The State has been urged to ensure family members of children who were forcibly disappeared through adoption or unidentified burials while in institutional care are given information about their fate — and warned that a similar system in Spain constituted crimes against humanity.
On UN International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said enforced disappearance is widely considered one of the gravest possible human rights violations.
It said it is recognised in international law as a crime against humanity when widespread or systematic.
Under international law, an enforced disappearance occurs when a person is detained or abducted with the involvement of the State, following which the State refuses to disclose their fate or whereabouts.
“The State-sponsored system of forcibly separating unmarried mothers and their children during the 20th century appears to ICCL to involve ‘enforced disappearance’, one of the gravest violations of European and international human rights law,” said Liam Herrick, director of ICCL.
“Last year a European Parliament committee recognised that a similar system in Spain — that of the ‘stolen babies’ — constitutes crimes against humanity.
“Ireland needs to wake up to the seriousness of what is at stake.”
ICCL wants the State to provide statutory rights to information to all those who survived the Irish system, “including all people who were forcibly separated from their family members through the closed, secret adoption system in Ireland, as well as the family members of children who died in institutional care”.
“This means that the bodies of children in the Tuam grave must be exhumed, identified, and all possible information about their circumstances of death given to their family members,” it said.
Mr Herrick said it is simply not good enough that Galway County Council conducted a “straw poll” on what should be done in the Tuam case, including the option of covering over the site and placing a memorial there.
“The State is obliged to identify the children’s bodies, to conduct a full public investigation, and to provide guarantees that nothing like this can ever happen again.
“We know that there are mass unmarked graves of children in places other than Tuam.
"We have heard adopted people and many others who were forcibly separated from their family members call repeatedly for information about what happened to them and to their relatives.”
ICCL wants the Government to ratify the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which it has already signed.
The declaration states that enforced disappearances occur when “persons are arrested, detained, or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of government, or by organised groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent, or acquiescence of the government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law”.