Can the Past Be Policed? Lessons from the Historical Enquiries Team Northern Ireland
Law and Social Challenges, Vol. 11, Spring/Summer 2009
56 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2009
Date Written: June 25, 2009
In the aftermath of conflict, victims often desire answers to unanswered questions about the tragic death of their loved ones. Internationally the favoured mechanism for addressing the legacy of conflict is a truth commission. These processes are tasked with establishing two levels of "truth": macro and micro. It is generally accepted that truth commissions are more adept at delivering the "bigger picture" or macro level truths. A fundamental weakness is their inability to satisfy the majority of victims' needs for micro level information, and this remains unfinished business in many post truth commission societies. Using a case study of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) Northern Ireland, this article explores how societies in transition might address victims' quest for "the truth." The HET was set up by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to re-examine deaths attributable to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Victims' families are said to be at the heart of the process, and wherever possible all their unanswered questions will be answered. The HET is an innovative process and a unique concept in policing internationally. This article draws on over two and a half years of empirical research and unprecedented access to the HET/PSNI. The author reflects on what kinds of lessons and insights can be drawn, and whether or not the HET concept is a model for other countries in transition.
Keywords: dealing with the past, Historical Enquiries Team, Northern Ireland, HET
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