IRELAND: Report identifies failure to protect Sex Workers’ Human Rights
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 unleashed numerous war crimes, generated a global energy and food crisis and sought to further disrupt a weak multilateral system. It also laid bare the hypocrisy of Western states that reacted forcefully to the Kremlin’s aggression but condoned or were complicit in grave violations committed elsewhere, Amnesty International said as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.
Shameless double standards and racism
Within days of the Russian invasion, the EU activated the ‘Temporary Protection Directive’ for the first time, providing immediate protection to displaced Ukrainians and some others fleeing Russian aggression. In doing so it demonstrated that, as one of the richest blocs in the world, it is more than capable of receiving large numbers of people seeking safety and providing them with quick access to accommodation, the labour market and education.
In contrast, people arriving at Europe’s borders seeking protection, and in particular racialised people who fled Afghanistan, Syria and sub-Saharan Africa, continued to face racism, torture and other ill-treatment including violent rejection at the borders.
“European nations have demonstrated that they know what they must do in response to people seeking international protection and, crucially, that they can do it. Instead of racism, violence, arbitrary detention, unlawful pushbacks, there must be compassion and compliance with international law. Instead of fortifying borders, authorities must open safe and legal routes for people seeking safety in Europe,” said Nils Muižnieks Amnesty International’s Europe Director.
Amnesty International’s Report also found Ireland wanting in key areas when it comes to human rights.
“Over 2022, we raised serious concerns about the state of human rights in Ireland. The disregard shown for the safety of sex workers through continued criminalisation of aspects of sex work, as well as the government’s dismal failure to provide truth, justice and reparation for women and children who had spent time in Mother and Baby Homes, are both grave wrongs,” said Fiona Crowley, Amnesty International Ireland’s interim Director for Human Rights.
Amnesty International Ireland also voiced concerns over the last year in relation to the proposed use of facial recognition technology by Garda in public spaces and, amid the escalating housing crisis, called again for a referendum on the constitutional right to housing.
Sex Workers at Risk
Research published by Amnesty in January 2022 shows that the criminalisation of aspects of sex work in Ireland has placed sex workers at higher risk of abuse and violence, including rape, and less able to trust gardaí. This in turn has created a “chilling effect” on sex workers’ exercise of their human rights. Amnesty International calls on the Irish authorities to listen to sex workers and decriminalise all aspects of sex work. The report of a three-year review of the 2017 law by the Department of Justice has still not been published.
Right to Truth, Justice & Reparation
Amnesty Interational supported the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) criticism of the state’s response to past abuse of women and children in state-funded institutions operated by religious orders, including Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries. The UN HRC called for a transitional justice mechanism to establish the truth of what happened in these institutions and to ensure effective remedies, including compensation.
Amnesty International also supported calls from the UN HRC for a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into past medial practice of symphysiotomy without women’s consent, and adequate redress for all women affected, including through the removal of barriers to accessing the state’s compensation scheme.
Right to Housing
Amid record numbers of people experiencing homelessness in the state, including asylum seekers, and concern over affordability and availability of housing, Amnesty International again called for a referendum on the constitutional right to housing.
Amnesty International, alongside NGOs and experts, raised concern at draft legislation proposing to introduce facial recognition technology for police law enforcement, including in public spaces.
Other findings from the Annual Report include:
For Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, 2022 was one of the deadliest years since the UN began systematically recording casualties in 2006, with at least 151 people, including dozens of children, killed by Israeli forces. Israeli authorities continued to force Palestinians from their homes, and the government is rolling out plans to drastically expand illegal settlements across the occupied West Bank. Instead of demanding an end to Israel’s system of apartheid, many Western governments chose to attack those denouncing it.
Ruthless repression of dissent
Several countries in Europe imposed arbitrary or disproportionate bans on protests. In Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, authorities banned protests commemorating wartime persecution, while Türkiye banned Pride marches and commemorations of victims of enforced disappearances. Authorities resorted to other restrictive measures, such as preventive detention (Sweden), excessive use of force (Serbia), severe fines (Slovenia), arbitrary arrests (Greece) and unfair dismissals of protest participants (Hungary). Many governments sought to punish acts of civil disobedience, especially by environmental protesters.
Iranian authorities responded to the unprecedented uprising against decades of repression with unlawful force through live ammunition, metal pellets, tear gas and beatings. Hundreds of people, including dozens of children, were killed. In Peru, security forces used unlawful force, especially against indigenous people and campesinos, to quell protests following the ousting of former president Castillo. Repression of journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition was also widespread across Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Technology was weaponised to silence and snoop on critics. Spyware was used to target journalists and opposition politicians in Spain, Poland and Greece. In Serbia, the government sought to introduce legislation facilitating biometric surveillance and data processing. In Switzerland and Ireland, NGOs raised concerns about draft legislation that would expand the powers of intelligence services in the former and introduce facial recognition technology in law enforcement in the latter. Türkiye’s Parliament passed a new disinformation law enhancing government powers over social media.
In response to growing threats to the right to protest, Amnesty International launched a global campaign in 2022 to confront states’ intensifying efforts to erode the fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly. As part of this Protect the Protest campaign the organisation calls for the adoption of a Torture-Free Trade Treaty banning the production and trade in inherently abusive law enforcement equipment.
Women bear brunt as states fail to protect rights at home
The rights of women saw both progress and setbacks. A court judgement from 2021 continued to severely limit access to abortion in Poland and activists were prosecuted for helping women get access to abortion pills. However, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain began removing some restrictions on accessing abortion and Malta began to discuss the possibility of termination if the woman’s life and health are at risk.
While levels of violence against women remained high across the region, Belgium, Finland and Spain moved towards reforming rape laws and enshrining the principle of consent. Ukraine and the UK ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), while the European Commission discussed a new directive on the same topic.
Discrimination and violence against LGBTI people in some countries was accompanied by judicial or legislative progress in others. LGBTI leaders in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Poland suffered attacks and/or threats. Courts in Croatia, Slovenia and Latvia upheld equality for LGBTI persons on issues such as adoption, gay marriage and the recognition of same sex couples, respectively. Spain passed a landmark trans recognition law. In contrast, the government in Hungary organised a referendum based on a 2021 anti-LGBTI law, while activists in Poland faced SLAPP suits and arbitrary detention.