IRELAND IS RECOGNIZED as having a strong record of promoting human rights around the world. This week, Ireland’s own human rights record will be considered by the United Nations (UN) during a two-day hearing in Geneva. Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality will appear before the United Nations Human Rights Committee which monitors how countries comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Ireland ratified the ICCPR in 1989 and in doing so agreed to be bound by its legal standards. Ratification committed Ireland to adopt laws and measures to give effect to the human rights set out in the Covenant and to protect all people, especially the most vulnerable. The human rights set out in the ICCPR are based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and include the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, freedom of expression, religious freedom and the protection of minority rights. .
Ireland’s fourth appearance
This is the fourth time that Ireland will appear before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a group of 18 independent human rights experts from around the world. Prior to the hearing, these experts will study detailed reports provided by the Irish government and civil society organizations in the form of ‘shadow reports’.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Designate (IHREC Designate) actively engaged in the monitoring process and provided a detailed communication to the Committee. Our report examines Ireland’s performance against its international civil and political rights obligations, highlighting both progress and shortcomings since Ireland last appeared before the UN Committee in 2008.
Long standing issues
Progress has been made on equality in marriage, including the government’s commitment to hold a referendum to amend the Constitution. Advances in gender equality include legislation for gender recognition and the introduction of quotas in politics, although more changes are needed at the constitutional level. Regulation of access to legal termination of pregnancy is welcome, as are measures to protect survivors of trafficking.
However, action is needed in a number of areas, some of which are long-standing issues where change has been slow or non-existent. It is regrettable that the State has not incorporated the ICCPR into Irish law despite numerous recommendations from the UN Committee.
This may seem like an academic point. After all, the Constitution protects our human rights, doesn’t it? While it is true that the Constitution protects certain rights, serious shortcomings remain with regard to remedies and many of these have been exposed in Irish cases before the European Court of Human Rights. More recently, Louise O’Keeffe won her case against the state for failing to protect her from abuse at a national school.
Systemic delay in the processing of asylum applications
Time and time again, we see difficulties in conducting effective and timely investigations that meet human rights standards and lead to effective redress for victims, for example the Madeleine Laundry. With the Commission of Inquiry into Homes for Mothers and Babies, the state has the opportunity to develop a robust inquiry grounded in human rights and equality.
The IHREC Designee views the systemic delay in processing asylum claims as an undue hardship that threatens people’s basic dignity. A process that is expected to take six months can last between five and ten years and sees families struggling in cramped conditions with little money, privacy or access to work or education. A single application process for all who seek protection that leads to timely and fair outcomes is long overdue.
Travelers to Ireland continue to experience significant discrimination and disadvantage in their lives. Recognition of ethnicity would provide the Traveler community with greater protection of human rights and the Oireachtas Commission on Justice, Defense and Equality has called for this unequivocally. Now is the time for the government to act. The Roma community faces a similar pattern of discrimination and requires immediate attention from the state.
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Gender-Based Violence and Prisons
Domestic, sexual and gender-based violence remains a serious problem and adequate and appropriate measures are needed to protect women, especially vulnerable groups such as Traveler women, migrant women, women seeking asylum and women disabilities.
Overcrowding and “dropout” continue to be the most pressing issues affecting inmates. The development of non-custodial sanctions as an alternative to imprisonment is a step forward. Such initiatives have the potential to reduce prison populations and address chronic overcrowding and inter-prisoner violence; benefiting both prisoners and prison staff. All assaults or deaths in custody must be clearly documented and all investigations conducted rigorously, independently and transparently.
When Ireland’s hearing is complete, the UN Human Rights Committee will issue its “Concluding Observations” on Ireland’s case. These recommendations outline the changes needed to comply with the Covenant and ensure that Ireland is a leader in human rights at home and abroad. We will follow Ireland’s progress closely.
David Joyce is Head of the IHREC delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the occasion of Ireland’s fourth periodic report on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority merge to become the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
Follow the ICCPR proceedings on July 14-15 @IreHumanRights #ICCPR