Amnesty International's Annual Report for Northern Ireland and Ireland

amnestyintl.logo_.2Amnesty International’s Annual Report on Northern Ireland and Ireland was published last week  as part of its annual series of country reports. Globally, the report considered the world to be a more dangerous place for refugees and migrants and stated that countries were increasingly using the cover of ‘internal affairs’ to block full consideration of their human rights standards. These reports are part of a broader reporting process by governmental and non-governmental together with  global and regional bodies including state-led reports on individual countries’ commitments and abuses of human rights standards. Indeed, previously we have highlighted the US State Department’s Human Rights Reports, the Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council and the UK’s FCO Human Rights’ Report, amongst others. Often, these reports are conscious political campaigns, such as the Regan administration’s initiation of State Department country reports during the Cold War or the Universal Periodic Review as a method of moving beyond past failures in the UN’s human rights’ accountability mechanisms.  Amnesty International, as a NGO, perhaps brings a more ‘independent’ overview of state activity, but even here, a country’s co-operation, or otherwise, may be critical in gaining access in order to compile the report. The priorities of a particular NGO may also alter the focus of such reports. Further, the ultimate utility of these kinds of general reports without any form of enforcement mechanism should be questioned, particularly when considerable resources are sunk into their compilation. At the very least, these reports offer an opportunity for countries to assess their human rights standards and in the case of critical reports, attempt, if possible, to save face or explain their poor standards of observation. Amnesty International historical record of accurate and influential reports makes their contribution particularly important.

The Report on Ireland focuses on prison conditions, the right to health, violence against women and girls, police and security forces, and constitutional and legal changes. In particular, the report criticised conditions in young offender institutions, though it did welcome the Government’s plan to end placement in St. Patrick’s for 16 year olds, the fact that 17 year olds would still be held there coupled with inadequate health and education facilities for young offenders, remained extremely problematic. The Report also stated that while the instigation of a process of investigation of serious complaints by prisoners was a step forward, this remained well short of what is required under the UN Torture Convention and mandated by the Torture Committee’s Report on Ireland in 2011. The 2011 Report had also highlighted the need for full investigations into the Magdalene Laundries and Amnesty also questions whether the Government has fully complied with its requirements on this matter. The Report mentions the Right to Health and particularly the death of Savita Halappanavar focusing on the lack of clarity in law on access to abortion, a point that the Oireachtas Committee would be well cautioned to consider. Amnesty also mentioned the Smithwick Tribunal on collusion with the IRA. The Report welcomed Ireland’s signing of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Constitutional Convention and the passage of the Constitutional amendment on Children’s Rights.

The Report on Northern Ireland forms part of the broader report on the UK. Here, Amnesty focused on the continuing activity of paramilitary forces, in particular the shooting dead of prison officer David Black and the intimidation of elected officials and journalists by these groups. The Report also looked at the Inspectorate of Constabulary’s review of the Historical Enquiries Team which re-examines all deaths related to the conflict in Northern Ireland and examines whether those cases involving the army are human rights compliant. The Report also highlighted the ongoing investigations into the death of Pat Finucane and Blood Sunday. In similar terrain to previous reports on Ireland, the Report also looked at the instigation of the inquiry into institutional child abuse in Northern Ireland from 1922-1995. More generally, Amnesty highlighted questions relating to torture and ill-treatment by UK forces with regard to terror suspects, the impact of counter-terrorism measures, gender based violence and the UK’s lead of a new initiative regarding violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict scenarios as well as the UK’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

The issues raised are familiar to anyone interested in human rights standards across Ireland and the UK. Yet, importantly, the report highlights the on-going issues, which have also been the focus of many previous Amnesty Reports and questions the good faith of both the Dublin and London Government as well as the devolved Government in Stormont to actually deal with rights questions, such as those relating to youth offending or women’s rights, that are often sidelined in favour of more publically acceptable human rights issues that are less electorally difficult. Repeated highlighting of these more difficult issues is perhaps the most important contribution that these forms of Reports can make, even if broader questions regarding their multitude and impact can be raised.

Amnesty International's Annual Report for Northern Ireland and Ireland

A Right to Health Care in Ireland?

Human Rights in Ireland is pleased to welcome this guest post from Rosalind McKenna, Human Rights in Ireland Coordinator, Amnesty International Ireland as part of Human Rights Week 2012.

Twenty-three years have passed since Ireland became Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Twenty three years of successive governments failing to domestically incorporate the Covenant into Irish law, or otherwise reflect the commitments undertaken in policy or practice.

In the absence of a commitment to constitutionally protect these rights, Amnesty International Ireland has been examining how legislation can be used to advance policy in line with international human rights standards. The Irish Human Rights Commission has outlined the advantages to protecting rights in legislation; these standards defining minimum core content of the right, stipulating financial arrangements for the delivery of rights, promoting accountability by prescribing exact responsibilities and functions of different levels of government, and preventing / prohibiting violations by public bodies or officials.

In particular, we are campaigning for legislation to drive forward the implementation of mental health policy, and to underpin forthcoming healthcare reform.

For nearly 30 years Ireland has been striving to reform its mental health services, with change slow and accountability inadequate. Successive government policies have called for fundamental reform of the mental health system (Planning for the Future (1984) and A Vision for Change (2006)). A Vision for Change called for a person-centred, recovery-oriented and holistic approach to mental health services. It called for a shift from the existing system, with an over-reliance on institutional care, to a system of community-based care provided by multi-disciplinary teams.

Human rights law demands that mental health services be continuously improved in line with Continue reading “A Right to Health Care in Ireland?”

A Right to Health Care in Ireland?

Steering Group of the Review of the Mental Health Act: Interim Report

We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Dr. Claire Murray of University College Cork.

The Interim Report was published on the 21 June 2012 and followed a commitment in the Programme for Government to conduct a review of the Mental Health Act 2001 (MHA 2001) “in consultation with service users, carers and other stakeholders, informed by human rights standards.” The complete report is due to be published in late 2012/early 2013.

Continue reading “Steering Group of the Review of the Mental Health Act: Interim Report”

Steering Group of the Review of the Mental Health Act: Interim Report

Universal Periodic Review and Reception of Asylum Seekers

Human Rights in Ireland is pleased to bring you this guest post from Claire McCarthy, Policy & Campaigning Officer, at Nasc, The Irish Immigrant Support Centre.

Ireland’s human rights record will be examined by our peers in the UN this coming October, when our turn comes up in a new UN process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Human rights organisations have submitted their concerns and recommendations for the consideration of the country representatives who will examine our record. Having examined most of them, the reception of asylum seekers appears to be by far the most widespread concern, affecting as it does children’s rights, women’s rights, mental health, social inclusion and general civil liberties. A range of organisations concerned with Ireland’s human rights standards have already made  submissions that will inform the country representatives who will ask questions, and make recommendations to Ireland about how we might improve our human rights record. Some of those organisations have taken the opportunity presented by the UPR to consult with as many concerned citizens as possible in order to prepare truly representative submissions. You may have Continue reading “Universal Periodic Review and Reception of Asylum Seekers”

Universal Periodic Review and Reception of Asylum Seekers