Over the next few days in Geneva, Ireland will appear before the UN Committee against Torture. Established as the treaty enforcement and monitoring body for the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Committee receives and hears reports from individual states and can also receive and hear individual complaints from people within the jurisdiction of a state that is bound by the Convention. The Irish report that will be considered next Monday or Tuesday is available here and it is the first report of Ireland under the Convention. This morning the NGO briefing session will take place in which the NGOs who submitted shadow reports will appear before the Committee and raise issues of particular concern. In this post I want to simply outline the nature of the state’s official submission to the Committee and, based on the shadow reports, note the areas that are likely to be of especial interest to the Committee and the subject of some discussion when the state appears next week.
The Irish report outlines the constitutional and statutory provisions that implicate the protection of the individual against torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (p.p. 8-15) but the area of real interest for those following Ireland’s performance under the Treaty is the state’s assessment of its compliance with the various articles of the Treaty, which can be found in p.p. 17-54. From p. 54 et. seq. the report outlines the areas of particular concern relating to the Convention that arose in community consultations while preparing the report. These include refoulement, treatment of individuals in detention, the process by which someone can be refused admission to the state because of suffering from a prescribed disease on the basis of a medical opinion alone, alleged Irish involvement in extraordinary renditions, mental health of prisoners and involuntary detention under mental health legislation, and prisoner complaints mechanisms. Some claims were made in these consultations that certain elements of the Convention were not enshrined in Irish law, that the constitutional protection against torture ought to be express (rather than an unenumerated right as is currently the case), and that some claims of torture and involvement therein are not investigated by the authorities. These latter claims were roundly rejected by the state.
In relation to refoulement the State claims that the Irish asylum system is well resourced, that judicial review is available, and that the process of identifying whether someone would be at real risk of exposure to torture is sent to country X is sufficient. When it comes to treatment in detention the State does not express a view on whether appropriate reports (such as those of theInspector of Prisons) should be brought to the attention of the Committee and claims that the detention of individuals pending deportation is done only as a measure of last resort. There is no mention in the report of the odious practice of ‘slopping out’ in Irish prisons about which such concern has been raised (see Yvonne Daly’s post here). The state notes that the matter of prescribed diseases is being considered in the Immigration and Residence Bill (now the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010), although even still in 2011 that bill has not completed its legislative journey. In relation to extraordinary renditions the state claims that it is “completely opposed” to the practice, has appropriate diplomatic assurances, and that the Gardaí are empowered to act such a sustainable complaint be brought to them in relation to any alleged instance of extraordinary rendition in or through Ireland. The government stressed the operation of the Mental Health Act 2001 and theMental Health Commission established thereunder as mechanisms of protecting and dealing with concerns about the mental health of those in detention. The state noted the work of the Inspector of Prisons in terms of hearing complaints from prisoners, as well as an appeals mechanism for disciplinary penalties imposed on prisoners under the Prisons Act 2007 for which legal aid is available. In particular the report stresses the new Prison Rules that came into effect in 2007.
Important in the process of considering states’ records before the Committee is shadow reports, usually prepared by Non Governmental Organisations and these will be considered today. There are seven shadow reports on the record for consideration and they come from: Amnesty International Ireland, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, the International Disability Alliance, a joint report from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the Irish Human Rights Commission, Justice for the Magdalenes, and the Spiritan Asylum Services Initiative (SPIRASI). All the reports are linked from the Committee’s website here and it is likely that these reports, which as expected present a somewhat more critical view on Ireland’s compliance with the Convention, will lead to the Committee raising questions about, among other things:
- The adequacy of the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Act 2000 to give full effect to the Convention in Irish law;
- Ireland’s alleged complicity in extraordinary renditions;
- Conditions inside Irish prisons and especially mental health protection of prisoners, slopping out, overcrowding and prison violence;
- Ireland’s continued non-ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and implications for the enjoyment by people with disabilities of the freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment;
- The persistence of the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ in relation to the corporal punishment of children in the home;
- Ireland’s current deportation system, including the process by which one is identified for deportation and can challenge that determination. This is likely to include some probing on the content of and timeline for the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill;
- The persistent detention of children and people with mental health difficulties;
- Deaths in Garda custody;
- Funding and resourcing of human rights bodies including the Irish Human Rights Commission and various other statutory inspectorates and Ombudsman offices;
- Human trafficking in Ireland;
- Investigation of and redress for Ireland’s involvement and complicity in the mistreatment of women and girls in Magdalene Laundries.