The United Nations Committee Against Torture has met this week for its 61st session. You can see the latest updates and summary of reports here !
Full list of reports are available here: UNCAT61 Reports
Each report will be detailed over the course of the week. Please check back for updates.
Committee’s General Recommendations
The Committee issued its Concluding Observations today (11 August 2017). Here is a short summary of their findings:
- Positive observations
- Ireland has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The State has created the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission which functions as its human rights national institution.
- The Children (Amendment) Act 2015 repeals legislation allowing children to be imprisoned in adult prisons.
- The State closed St Patrick’s juvenile detention center.
- The Taoiseach apologized to the victims of Magdalen Laundries and set up a redress mechanism and fund.
- Areas for reform
- Ireland is still yet to ratify Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, despite signing it 10 years ago. As a result no national preventative mechanism exists.
- The State should commence section 9 Criminal Justice Act 2011 to grant those arrested right to access a lawyer during interrogation and initial interviews.
- Treatment of asylum seekers must be improved. Detention should be a last resort and asylum seekers should not be detained alongside criminals. The State should provide for adequate care of asylum seekers who had been subjected to torture or those with special needs. Adequate funding and resources should be provided for asylum seekers (including the right to free legal aid).
- The treatment of prisoners must be improved. Overcrowding and prison conditions must be addressed and improved greatly (including an end to “slopping out”). Non-custodial sentences should be considered and treatment of prisoner’s health and well-being improved.
- The Ryan Report into the use of industrial schools and detention centers should result in thorough investigation into the abuse that occurred in these centers. Redress to victims should be issued in kind.
- A thorough and impartial investigation into the treatment of young women in Magdalen Laundries should be launched immediately with redress being made available to victims.
- A thorough investigation into the treatment of women and children in the mother and baby homes should be launched immediately with redress being made available to victims.
- A through and impartial investigation should be launched into the use of symphysiotomies in women as soon as possible. Criminal sanctions should be issued to perpetrators of the procedure.
- The Domestic Violence Bill should be amended to criminalize physical and psychological abuse of partners. All complaints should be reported and thoroughly investigated by the police. Post abortion health care should be provided.
- The State should thoroughly investigate and subsequently prosecute the removal of girls from Ireland for the purposes of Female Genital Mutilation (more information on FGM can be found here)
- More resources should be provided for the care of elderly and persons with disabilities in residential care. Complaints should be thoroughly investigated and reported.
The next report due from Ireland is set to take place in 2021.
End of All Corporal Punishment of Children
Corporal punishment is the physical chastisement of children. Corporal punishment has been unlawful in most Irish settings for some decades now. It remains lawful, however, in the home (under common law) and in some alternative care settings.
Art 37 of the Children Act 1908 allowed for the “reasonable and moderation chastisement” in disciplining of children in the home. This was later repealed in the Children Act 2001 but the common law defense remains. Section 24 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 removes the common law criminal immunity of teachers who use corporal punishment.
Regulation 8 of the Child Care (PreSchool Services) Regulations 1996 prohibits the use of corporal punishment in preschool setting. Child minders, with up to three children in their care, are exempt from this regulation. This allows for the use of corporal punishment lawfully. The Guidance National Standards recommends against the use of corporal punishment of children in foster care. There is no direct legislation against its use, however.
The lack of total prohibition of corporal punihsment of children in Ireland has been brought to the attention of the Irish government on numerous occassions by international organisations. In 2011 the Committee Against Torture recommended the adoption of a total ban of corporal punishment in all settings in Ireland. In 1998 and 2008 the Committee for the Rights of the Child also recommended total prohibition.
The European Committee for Social Rights found Ireland to be in violation of Article 17 of the European Social Charter in 2003 by allowing the existence of the common law defense for the use of corporal punishment in the home.
In its Universal Periodic Report 2011 the Irish government acknolwedged the issue of corporal punishment and stated it was being continuously monitored and under review.
As with the Magdalene laundries below the ability of the Irish government to repeatedly ignore the recommendations of CAT is astounding. No matter how many international recommendations are made the Irish government is slow to take the advice and change Irish law.
Corporal punishment is, for the most part, unlawful in Ireland. Allowing for certain settings of corporal punishment is unacceptable, especially in foster care homes. Children have the right to protection by the State and the State’s failure to issue a wide and total ban of corporal punishment is violating that right.
6 years later and a total ban is still not in place. Hopefully, following this session the State will take advice and legislate against use of corporal punishment in all settings.
Justice for Magdalenes
Felice Gaers made a statement to the Committee on the treatment of the survivors of Magdalene laundries (established in 1922, the last laundry closed in 1996). The full statement can be read here: JFM Statement
The survivors have fought for many years for their treatment to be recognised as torturous, degrading and cruel. Following the report to the Committee in 2011 an investigation was launched leading to the McAleese Report which found the women to be held involuntarily in the laundries. The Taoiseach issued an apology in 2013.
The State announced that there is no basis to believe that serious harm was perpetrated against women of the laundries and required individual women to file complaints in order for an investigation to be launched, placing responsibility on the women themselves. There is evidence to suggest that those complaints made have not been investigated.
Diocesan archives were not fully investigated during the McAleese report and State files on the congregations that ran the laundries are not available to the public, with some of them destroyed. Pay outs of up to €22million have been made to survivors yet the State still refuses to accept liability for their treatment. Schoolgirls who worked in the laundries but were officially attending “residential school” have been denied redress. The redress scheme was also not widely advertised with only 11 claims from the US.
The State was asked to account for their deficiencies in investigation and their backtracking from the Taoiseach’s apology in 2013.
When researching Magdalene laundries, it is evident that these women were failed by the State. Women who fell pregnant outside of marriage, were suffering from mental illness, were considered too pretty or a temptation to men, and some women who were just unwanted by their families were sent to these “laundries”.
The Magdalene laundries were run mostly by the Sisters of Mercy and forced the women to work long hours, for no pay. They were often not allowed to talk but only sing hymns or pray during their work. They were treated terribly and were not allowed to leave the premises.
State funded businesses used the laundries and paid the nuns for the service. Gardai also aided nuns in tracking down and returning any girls who “escaped” the premises. Judges also sent female criminals to the laundries instead of prison for various reasons. These are the main reasons why the State should officially be held accountable for the treatment of these women, not to mention allowing such human rights violations to occur in the first place.
The fact that these women are still trying to get recognition for the hardship and cruelty they experience, decades after their captivity is so terrible. The Taoiseach acknowledged the states failure in 2013, with that should have been an acceptance of liability and redress to the survivors. Unfortunately the State still refuses to accept liability and the process for redress drags on.
By denying these ladies justice the State is wronging them again. They are denying them their rights once more. The cruelty experienced by these women is immeasurable, the lasting effects it had on them is horrific. Decades later the State has an opportunity to apologise yet still the UNCAT is hearing of their failures. I hope that this is the last time this will be highlighted to the Committee because this has gone on long enough. The State needs to accept responsibility for failing these women and allow them the justice they deserve.