Legislating Forgiveness

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The United Kingdom’s Parliament voted this week to adopt a law that would grant amnesty to British service members and paramilitaries involved in the decades-long sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, despite criticism from Ireland and other international bodies, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

The new Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill calls for the creation of a truth and information recovery commission that will offer amnesty to British forces and paramilitaries if they cooperate with its investigations.

Known as the Troubles, the conflict began in the 1960s over British rule in Northern Ireland. More than 3,500 died in the violence, with around 1,200 deaths still under investigation. The violence was brought to an end in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord.

The governing Conservative party proposed the bill last year, but it garnered fierce condemnation from the families of those who died during the Troubles. Criticism also came from political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish government, the latter of which threatened legal action against the bill.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Office also voiced opposition to the legislation, saying it “violates the UK’s international human rights obligations.”

However, veteran groups welcomed the law, saying that many former soldiers involved in the strife have been unfairly targeted in prosecutions.

Last year, former British serviceman David Holden was found guilty of killing 23-year-old Aidan McAnespie during the conflict. He became the first soldier to be convicted of a Troubles-era killing since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

He received a three-year suspended sentence for manslaughter for shooting McAnespie.

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