Monday, July 28, 2008

Abortion raised in Report of UN Human Rights Committee Examination of Ireland

Irish Times July 24th 2008

· State urged to control suspected rendition flights
THE UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva has called on the Government to establish a regime for the control of suspected rendition flights through its airports, and has also urged an amendment to the keynote article of the Constitution dealing with the family to ensure its wording is "gender-neutral".

The international committee of jurists has also urged amendments to the recent Immigration Bill to ensure the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers are protected, and to remove provisions in the legislation that would allow for summary deportation even in cases that are being reviewed or where appeals have been lodged in the courts.

The UN committee has also thrown its weight behind criticisms of overcrowding and "slopping out" conditions in Irish prisons.

These are among 19 recommendations in the committee's concluding observations on Ireland's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which have been seen by The Irish Times.

The observations follow two days of questioning in Geneva last week of the Government on its compliance with the covenant, which it signed in 1989. The Government was represented by the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, and the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Sean Aylward.

The committee praised various measures taken by the Government since 1989, including the Mental Health Act in 2001, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, and the establishment of a Human Rights Commission, the Garda Ombudsman Commission, the Equality Authority and the Equality Tribunal.

However, it recommended measures to ensure the effective functioning of the Garda Ombudsman Commission and to enhance the independence of the Human Rights Commission by increasing its resources and making it directly answerable to the Oireachtas. At the moment it falls under the responsibility of the Department of Justice.

This recommendation comes as news emerged yesterday of a proposal that the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority be merged with a number of other bodies, including the Disability Authority, the Data Protection Commissioner and the Equality Tribunal.

The Irish Human Rights Commission yesterday responded to this suggestion by recalling its position under the Belfast Agreement, and stressed that any changes should comply fully with the letter and spirit of the agreement, and in no way undermine human rights protection.

The UN committee also urged the Government to ensure the Civil Partnership Bill will include tax and welfare benefits. It called for the reinforcement of measures to ensure equality between women and men, including more funding for the institutions established to promote it.

It recommended that the State bring its abortion laws into line with the articles in the covenant dealing with the right to life and equality between men and women, so that women did not have to resort to illegal or unsafe abortions.

It outlined a number of recommendations for amendments to the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, including the outlawing of summary removal, full access to early and free legal representation and an independent appeals procedure. The Minister for Justice should not appoint members of the new Protection Review Tribunal, it stated.

Welcoming the observations, Irish Council for Civil Liberties deputy director Tanya Ward urged the Government to immediately acknowledge these concerns and address them in a substantive and meaningful way.

· UN committee not accepting Ireland's excuses for inaction on human rights
"Much done, more to do" describes the UN Human Rights Committee's observations on Ireland's human rights record, writes Carol CoulterLegal Affairs Editor

IN THE 19 years since Ireland signed up to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights much progress has been made, as the UN committee charged with overseeing it acknowledges in its third progress report on Ireland. It identifies about 19 areas where compliance should be improved.

This follows the third report from the Government, as part of the monitoring process that goes with signing up to the covenant. Every five years a report is submitted by the signatory, known as the "State party", followed by a questioning of government representatives at a meeting in Geneva.

The UN committee is assisted in its questioning by the preparation of a "Shadow Report" by human rights NGOs. That meeting took place last week, where Ireland, represented by the Attorney General Paul Gallagher and the secretary general of the Department of Justice Seán Aylward, sought to defend Ireland's record.

It is clear from the final observations, issued yesterday, that many of Ireland's excuses for inaction or lack of provision were not accepted, and a number of both policy and structural changes in its human rights machinery have been recommended. Action is urged in the following areas:


While welcoming the establishment of the Irish Human Rights Commission, the committee regretted the limited resources of the commission as well as its administrative link to a Government department (Justice). It urged strengthening of the independence and capacity of the Irish Human Rights Commission by endowing it with adequate and sufficient resources, and linking it to the Oireachtas.


The committee, while noting the State party's intention to adopt legislation on a Civil Partnership Bill, expressed concern that no provisions on taxation and social welfare are proposed. It is concerned the State party has not recognised a change of gender by transgender persons by allowing revised birth certificates for these persons.


The committee, while noting efforts by the State party in combating domestic violence, is still concerned about continuing impunity due to high rates of complaint withdrawal, and few convictions. It regrets the lack of gender-based statistics on complaints, prosecutions and sentences in matters of violence against women.


The committee was concerned that, despite considerable progress in recent years, inequalities between women and men continue to persist in many areas of life, and urged increased funding for the institutions established to promote and protect gender equality.


The State party should introduce a definition of "terrorist acts" in legislation, limited to offences which can justifiably be equated with terrorism and its consequences. It urged the State party to establish a regime for control of suspicious flights and to ensure all allegations of so-called renditions are publicly investigated.


The committee reiterated its concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State party. While noting the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, the committee regrets that the progress in this regard is slow.


The committee said the State party should take measures to ensure effective functioning of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. The State party should give full effect to rights of suspects to contact counsel before, and to have counsel present during, interrogation.


The committee has numerous concerns about prisoners. Overcrowding and "slopping out" of human waste should be priority issues, it said.


It expressed concern at the requirement that judges take a religious oath, and that most primary schools were denominational, and urged that alternative non-denomination primary education be available.


It expressed concern at a number of aspects of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill over summary deportation, absence of an immediate right to legal assistance and independence of the appeals procedure.

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