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6th March 2017, 17:05:31 UTC

Committee expresses concern at treatment of historical abuses, including Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes and symphysiotomy

Amnesty International today called for urgent action by the Irish Government after the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women published its assessment of its women’s rights record. The Committee’s concluding observations on Ireland’s sixth and seventh reports included a strong condemnation of Ireland’s abortion laws which violate the human rights of women and girls in Ireland. It also contradicts the Government’s assertions that it has dealt appropriately with historical abuses against women and children.

“Ireland has again been told that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which places foetal life on a par with a pregnant woman’s, impedes women’s human rights. Criminalising abortion except where a woman’s or girl’s life it at risk, carrying a possible prison sentence of 14 years, is unacceptable. It will come as no surprise that this Committee has found Ireland’s abortion laws do not respect women’s rights and that the Constitution is no excuse. Ireland has now been told this by four UN human rights committees in four years. This comes just four months after the Government accepted the UN Human Rights Committee’s findings that it subjected Amanda Mellet to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in forcing her to travel for an abortion. The Irish Government is under an immediate obligation to bring Irish law into compliance with international human rights law. This requires the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. For as long as the Eighth Amendment is in place, Ireland remains in serious violation of the human rights of women and girls. While the Citizens’ Assembly process established by the government to review the Eighth Amendment has served as a useful discussion forum, the government can and must schedule a referendum. As it happens, the majority of people in Ireland favour expanded access to abortion,” said Fiona Crowley, Research and Legal Manager, Amnesty International Ireland.

This report comes after Amnesty International Ireland presented to the government-established Citizens’ Assembly yesterday, calling for the members to recommend a full repeal of the Eighth Amendment, full decriminalisation of abortion, and the introduction of a human rights compliant framework for access to and information about abortion.

Committee expresses concern at treatment of historical abuses
Amnesty International also called on the Government to heed the Committee’s concern at how it has deal with historical abuses regarding the Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes and the medical procedure of symphysiotomy.

“Yet again, Ireland has been told by a UN Committee that its 2013 Inter-Departmental Committee review of the Magdalene Laundries does not constitute an independent, thorough and effective investigation of all alleged human rights abuses against women and girls. We sincerely hope that the government will stop pretending its 2013 review is enough, and will finally put in place the independent investigation and redress these women, and their families, deserve. Equally, Ireland must take action on the Committee’s call for an independent investigation to identify, prosecute and punish any medical professionals or bodies that performed symphysiotomies on women without their consent. The Committee’s criticism of the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation into alleged abuses in Mother and Baby Homes must also be heeded. The Committee’s comments are particularly timely given last week’s confirmation that deceased children’s remains were buried in an unmarked site on the grounds of a former home,” said Fiona Crowley.

Amnesty International also called for implementation of the Committee’s recommendations on trafficking, exploitation of sex workers, and violence against women.

“Given the Committee’s concern at the low prosecutions and conviction rates for trafficking, we urge the Government to prioritise this over pursuing sex workers and non-abusive clients under new and existing prostitution laws. Our concerns that Ireland’s criminalising the purchase of sexual services without adequately reviewing the impact of the current law on sex workers, is borne out by today’s remarks by the Committee.  We welcome the Committee’s call for better exit programmes so that those who want to leave sex work can do so. We also echo the Committee’s call for Ireland’s ratification of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention. Ratifying this would provide important oversight and guidance for the state in providing assistance, support and protection to women subjected to gender-based violence,” said Fiona Crowley.

Ireland was commended for introducing the Gender Recognition Act, 2015, which provides that, from 16 years of age, the preferred gender of a person will be fully recognised. However, the Committee found that medically irreversible and unnecessary sex-assignment surgery and other treatments are performed on intersex children. Finally, Amnesty International notes with welcome that Ireland has already met one recommendation by the Committee, that the Traveller community be recognised as an ethnic group.

Notes to editor:

The Committee is a body of 23 experts on women’s issues from around the world that monitors states’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which Ireland ratified in 1985.

Amnesty International’s submission to the Committee in advance of Ireland’s review is available here.

The Amnesty International/Red C Research & Markets poll was conducted in February 2016 to establish a deeper understanding of public attitudes to Ireland’s laws on abortion. The poll’s complete findings are available here.