18 December 2008 Edition
AGM : RELATIVES FOR JUSTICE
‘Truth costs nothing – coverup costs millions’
BY LAURA FRIEL
ALL truth has an invaluable contribution to a society emerging from decades of conflict as we collectively seek to rebuild, restructure, heal and reconcile, Mark Thompson told the Annual General Meeting of Relatives for Justice in Belfast which was packed with families and survivors of state violence.
Reiterating the call for an independent international truth commission, Thompson highlighted the need to address the hundreds of outstanding issues of truth and justice.
Describing the needs of bereaved families and survivors as central to any process, the director said the focus of Relatives for Justice is on the systemic nature of violence, how it impacts on individuals, families and communities, the perfunctory nature of the criminal justice system, the legacy of impunity and the need for truth.
What is required is a process of transitional justice and that, argued Thompson, can only be delivered by an independent international process.
Commenting on the pending report of the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, Thompson said Relatives for Justice are looking for new structures and mechanisms that represent a departure from the failings of previous initiatives.
The Consultative Group on the Past was established by the British Government and, after completing a process of consultation, is scheduled to deliver recommendations early next year. The CGP is co-chaired by Archbishop and former Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames and former priest and vice-chair of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley.
Mark Thompson said:
“Previous initiatives were more to do with the management, control and the suppression of truth than of truth recovery.
“This year witnessed possibly the single biggest contribution to the debate on dealing with the past in the publication of Dr Patricia Lundy’s report on the Historical Enquiries Team exposing the ‘gatekeepers’ within the HET who were formally members of RUC Special Branch.
“We are firmly of the view that any future process must be underpinned by the need for total independence demonstrated not only in the composition of any commission but, importantly, by its operational independence and integrity via clear terms of reference legislated for across both jurisdictions, North and South.”
Attending the afternoon session, Archbishop Robin Eames highlighted the limitations of solely relying on the legal process in delivering closure and disclosure, Eames said we could find ourselves dealing with the past in 35 years’ time unless an alternative approach was found.
“So we either find a better way or we let these processes continue for many years to come,” he said. Eames said his group’s report would seek to find ways of finally closing the violent chapter in our history.
Recalling the words of a Chilean human rights worker, Mark Thompson asked:
“How is reconciliation possible when the lies and denials are institutionalised by the responsible authorities?”
He went on:
“Eames and Bradley have the opportunity to take a bold step to depart from the failed policies of the past.
“An independent international truth commission provides the best opportunity for truth recovery for the greatest number of those affected by the conflict. Until this is established, victims of state violence will carry on with their campaign.”