Declassified files from the 1970s show that the British government planned to discredit Amnesty International in response to its work investigating the use of torture by British forces in Northern Ireland.
An internal Foreign Office memo from December 1971 proposes that the government release details of the “personal history and anti-British bias” of Thomas Hammarberg, the chairman of the Swedish branch of Amnesty, United Kingdom declassified reports.
Mr Hammarberg, who later received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Amnesty International in 1977, was leading an international delegation of human rights defenders in Belfast at the time of writing.
In the memo, RB Bone, an official with the Republic of Ireland’s Foreign Office, tells the Information Research Department (IRD) – a propaganda office – that Mr Hammarberg’s name is “well known to me from my days in Stockholm”. […] He was generally considered by the Embassy to be a nuisance”.
Mr Bone says he expects the delegation to conclude that the UK has “indeed been guilty of cruelties, atrocities etc. in Northern Ireland. He continues: “It might be useful at this stage if we were able to release details of Hammarberg’s personal history and anti-British bias to the press.”
A day later, another Foreign Office official named SJ Truesdale wrote to the IRD to confirm that they “have information on Hammarberg”. The following lines are redacted and the nature of the alleged information is unclear.
Responding to the United Kingdom declassified report, Grainne Teggart, campaign manager for Amnesty, said “the damning records reveal a shameful determination to keep human rights abuses hidden and an unscrupulous government willing to use libel tactics to cover up.”
“The UK government has a long and dark history of using propaganda to deflect its human rights abuses,” she said. “Our mission to Northern Ireland in the 1970s, led by our esteemed former colleague Thomas Hammerberg, was a watershed moment and uncovered the brutal use of torture by British state forces.
“Amnesty’s assessment has not changed in the years since. and that the treatment of those we investigated amounted to torture has been upheld by UK courts. It is appalling that the UK government has attempted to undermine the evidence of its use of torture by orchestrating a personal attack on a prominent human rights investigator.
“The government’s desire to aggressively avoid any spotlight on truth, justice and accountability is still something we are fighting against today. The current government is trying to legislate for a de facto amnesty in relation to the conflict in Northern Ireland and to place perpetrators – state and non-state – above the law and beyond accountability.
“This is part of a clear and chilling scheme to curtail our rights. Imminent plans to abolish and replace the Human Rights Act show intent to reduce the public’s ability to hold the government to account. government and public authorities.