read. The first by PUP spokesperson Winston Irvine. He asserted on Twitter, “The charging of Winston Rea further highlights the partial nature of historic investigation processes. Either we go after everyone or no one”. The second was on the Facebook of Jim Clinton whose wife Theresa was murdered by the UFF in 1994 in the most conspicuous case of collusion with state forces. Jim shared a media announcement of the charging of Rea saying he was thinking of the O’Hara and Devine families, and someone answered it by saying “I just look forward to the day when senior RUC and British military figures along with their political backers are brought before the same court as their co-accused Winkie Rea”. Jim’s short answer summed up a 22 year experience of impunity. “Won’t Happen”.
And there it is. Those who feel that no one should be pursued at all and those who believe state actors will never be held to account. Never have, never will.
It is not lost on anyone that this week marks six full years since the publication of the Saville Report on Bloody Sunday – not a sniff of a PSNI prosecution of a Para.
Last week the inquest verdict on the killing of Armagh man Harry Thornton on the Springfield Road in 1971 said the killing was unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate. Not a squeak about accountability for either the killing or its cover up.
Politically and in socially commentary there is little language used which upholds victims’ rights. Oh the media will love to tell sad tales and use graphic photographs. Yes that happens. Our office just loves the journalist calls to “get a victim”. (No we don’t). But what about the use of language that recognises that the victims of conflict violations are not merely vehicles for a story of interest, but the holders of rights to truth, and justice. Yes justice. Be they victims of republicans, loyalists or the state, victims have rights. And those rights must not be treated as matters for political expediency or negotiation. By anyone.
Which is why the language of transitional justice is so important. These violations occurred in a time of conflict. Victims’ rights and their fulfilment must be integrated into our peace, not continually undermined. Victims are contributors to peace. And that does require a process of transitional justice that can frame the violations in the patterns and policies of the conflict actors, especially those of the state.
I have no faith in the PSNI’s engagements on conflict violations.
We need the Stormont House mechanisms established asap in a human rights compliant fashion. And we need state impunity addressed within that. And we need to loudly declare all victims’ rights and fulfil society’s obligations to them.