In Northern Ireland, the impossible trial of "Bloody Sunday"

A soldier suspected of killing two protesters during the January 30, 1972 massacre must be tried from Wednesday. Of the eighteen soldiers involved, it is the only one to be prosecuted.

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During a protest in Derry, Northern Ireland, in March. NIALL CARSON / PA PHOTOS / ABACA

While the chaos of Brexit is likely to revive community tensions in Northern Ireland, the ghosts of the past continue to resurface.

Forty-seven years after the Bloody Sunday massacre, which had killed fourteen people in Derry, the preliminary hearing of the one and only soldier to be prosecuted will be held on Wednesday, 18 September. Nearly half a century after the fact, the outraged reactions of both sides remind us of how badly the wounds are closed.

Sunday, January 30, 1972. For the past three years, violence has been increasing in Northern Ireland. Republicans (who call for the unification of Ireland) are rebelling against the British "occupation" backed by Unionists (those who want to stay in the UK). In Derry (Londonderry for the second), a republican demonstration without violence takes place. The army intervenes and shoots the crowd. Thirteen people are killed, a fourteenth dies from his wounds a few months later.

The military immediately asserts that the demonstrators were armed and targeted legitimate targets. A report, written by Lord John Widgery, confirms a few months later this version of events, merely accusing the army of having acted "At the limit of irresponsibility".

Official apologies

The massacre is a turning point in Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), the paramilitary group, is gaining popularity. Stormont, the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly, in place since the 1920s, is suspended. London takes direct control of the region, and the "troubles" are experiencing their worst period. Nearly five hundred people died in 1972 alone.

For the families of the victims, an immense struggle for truth and justice begins. These win a victory with the opinion when the Irish band U2 writes his famous song Sunday Bloody Sunday, in the early 1980s. "Broken bottles under children's feet / Bodies strewn across the dead end street (…)/ the real battle's just started, sings Bono ("broken bottles under the feet of children / bodies that lie in dead ends / (…) the real battle has just begun").

At the end of the 1980s, a collective of families was set up. After a long struggle for influence, and thanks to the climate calmed by the Good Friday agreement, which ends the violence in 1998, the government of Tony Blair launches a major public inquiry into the massacre.

It will take twelve long years for the huge ten-volume report to be published, but it marks a symbolic victory for the victims. The army was responsible for the massacre and the demonstrators killed were unarmed, say the conclusions. Better still, Prime Minister David Cameron presents an official apology to the House of Commons. "It was unjustified and unjustifiable. "

"Private F" alone on the dock

Families got the truth and an apology. Now they are demanding justice. Their last battle, so long after the fact, is particularly difficult. What evidence to bring before a court of law? Were the soldiers only pawns of a maneuver that exceeded them or could they be pursued individually?

The court looked at twenty cases, including eighteen military and two IRA members. In March, she decided to pursue only one soldier, "F soldier," for two murders and four attempted murders. For the others, the evidence would not have been admissible by a court, say the prosecutors.

Read also Bloody Sunday: Kate Nash, the Keeper of Remembrance

This decision provoked strong reactions. "A deep disillusion," says the family spokesman. On the British side too, the annoyance is palpable. At the announcement of the lawsuit, Theresa May, then prime minister, promised to take over the defense of "soldier F". "The government will urgently reform the system that deals with historical cases, added Gavin Williamson, his defense minister. Our current and former staff can not live in constant fear of prosecution. "

Read also British soldier sued for "murder" forty-seven years after Bloody Sunday

The problem is all the more complex as the former terrorists of the IRA are today on quiet days. Some, accused of murdering soldiers, received letters from the British government promising that they would not be prosecuted, "In the absence of new evidence". A gesture very close to amnesty.

The 18 September hearing is only preliminary and it is not certain that the "F soldier" trial will finally take place. But the record recalls how difficult and painful it is to make peace.

See as well The families of the victims of the Bloody Sunday parade silently


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