UN urged to intervene in mother and baby homes scandal

UN urged to intervene in mother and baby homes scandal

KRW Law said it represented women forced to give their babies up for adoption, forced into working in Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools and children separated from their parents and placed in industrial schools.

The United Nations (UN) has been urged to intervene in the Government's handling of Bessborough and other former mother and baby home sites.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has written to Fabian Salvioli, the UN's special rapporteur on truth, justice and reparations to raise concerns about the mother and baby homes commission report and a proposed Burials Bill that would allow for the exhumation of remains at Tuam and other sites.

"We have alerted him to the real possibility that the government’s plan to deal with historic and ongoing rights violations will be insufficient to meet Ireland’s human rights commitments under international law, specifically the UN Framework on Transitional Justice," ICCL head of legal and policy, Doireann Ansbro said.

In its letter, the ICCL urges Mr Salvioli "to engage the Government of Ireland on its handling of institutional abuse allegations and approach to institutional burial sites" and specifically mentions the former Bessborough mother and baby home.

The group has asked the UN to ensure that the Government prevents any private developments on former mother and baby homes sites, including Bessborough, before ensuring proper exhumations that lead to identification of remains, establishment of cause of death and dignified burials have taken place.

"This is a pressing issue given the current planning permission applications," the group said.

The ICCL believes that the Institutional Burials Bill in its current form would "impede an effective investigation into the deaths of those buried at mass grave sites such as Tuam and Bessborough".

“The survivors of these homes deserve truth and justice – full, comprehensive justice that means they can rebuild their lives. The UN has a really clear blueprint for this, the transitional justice framework. But the government’s plan, and this proposed bill on grave exhumation, will not vindicate survivors’ rights to truth, justice and redress," said Ms Ansbro.

Meanwhile. a law firm that represents women and children who were residents in mother and baby homes across Ireland, north and south, has called on both governments to launch a human rights investigation into the practices of the institutions.

Belfast-based KRW Law has sent substantial submissions to the Irish Government and the Stormont Executive calling for an investigation conducted in accordance with human rights standards with the "effective participation of victims and survivors".

Barbaric institutions'

The firm says an investigation must include examining "forced adoption, slavery, forced disappearance, the medical procedure of symphysiotomy, forced vaccination and mass burials and must examine inter alia complicity and impunity between state and church." – the state which funded and ‘regulated’ these barbaric institutions and the church which was responsible for their operation," a statement said.

The call has been sparked by the recent publication of the final report of the Committee of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes in Dublin and the research commissioned by the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Mother and Baby Homes/Magdalene Laundries and Historical Clerical Child Abuse in Belfast.

'Human rights deficit'

KRW Law says these reports "served only to underscore the human rights deficit in the approaches of the administrations in both jurisdictions to this issue." 

Both processes – specifically the engagement with victims and survivors – were criticised by human rights agencies, including the United Nations and survivor groups.

Separate submissions have been made to Dublin and Belfast and a joint submission has been sent to both administrations requesting a cross-border human rights compliant investigation. 

This submission has been sent to the UN, the EU Human Rights Commissioner and the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture. 

Additionally, the submission has been sent to Amnesty International and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Cross-border co-operation

The submission added that the institutions operated with "scant regard to the border" and therefore there must be cross-border co-operation in any investigation as demanded by European human rights jurisprudence.

The firm said it represented women forced to give their babies up for adoption, forced into working in Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools and children separated from their parents and placed in industrial schools.

Owen Beattie, associate solicitor, KRW said: "Investigations to date into the scandal of mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools have been woefully inadequate in terms of human rights compliance. 

"Moving forward, we are urging a fully human rights-compliant investigation with the effective participation of victims and survivors, as broad as necessary and with aim of ventilating a right to truth and establishing a scheme of redress which addresses the needs of those victims and survivors.”

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