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Friday, 18 June 2010

18 June 2010

How about taking a break from the World Cup for a moment and considering these three little words?

Truth. Justice. Peace.

I imagine you’re in favour of all three. But are they sometimes incompatible? The question arises in the wake of the Saville report into Bloody Sunday. (Quick update for those of you who’ve been on Mars this week: 30 January 1972, 13 people killed by British troops during a civil rights march in Londonderry – the worst incident of British security forces killing British citizens since the Peterloo massacre of 1819.)

The report was the result of an inquiry that lasted an astonishing 12 years, at an equally astonishing cost of £190 million. But did it arrive at the truth about what happened on that terrible day?

For the families of those who died, this was the key paragraph in the report: “None of the casualties shot by soldiers ... was armed with a firearm or (with the probable exception of one victim) a bomb of any description. None was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury. In no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire.”

Why is that paragraph so important? Well, compare it with what the Widgery report said, in the immediate aftermath of the killings: “When the vehicles and soldiers … appeared in Rossville Street they came under fire … There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first … There is a strong suspicion that some [of those killed and wounded] had been firing weapons or handling bombs in the course of the afternoon …”

None of that, says Saville, is true. And 38 years later, the relatives of those who died were able to shout one word in triumph and vindication after his report was published: “Innocent.”

So let’s accept that, at last, we know the truth about what happened. What about justice? Is it justice that so much effort should go into investigating these particular deaths, when thousands of others have gone uninvestigated?

The journalist and military historian Sir Max Hastings wrote in the Daily Mail: “The long catalogue of Republican atrocities against the British and Irish peoples goes unexplored. Of all those who perished in the Troubles, just 10 per cent were killed by the security forces; 30 per cent by Protestant militants; 60 per cent by the IRA.”

And Lord Tebbit, who with his wife was a victim of the IRA bomb attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984, wrote: “The victims of Brighton are no less important than those of Londonderry. They should not be treated as second-class victims.”

Many former IRA bombers are now free men. Indeed, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, was a senior IRA commander in Londonderry at the time of Bloody Sunday, and, according to the Saville report, “was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, and though it is possible that he fired this weapon, there is insufficient evidence to make any finding on this …”

So no, there will probably be no justice for the families of the other 3,600 people who were killed during the 30 years of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles”.

How about peace? The political commentator Danny Finkelstein wrote in The Times this week: “To stop the killing (in Northern Ireland), we sacrificed principles that should stand above everything. We sacrificed the rule of law and the principle of one law for everybody. We sacrificed justice and accountability to the courts. We bought peace but there is a bill to pay. And today we must pay it.”

So is this the lesson of Saville? That to get at the truth, and to bring peace, you sometimes need to sacrifice justice? Was that also the lesson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, another country where decades of political injustice and oppression were finally brought to an end?

What are the lessons for other countries – Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, Brazil, Chile – countries where thousands more people long for both peace and justice after suffering the most appalling atrocities?

And what are the lessons for the International Criminal Court, investigating allegations of terrible crimes in Sudan and Kenya, but where bringing the guilty to trial may make peace less likely?

Guilt is rarely to be found only on one side, yet there is often a tendency at the end of bitter conflicts to prosecute only the losers. In the case of Northern Ireland, the Financial Times commentator John Lloyd reached this verdict: “There is no question that the IRA initiated most of the bloodshed; that the Unionist community had allowed discrimination to flourish for the half-century of Northern Ireland's existence; that the British government had, until the troubles flared in 1968, simply ignored the issue. There is no question, finally, that trained killers in British uniform ran amok.”

So, if you’ve arrived at the truth, and peace has returned, is justice sometimes an unaffordable luxury?

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