“All the people wanted in their hands was a pencil”
While finishing up our last tour about human rights in Northern Ireland, our tour guide told us about his story from living in the Troubles. He pulled out a bullet and began to explain how the human rights of Nationalist were violated. How peaceful means of trying to get justice weren’t working. And how they had to take bullets into their hands when all they wanted was a pencil. A pencil they could use to have a fair say in a democratic government. Ultimately, “they just wanted a vote”. The importance of equality and proper human rights for to everyone is vital for peace. As he talked about how Nationalist felt they were forced to go to extreme lengths to defend their human rights, he held up the bullet in his hand. As he continued, he talked about how they never wanted to be forced to use violence but had felt they had endured enough suffering and hoped this method would help them to hold a pencil in hand someday instead. As he held up a short, brown pencil, I felt my heart go out to him and all those who went through such intense suffering. This trip has taught me a lot about how complicated the historical issues and human rights issues are in Northern Ireland. Additionally, it had shown me how deeply these issues have affected those living in Northern Ireland. I think the importance and necessity of fair human rights and fair government to be directly linked to a world filled with more peace and justice is an extremely important message.
The daily details:
Another big topic we learned about today is the continuing issue of injustice with the government that many citizens still face even after the Good Friday Agreement had been passed. This issue has to do with police reform and how old the issues are that stemmed from the way the police force and government operated during the Troubles. The protection of past police force’s reputation connects to the issue documents not being released although they would disclose truthful evidence of the horrible acts that were committed. Many documents are labeled non-disclosure due to the excuse of national security. We listened to individuals working to piece the truth together say, “national security is the only reason to not release a document…so they use this to prevent national embarrassment.” The issue of reputation verse revealing the truth continues to be an issue that separates people. This issue raises many questions dealing with people’s loyalties, morals, and values. For those who often side with the reputations of past members of the British Army and the overall reputation of the British Empire being more important often side with withholding the evidence. On the other side, those who want truth for all, and connect that to be justice for families want to see the information released. Ultimately, there are still issues that continue to go on and battle for truth continues to be peacefully fought by those living in Northern Ireland.
While discussing the process of truth recovery the similarities between the case in Northern Ireland and other issues where human’s rights are or were violated began to unfold. While comparing these issues, the comment made by an individual from Northern Ireland was, “we shouldn’t be so shocked at what ISIS has done…because the British have done it in earlier years. They continued to talk about how beheading, gun violence, and waterboarding were all methods the British Army used against other groups of people in the past. Part of the truth recovery process is uncovering what went on behind closed doors during the times of the Troubles. The used of torture, unfortunately, was one method used. While talking with this individual, we discussed how people would be tortured to such extreme that they didn’t understand to what extent they had been hurt since they couldn’t understand the extent of what had happened to them. As they began to learn more and more research was conducted on the truth of the situation, the realization of how much these people’s human rights were violated came forward. Additionally, we discussed the importance of offering help to those affected in order to deal with the unimaginable suffering they have endured.
As the people in Northern Ireland work toward uniting Nationalist and Loyalist and work to break down the mental walls that have held strong in the minds of people in both parties for centuries, the issue of power is important to take into consideration. While listening to an individual who works at the Pat Finucane Center, he discussed how the issue of power impact how information is released and how truth is told about the times of the Troubles. He said, “I am not religious…I do not believe in god anymore… [this issue] has to do with power. The topic of power came up while discussing the remaining imbalance of governmental documents and records from the Troubles being withheld in order to save the reputation of past British soldiers. The speaker went on to say that both sides, “violated human rights”, but while members in the IRA are willing to participate in the truth-telling process, the British Army still wishes to withhold information in order to protect the reputations of their soldiers and top commanders. This creates a power struggle and sense of injustice for those who have reached the point of asking for the truth to be their closure (instead of prosecution or along with prosecution). Organizations like the Pat Finucane work tirelessly to help piece together the truth in order to break through the power that allows the government to still withhold information.
Overall, this trip has continued to introduce me to how deeply complex the issues in Northern Ireland are and how closely these human’s rights issues connect to other human’s rights issues across the world. I personally believe that the issues here should strike up some internal reflection in everyone’s mind regarding their views of truth, justice, and the human rights of everyone.