Irish women are being denied human rights, says UN report

Rights committee’s report catalogues issues where Ireland fails to meet international standards

Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and Marie O’Connor, chairwoman of Survivors of Symphysiotomy. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and Marie O’Connor, chairwoman of Survivors of Symphysiotomy. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Fri, Jul 25, 2014, 01:06

Ireland should hold two referendums, including one on abortion, to bring its treatment of women in line with international human rights law, the United Nations has said.

In observations published yesterday on Ireland’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN’s Human Rights Committee also raises concerns about violence against children.

It formally called for the referendums on abortion and on the place of women in society.

The committee’s report says both the new abortion legislation and the Constitution must be revised to ensure women who are pregnant as a result of rape, incest or who have a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly have access to abortion if they choose it. It also calls for access to abortion where a woman’s health is at risk.

The concluding observations come after the fourth “periodic review” of Ireland’s compliance with the ICCPR, last week in Geneva. The 18-member committee heard from NGOs as well as from an Irish Government delegation, led by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. The covenant is a key human rights instrument guaranteeing fundamental rights.

Severely criticised

Throughout the hearings, committee members severely criticised Ireland’s treatment of women and children, in the past and now.

On the State’s stance on abortion, the committee rejected an argument that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, having come about after a long debate, complied with Article 25 of the covenant which protects the right to vote and self-determination, and so complied with the covenant.

Ireland rapporteur on the committee Yuval Shany said a majority vote in parliament could not be used to deny human rights to a section of society. To do so would amount to the “tyranny of the majority”, he said.

In its observations, the committee reiterates its “previous concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion owing to article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and its strict interpretation by the State party.” Article 40.3.3 guarantees to protect, as far as practicable, the equal right to life of the unborn and the pregnant woman.

The committee is concerned about the continued criminalisation of abortion in cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal anomaly and where there is a serious risk to a woman’s health.

On the issue of suicidality in a pregnant woman, the committee is concerned about the “excessive degree of scrutiny by medical professionals for pregnant and suicidal women leading to further mental distress”, demanded in the act.