That the UK has failed to secure compensation for Libya-IRA victims shames British politicians
Let’s be clear—securing compensation from Libya for the harm it caused to British citizens does not upset the peace process.
Libya is responsible for the greatest single number of victims from a terrorist campaign in the UK’s history. In the 1980s, the Gaddafi Regime shipped tonnes of Semtex to the IRA–to use to kill UK citizens–as part of its own proxy war against the West. Libyan-IRA bombs went on to murder and maim an estimated 3,500 across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The UK’s victims’ journey has been a long one. In 2006, they commenced litigation in the USA; only for a Tony Blair brokered deal between Bush and Gaddafi to deprive them of just compensation. In 2009, the FCO gave them a dedicated unit to support their own negotiations; this turned out to be a sham. In 2011, their lawyers secured the Benghazi Agreement – a commitment from the Libyan government – to pay compensation; HMG failed to follow through. In 2017, a Parliamentary Inquiry condemned HMG’s inaction and concluded only government-to-government negotiations could resolve the issue. Despite this, and to date, HMG still refuses to act.
This brings us to the appointment in 2019 of William Shawcross as a Special Envoy tasked with reporting to HMG on how to progress the victims’ claims. Mr. Shawcross presented his 90-page report to the Foreign Secretary in March last year.
After a year of the victims demanding the report be published, this week, the FCDO announced it cannot do so. They claim this is because it was commissioned as an internal scoping report. This ignores the fact that Boris Johnson had proposed the Special Envoy’s appointment on the basis that their findings could be utilised by and shared with the victims and their representatives. They also forget to mention that, under Mr. Shawcross’ terms of reference, publication was always at the discretion of the Foreign Secretary. It’s not that the FCDO cannot do so, they will not do so. Why?
From his testimony before the ongoing Inquiry on Wednesday, it is clear that Mr. Shawcross is frustrated too. His sympathy for the victims was also evident.
Mr. Shawcross revealed to the Inquiry that he could reveal very little for fear of breaching his 'contract' with the FCDO. However, despite his effective gagging, what we did learn is that, once again, HMG has kowtowed to someone opposing the victim’s best interests, but to who? First it was Gaddafi, then the Americans then Big Oil, then the new Libyan government. But whose interests have HMG prioritised over the victims this time?
Mr. Shawcross revealed to the Inquiry that he had been warned off by ‘senior politicians’ in Northern Ireland. They told him: his work wasn’t “justified”; Libya’s arming of the IRA is history; the evidence against the perpetrators too old; to do so would reopen old wounds; compensating only one group of victims would upset the peace process.
‘Senior politicians’ can only refer to Unionists or Nationalist politicians, or the Northern Ireland Office. Our own experience of representing the victims is of help and support from politicians on both sides of the divide. When we started this campaign decades ago, we went to great lengths to ensure that any compensation beyond the damages to the individual claimant-victims went to cross-community and border schemes aimed at reconciliation.
The only antagonism and negativity the victims’ campaign faced was from the NIO. Its rationale was that the case would upset Sinn Fein and the peace process. In turn, the FCDO and Downing Street sought to drown the victims in tea and sympathy and kick the issue into the long grass (the recent report being another example of a year’s delay). As one victim told us this week: “We can make our own tea. What we need is the Government to actually do something meaningful”.
Let's be clear. Securing just compensation from a state sponsor of terrorism for the harm and loss it caused to British citizens does not upset the peace process. Refusing to address and acknowledge the sins of the past for self-serving political gain does. Moreover, this is not an issue that effects just Northern Ireland. Many of the victims are on the mainland and tired of Belfast politics blocking a just resolution.
HMG’s trembling before such ‘senior politicians’ is a national shame and embarrassment. The USA, France and Germany have all successfully secured compensation for their victims of Gaddafi’s terror campaign against the West. It is only HMG’s cowardice that prevents the UK from doing the same. At the very least, these ‘senior politicians’ seeking to deny the victims’ hopes and justice from in the shadows should be outed and have their hollow concerns subjected to transparent scrutiny by the victims.