Truth Commission for Northern Ireland “would protect the rights of all”

EUROPE’S most senior human rights figure has called for the formation of a truth commission in Northern Ireland to aid a healing process he believes is crucial for the future.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, also urged continued vigilance against a regression of civil liberties and said the discussion on the subject had become confused, especially in London where the Coalition government is discussing repealing the Human Rights Act.

And, in an interview with The Detail, Mr Hammerberg warned against using the economic crisis as a gateway to erode the rights of the most vulnerable in society.

Mr Hammerberg, who first visited Northern Ireland as an Amnesty International activist in 1971 following the introduction of Internment, made his comments in Belfast where he met representatives of government and voluntary agencies concerned with rights.

He said that during his visit her he detected that there were still some scars from the conflict with some people telling him that they felt they had not been listened to.

“Though it is positive to move forward, on cannot neglect the past because the two are connected,” he said.

Protection for everyone /

Mr Hammarberg said he was also conscious of the continued disadvantage faced by populations in Northern Ireland where the conflict had been most intense.

Poverty concentrated in conflict zones /

He was also supportive of the campaign for a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights to build on the foundations of the Human Rights Act here but said the issue of human rights legislation needed a more mature discussion.

A confused discussion /

Mr Hammerberg was also conscious of a backlash in recent years against the rights agenda and urged vigilance against a distorted discussion on the subject:

"If it restrains the government...it's probably a positive" /