The United Nations has proclaimed today to be International Day for the Right to Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. The date is significant, and pays homage to a fearless and outspoken advocate for human rights, Archbishop Oscar Anulfo Romero of El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980.
Here, in Ireland we are perhaps more acutely aware than others as to the significance and importance in having the right to truth. I have spent 29 years of my life, campaigning for that very right, for the truth into the state sanctioned murder of my father, human rights solicitor Patrick Finucane.
This case has perhaps become emblematic for the broader issue of accountability, and when we speak of accountability we’re talking about three things. Firstly the truth must be revealed in its entirety, no matter how difficult. Secondly, it must be officially acknowledged, so there is official recognition that the state bears a responsibility. Third, the lessons must be learned to prevent things like this from happening again in the future.
I am convinced that the controversy surrounding the murder of my father has not been properly resolved. I believe I am right in this, not just because of a broken promise by the British government to hold a public inquiry, but because of the unanswered questions that arise from his murder and the fact that no one within the British establishment has ever been made accountable for it.
Most of all, I believe I am right because of the unwavering support my family and I have had from the people of Belfast and beyond for the last 29 years. Many people have stood with us for all of those three decades, helping us, encouraging us, willing us on. This is why my family and I do what we do. This is why we keep going even though it isn’t easy. It is also why many people keep searching for the truth behind the killing of their relatives and friends, despite the cruel resistance they encounter from Britain and its government.
The constant reply from the state is that there can be no investigations and that we should look to the future because that is what is important. However, what the British government cannot or will not acknowledge is that until we know everything about our past then we cannot possibly equip ourselves to build a solid future.
It is true that our recent past was characterised and marred by violence. But it was also marred by a lack of transparency in government, the absence of proper accountability and the serial abuse by the state of our human rights.
The violence may have ceased but it is difficult to acknowledge improvement in other aspects until the state demonstrates change in a real way. One way of demonstrating that the change is real would be to establish a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.
There are so many people, who, like us, want to find out the truth behind Pat’s murder. It is unfinished business for them. It is unfinished business for us.
We want to know why. We want to know how. We want to know who.
We want to ask our own questions and to hear the answers for ourselves. We want to be able to read documents and understand the frameworks. Most of all, we want to be able to show them to the entire world so that everyone can know and learn what can be done by governments in the name of the people if we are not vigilant.
The British government likes to describe those of us who demand answers, who demand truth, as people who are stuck in the past and who lack an understanding of democracy. On the contrary, I believe those who are committed to holding the state to account for past actions understand democracy the best of all.