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Libya update

Statement made on 23 March 2021

Statement UIN HCWS874


In March 2019, the then Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, appointed Mr William Shawcross as his Special Representative on UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism. Mr Shawcross was commissioned to write an internal scoping report on the subject of compensation for UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism. Mr Shawcross submitted his report in March 2020.

The Government thanks Mr Shawcross for his report. Since it was commissioned as an internal scoping report, to provide internal advice to Ministers, and draws on private and confidential conversations held by Mr Shawcross, the Government will not be publishing the report.

These important issues have needed careful and thorough consideration across Government given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues raised.

The UK Government reiterates its profound sympathy for UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism and indeed for all victims of the Troubles. We recognise the pain and suffering of victims of violent crime, including terrorism, and provide publicly funded support and compensation schemes for those affected.

The UK Government is clear that the primary responsibility for the actions of the IRA lies with the IRA. Nevertheless, the Qadhafi regime’s support for the IRA was extensive. It is widely documented in the public domain. It involved money, weapons, explosives and training from the 1970s onwards. It helped fuel the Troubles in Northern Ireland and enhanced the IRA’s ability to carry out attacks in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The responsibility for providing compensation specifically for the actions of the Qadhafi regime lies with the Libyan State. The Government has therefore repeatedly urged the Libyan authorities, including at the highest levels of the Libyan government, to engage with UK victims and their representatives, and to address their claims for compensation.

However, there are clear practical difficulties in obtaining compensation from Libya for Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism. The conflict, political instability and economic instability that have prevailed in Libya for most of the last ten years since the fall of the Qadhafi regime present particular challenges.

Mr Shawcross has considered these issues, including the difficulties of defining UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism given the extensive nature of Libyan support for the IRA, and the range of proposals for providing compensation to victims. The Government has reflected fully on these issues. The Government’s considered view is that an additional, UK-funded mechanism for providing compensation to victims of the Troubles would not provide accountability for the specific role of the Qadhafi regime in supporting the IRA.

Mr Shawcross also considered whether compensation for UK victims should be funded from Libyan frozen assets in the UK. Under international law, when assets are frozen, they continue to belong to the designated individual or entity. Frozen assets may not be seized by the UK Government.

In implementing financial sanctions, the UK is obliged to comply with the relevant United Nations obligations. UN Security Council Resolution 2009 (2011) states that the aim of the Libya financial sanctions regime is “to ensure that assets frozen pursuant to resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011) shall as soon as possible be made available to and for the benefit of the people of Libya”. There is also no legal basis for the UK to refuse the release of frozen assets once conditions for delisting or unfreezing those assets set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2009 of 2011 are met.

Therefore, regrettably, the UK has no legal basis to seize frozen Libyan assets or to refuse the release of frozen assets. The Government cannot lawfully use Libyan assets frozen in the UK to provide compensation to victims.

The UK Government has also considered whether it should provide compensation to victims from public funds, which it may subsequently recoup from Libya. The responsibility for providing compensation specifically for the actions of the Qadhafi regime is the direct responsibility of the Libyan State. It is not therefore for the UK Government to divert UK public funds specifically for this particular purpose.

Victims of violent crime, including terrorism, occurring in Great Britain can access the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, funded by the UK Government, subject to eligibility criteria and time limits. Bereaved family members can access bereavement and funeral payments. In Northern Ireland, victims have access to the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. The Troubles Permanent Disablement Scheme, to be delivered by the Northern Ireland Executive, will provide acknowledgement payments to people living with permanent physical or psychological disablement resulting from being injured in Troubles-related incidents. Details of when the scheme will be open for applications, and how people can apply, will be published by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The UK will continue to press the Libyan authorities to address the Libyan State’s historic responsibility for the Qadhafi regime’s support for the IRA.