The International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has been asked to investigate the “violent legacy” of mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries, and industrial schools in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
A prominent legal firm in Belfast has lodged a 50-page submission to the ICC this week seeking a preliminary examination into whether the institutional abuse exposed in recent State-commissioned reports and inquiries amounted to “crimes against humanity”.
The ICC investigates and tries individuals charged with crimes of concern to the international community, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
KRW Law has made the request on behalf of 13 mother and baby home survivors – seven from the Republic of Ireland and six from Northern Ireland – for an international investigation into alleged systematic abuses and the failure of State agencies to protect the rights of individuals.
The case is being taken on behalf of Maria Arbuckle, who spent time at St Joseph’s training school in Co Armagh, before being transferred to St Patrick’s in Dublin in January 1981 to have her baby, who was later adopted.
The firm said both the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland and the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries and Historical Clerical Child Abuse in Northern Ireland fell short of what was required and did not implement the recommendations of several United Nations (UN) bodies.
Among the issues cited by the law firm are the failure to inspect and regulate these institutions, forced labour and slavery, forced adoption, enforced disappearance and trafficking, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the medical practice of symphysiotomy, which amounted to torture.
Kevin Winters of KRW Law said the “systematic abuses” must be investigated at international level, in particular the institutional response and role of central and local government agencies on both sides of the border.
An international investigation, Mr Winters said, would see the past half century in both jurisdictions coming under the spotlight.
“We felt it was important to internationalise what has happened here. This is such a devastating incursion into human rights and it needs to be examined on an international basis not just on a national basis,” Mr Winters told the.
While the church was at the “apex” of the allegations, the application focuses on the role of the State, Mr Winters said: “Our primary focus is State liability. This application is state-centric in relation to the allegations”.
Both governments and several human rights organisations, such as the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee Against Torture, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence, and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, have been advised of the ICC application.
It is understood that if accepted, a preliminary ICC scoping exercise could take months but that an investigation into decades of alleged abuses could take years.