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:

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

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.

CIVIL PARTNERSHIP BILL

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.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

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.

EQUALITY

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.

COUNTER-TERRORISM

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.

ABORTION

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.

POLICING AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

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.

PRISONS

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

RELIGION

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.

IMMIGRATION

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.