Shadow report highlights concerns about Ireland’s compliance with UN human rights standards

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Free Legal Advice Centre and the Irish Penal Reform Trust today published a Shadow Report on Ireland’s compliance with the International Protocol on Civil and Political Rights. The report was launched by Justice Michael Kirby of the Australian High Court is timed to coincide with the third periodic report by Ireland to the UN Human Rights Committee. In addition to the report of the member state on its human rights situation the procedure also allows NGOs and national human rights institutions to present their own views on the national human rights situation. For NGOs, the opportunity to present shadow reports to the committee amounts to a key opportunity to voice their human rights concerns and criticisms at an international level.

The Shadow Report to the Third Periodic Report of Ireland under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights highlights what the organisations say are significant gaps in the country’s human rights performance. Particular attention is drawn to the following issues:

  • Collusion regarding extraordinary rendition of prisoners by the CIA, the government is criticised for its failure to carry out searches of flights suspected of carrying unlawful prisoners
  • The failure to provide for full equality for all families, with legal status only being accorded to those families based on marriage ignoring non-traditional families
  • Ireland’s policy on abortion, in particular the Government’s failure to protect the health of women by not introducing legislation aimed at clarifying the legal implications of the various constitutional referendums is the cause of concern
  • Poor conditions of detention in prisons, including the continued use of slopping-out in four prisons, increasing overcrowding in Mountjoy and the Dochas Centre, and the fear that a new prison at Thornton Hall will result in an increase in the prison population
  • The persistence of imprisonment for debt, reform of the law is called for to amend the law on contempt
  • The absence of universal child benefit, attention is drawn to the fact that the ‘habitual residence’ condition in the child benefit system has a significant negative impact on children of asylum seekers.

The report was presented to the Human Rights Committee whose members raised questions regarding abortion, imprisonment and sentencing, immigration, religious control of education, and ethnicity and travellers.

ICC Prosecutor to Charge Sudanese President?

This blog post was submitted by PhD candidate and Government of Ireland Scholar Pádraig McAuliffe, who is reading for a PhD entitled The Serious Crimes Process of East Timor in the Field of Human Rights Law under the supervision of CCJHR Co-Director, Dr. Siobhán Mullally

The Guardian, The New York Times and the BBC this morning report that the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo is to seek the arrest of the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on Monday next for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur. Currently, two Sudanese (Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed militia, and Ahmad Harun, currently fulfilling one of the more ironic positions imaginable, that of domestic Humanitarian Affairs minister) are charged with 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including acts of murder, persecution, torture, rape and forcible displacement. Neither has come before the Court. At a time of existential crisis for the ICC, the move can be interpreted as a bid to reassert the ongoing relevance of a body that has yet to complete a trial since establishment in 2002 after the signing of the Rome Statute in 1998. As William Schabas, the head of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, notes: “This is a very decisive moment for the court. It has been going through a terrible period, this could revive its image and make people feel it’s a robust dynamic institution, or it could be another blow.” This note of pessimism is worth bearing in mind – the story of the ICC has been one of disappointment, disillusionment and anticlimax, most notably in the disintegration of the case against Joseph Kony and allegations by diplomats that the pursuit of arrest warrants in Uganda hampered peace negotiations.

There are justifiable fears that an indictment of Al-Bashir will impair what halting progress there has been made in calming, albeit imperfectly, the situation in Darfur. There are also fears an indictment might serve as motivation to remove international aid workers and peacekeepers in Darfur. The NY Times quotes Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at the Social Science Research Council in New York: “Bashir is paranoid; he feels the world is out to get him. He is prone to irrational outbursts and could respond in a very aggressive way.” Indeed, peacekeepers were attacked with seven fatalities last Tuesday, while several members of Doctors Without Borders were expelled from the country last week. A charge against Al-Bashir would represent another welcome erosion of the idea of head of state immunity most notable in the prosecutions of Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor. Though both were sitting heads of state at the time of indictment, there was little prospect of them being brought before the ICTY and SCSL while in power, as the Sudanese President so securely is. Milosevic and Taylor had to be removed from office domestically before being brought to justice, something there is little prospect of in Khartoum. Charges might also be welcomed as a move away from the patent absurdity of charging militia leaders and Ministers but ignoring those “conflict entrepreneurs” further up the chain who instigate or retain the capacity to restrain the violence.

Nonetheless, aside from the Kantian moral imperative to prosecute, what of the other instrumental purposes that so often animate transitional justice? Put more simply, given the patent unlikelihood of Al-Bashir being arrested and brought to The Hague any time in the foreseeable future, what good will come from charging someone who will never come before the courts and from hardening the attitude of someone who has shown a willingness to slaughter his own people and to remove international peacekeepers and aid workers whenever it becomes politic to do so? The ICC Chief Prosecutor’s attitude seems to be that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, but the candle could set fire to the negotiations that have brought peacekeepers to Darfur and restrained the butchery. It may dash what little hope of progress that remains.

6th International Conference on Clinical Legal Education

UCC will host the 6th International Journal of Clinical Legal Education Conference on 14th and 15th July, 2008. The Conference, Lighting the fire: the many roles of clinical legal education, is being generously sponsored by Matheson Ormsby Prentice, solicitors.

