Dublin, 30 August 2019
On the International Day of the Disappeared, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has reiterated our call for the government to ratify the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances (CED). It is essential that government appropriately address the potential enforced disappearance of hundreds, if not thousands, of children from mother and baby homes and the ongoing legacy of harm caused by this.
In particular, we point to the failure to locate the burial site of 836 children at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and the failure to exhume the burial place of 796 children at Tuam as two examples of practices that could constitute enforced disappearances in this country.
A roadmap to deal with Enforced Disappearances
The CED provides a roadmap for dealing with enforced disappearances. In its failure to implement this treaty, the government is missing an opportunity to follow international best practice in dealing with these gravest of human rights violations. Most worryingly, in continuing to pursue a policy of secrecy and even censorship of survivors, Ireland risks failing to ever bring the perpetrators of these rights violations to justice.
Obligation to Investigate
If it ratified CED, the State would be obliged to locate the remains of the 836 children who are missing from the Bessborough Home. It would also be obliged to prevent the withholding of information and to impose sanctions on those who have information and do not share it. The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has said they believe information was withheld from them, and indeed that Church bodies provided information which was “speculative, inaccurate and misleading”.
CED would require investigators to have the necessary powers and resources to conduct the investigation effectively. Through its continuing failure to compel witnesses to give evidence to processes of investigation, the State is helping to hide the truth and ensuring families of the disappeared remain in the dark.
Criminal Accountability for Perpetrators
If it ratified CED, the State would also be obliged to hold the perpetrators of these human rights violations criminally accountable. ICCL is concerned that the government’s current strategy of investigation is hindering future access to evidence, and thereby preventing prosecutions, by prioritising secrecy over transparency.
Evidence to be sealed for 75 years
We are particularly concerned that the Retention of Records Bill, which is currently passing through the Oireachtas, will seal evidence given to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee for 75 years. This is particularly worrying given that An Garda Síochána could not carry out prosecutions stemming from the Ryan report because of the Commission’s similar terms of reference. In 2016, when the UN Committee Against Torture demanded to know why there had been no prosecutions, the State reported that the perpetrators identified in that report could not be named.
By knowingly continuing with its strategy of burying evidence, the State is set to repeat the abrogation of its responsibility to bring perpetrators to justice.
Illegal adoptions and possible Child Trafficking
This approach to potential evidence of criminal wrongdoing is inexcusable, particularly given all that has come to light over the past year, including the falsification of adoption certificates, the possibility that the state was complicit in what could be considered child trafficking, and the ongoing struggle of adoptees to access their basic information, including birth certificates. ICCL has repeatedly called for information to be provided to those who were illegally or forcibly adopted in Ireland during the twentieth century but the State has yet to respond appropriately.
Despite numerous apologies and gestures towards restorative justice for survivors of the cruel and inhumane system of institutionalisation of the most vulnerable in this country, the State is still not living up to its obligations to survivors or families of victims. It must act to properly address the ongoing legacy and harm caused by the range of human rights violations that occurred in these institutions.
Notes for editors:
The government has signed but not ratified the CED. This means it has signalled its intent to comply with the treaty but is not yet legally bound by it. ICCL has previously called for government to ratify CED.
Full text of CED: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/ced/pages/conventionced.aspx
For media queries:
Sinéad Nolan: firstname.lastname@example.org 087 4157162