Amnesty International has welcomed the announcement today by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, of a statutory Commission of Investigation into so-called ‘mother and baby homes’ across the State.
“We very much welcome the decision by the Government to put in place a statutory investigation into mother and baby homes. The decision to extend the investigation to all such institutions is especially welcome”, said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director Amnesty International Ireland.
“Much is already known about the homes, evidence of high mortality rates has existed for many decades, concerns about possible abuses related to vaccine trials have been known for many years, and allegations related to forced adoption and ill-treatment have steadily emerged over the past twenty years.
“The Commission of Investigation must inquire into all such allegations of ill-treatment of women and children in mother and baby homes and other similar institutions run by the state or religious authorities.”
The international human rights framework of law emerged during the period in which these institutions were in operation. The European Convention on Human Rights came into force in 1953, and many of the allegations of human rights abuses relate to years when the convention was in force. Even before then, Ireland was aware of the internationally agreed norms expected of it in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The timely nature of this announcement is notable. Any protracted delay in putting in place an independent and effective investigation would have been a further disservice to the women who found themselves placed in these institution, and the children who were born, lived and in many cases died there”, said Colm O’Gorman.
States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right of victims of human rights violations to an effective remedy. This obligation includes three elements:
- Truth: establishing the facts about violations of human rights that occurred in the past;
- Justice: investigating past violations and, if enough admissible evidence is gathered, prosecuting the suspected perpetrators;
- Reparation: providing full and effective reparation to the victims and their families, in its five forms: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
The Mother and Baby Homes system was in operation during the time in which the international human rights legal framework emerged. The European Convention on Human Rights came into force in 1953, and many of the allegations of human rights abuses in such institutions relate to years when the convention was in force. Even before then, Ireland was aware of the internationally agreed norms expected of it in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Also many norms such as the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment were considered binding on all States as customary law and peremptory norms. Such norms were therefore applicable in cases of children resident in institutions in periods pre-dating the ECHR and other human rights conventions.
The principle of ‘due diligence’ provides that where the State’s authorities knew or ought to have known of likely or actual violations of human rights, and failed to take appropriate steps to prevent the violations and/or investigate and punish the perpetrator(s), then the State bears responsibility for the violation.
So even where religious-run institutions would be viewed as non-state actors, the State is responsible for violations committed by those institutions not only where the State has been directly complicit, but also where the institution in question was exercising a public function, and/or where the State had failed to exercise due diligence in the prevention or investigation of likely or actual human rights violations of which the State had knowledge or ought to have had knowledge, and/or in any other circumstances as prescribed by domestic law or international human rights treaties to which Ireland is a party.