Raising the question of torture in Ireland


Sir, – We represent some of the NGOs John McManus writes of in ill-informed and disparaging terms (“Irish civic bodies misuse the Committee against Torture”, Opinion, August 2nd).

Last week, Ireland was reviewed by the UN Committee that oversees the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. While citing the convention’s full name, Mr McManus insists that only ill-treatment that meets the threshold of torture should be the committee’s concern.

He further asserts that only “torture as a political tool” properly comes within the committee’s mandate. But nowhere does the convention say that.

Also, it is he – not the committee – who finds certain groups undeserving of the convention’s protection against ill-treatment. To trigger this convention’s application, it is the severity of physical or mental suffering caused by a state act or omission that matters.

So Mr McManus is mistaken in thinking prisoners in solitary confinement, women experiencing sexual or domestic violence, older people forced to remain in nursing homes against their will and sedated to keep them quiet, those detained and abused in institutions as children, or women trapped in Magdalene Laundries and forced into harsh labour, did not suffer enough to come within this committee’s mandate.

He is wrong too in criticising the committee’s questioning the State delegation about Ireland’s prohibition and criminalisation of abortion, and the impact of Ireland’s abortion laws on women. In Mellet v Ireland and Whelan v Ireland, the UN Human Rights Committee held that the mental anguish caused to two women denied access to abortions when they discovered their pregnancies were unviable, forcing them to travel to the UK instead, amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

And even within his own (wholly incorrect) construct, that only acts such as waterboarding political prisoners should be this committee’s concern, he does not think prohibiting US rendition flights from taking people to be waterboarded cuts it.

Far from us misusing UN treaty monitoring bodies, they rely on information from civil society organisations. For obvious reasons, states are generally not terribly forthcoming about the harm they cause, even when unintentionally. For instance, only through us will they learn of the full-term pregnant woman taken to the High Court by the HSE seeking an order indemnifying its sedating and restraining her to perform an involuntary C-section.

Neither the Government nor UN fund us to attend these reviews.

We go because, where the State may not always heed us when we call for respect for the rights and dignity of our older people, our women, our children, our prisoners, our asylum seekers, our people with disabilities or mental health difficulties, it might listen to the UN. We would be entirely remiss in our duties if we were not to fully utilise these mechanisms.

Inevitably, on August 11th, the Committee Against Torture will raise the concerns brought to it by the NGOs in Geneva last week, and find Ireland noncompliant with its convention obligations. It will make concrete recommendations for improvement. It will not have yielded to our “semantic gymnastics”, but have done its job as the drafters of the convention (including Ireland) intended.

One of the committee members asked the Irish officials (in the context of abortion) if people in Ireland know about the convention, and if the Government disseminates information about its international obligations. Mr McManus has demonstrated the prescience of this question. – Yours, etc,


Founder & FIONNA FOX,

Solicitor, Reclaiming Self;


Executive Director,

Amnesty International


Founder, Ár Guth Ár

Gcearta; MARIE

O’CONNOR, Chairperson,

Survivors of



Family Planning

Association; PHILOMENA

CANNING, Chairperson,

Midwives for Choice; JANE

MULCAHY, Producer,

“Humanising Human

Rights” radio project,

Dublin 2.