The conference programme comprises International and Irish speakers. Academics from Universities all over the world (including the US, South Africa, Canada, Australia, India, Puerto Rico and Europe) as well as from Ireland will present and discuss on the following themes:

  • clinic and education for justice
  • integration of clinical learning in the curriculum
  • student responses to clinical initiatives
  • clinic and life long learning

The Conference is being held in association with the University of Northumbria. Since its inception, the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education Conference has provided an opportunity for legal educators from diverse jurisdictions to meet, to exchange ideas and experiences and to learn together. Previous conferences in London, Melbourne, Johannesburg and Edinburgh have been truly international gatherings, and an opportunity for legal educators working in very different social and legal contexts to share visions of practice, and to learn from one another.

The Law Faculty UCC has been to the fore in the development of Clinical Legal Education in Ireland. In 2004 Mr Gerard Murphy was appointed as the first full-time Clinical Education Coordinator in the Law Faculty with responsibility for the development of clinical legal education including the Faculty’s two highly successful clinical programmes: the LLM (Criminal Justice) (Clinical) and the BCL (Clinical). The BCL (Clinical) programme will be offered to students on the CAO from 2009.

Panel 4: Crimes of Sexual Violence: Debates and Developments in Irish Law

The final panel session examined sexual violence from the domestic perspective. The session was chaired by Nora Owen, a former Minister for Justice and member of the Commission for Victims of Crime.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton began by setting out the difficulties in prosecuting cases of unlawful carnal knowledge since the decision of the Supreme Court in CC v Ireland [2006] 4 IR 1 and the subsequent enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006. He noted that it may be necessary under the 2006 Act to prove the absence of consent if the accused can show that he or she honestly believed that the child had attained the age of 15 or 17 years. The DPP stated that the wholly subjective test as to the defendant’s belief as to the complainant’s age had the effect of exonerating conduct which the legislature had seen fit to criminalise. He also stated that while further research was needed, a difference seemed to exist between prosecutions under the 1935 Criminal Law Amendment Act and prosecutions under the 2006 Act. The 1935 Act was often used in circumstances where rape or sexual assault charges would have been appropriate, in order to ensure that the complainant did not have to give evidence as to the issue of consent. However, prosecutions under the 2006 Act seemed to be exclusively in circumstances where the activity amounted to sexual exploitation, but where the activity was consensual. More serious cases involving a lack of consent were now being charged as rape and or sexual assault.
The DPP discussed his Office’s participation in two projects on attrition rates in rape cases. He noted that the oft cited figure of 1% conviction rate was erroneous, and it was likely that the real figure was closer to 7%, which was broadly similar to England and Wales. After examining some developments in sentencing for sexual offences, the Director concluded his presentation with a call for the codification of the law on sexual offences in order to make the law more accessible and comprehensive.

Dr. Tom O’Malley from NUI Galway described the former absolute liability for unlawful carnal knowledge as an atrocity, and noted that it was surprising that the provisions had lasted so long. The Supreme Court decision in CC was impeccable in terms of logic and justice. Following an intriguing tour through the climate of moral panic surrounding the introduction of the offence of unlawful carnal knowledge in the 1935 Act, Mr O’Malley criticised the present unclear state of the law. There was a need to clarify whether the offence of defilement should be one of strict liability or of absolute liability. He suggested that a solution could lie in taking into account the age difference between the parties.

Pauline Walley’s contribution consisted of a powerful insight into the practitioner’s experiences of prosecuting and defending trials of sexual offences. She highlighted the difficulties posed to victims and witnesses by procedural issues raised by defence counsel that lead to adjournment of trial. She suggested that a statutory case management system should be introduced in the criminal courts. The efforts made by individual judges were not enough to ensure efficiency. She suggested that issues such as disclosure, fitness to plead, and the raising of the defence of insanity should be dealt with pre-trial by a judge assigned to deal with case management issues. Ms Walley also called for the provision of greater resources, in particular proper facilities for the giving of evidence by vulnerable witnesses. This point was picked up by the Chair in her concluding remarks when she noted that no matter how much legislation is passed, it is of no use unless resources are provided to improve the operation of the criminal process.

Summary provided by PhD candidate and Government of Ireland Scholar Sinéad Ring.

Panel 2: Security Council Resolution 1325: Women, Peace and Security

Madeleine Reese, Head of Women’s Rights and Gender Unit, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, began her presentation by noting the limitations of international law as a tool of social transformation in post-conflict zones. She observed that progress in this arena has been tremendously slow, such that what often passes for success in the context of international law might not be so regarded elsewhere. In evaluating the potential of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, she stated that while it contained some ‘packages’ which would prove useful in improving women’s political participation, ultimately its recognition of women as agents for social change was muted – particularly in its language, which advocates the participation of women ‘where possible’. This presentation followed a broader theme which emerged in the papers presented at the conference: that blackletter law has little impact in the absence of proper implementation, backed by solid gender analysis. Ms. Reese argued that polarisation during conflict begins before conflict and is ultimately the product of social norms. While formal justice mechanisms were therefore important, they were unlikely to bear fruit unless regard was had to issues of recognition and redistribution.
First, it was important to ensure that transitional justice processes described women’s experience of conflict accurately. Procedure and process ought to be adapted to fit the emotional and practical needs of participating women. To illustrate the problems which can arise in practice, Ms. Reese cited examples from the ICTY; including women travelling unaccompanied to the Hague to participate in the tribunal and unsupported on their return home. The jurisprudence on rape itself also generates difficulties for female victims. The requirement to prove that the victim did not consent deterred women from participating in the Yugoslav and Rwandan tribunals. Ms. Reese advocated more intelligent prosecution to overcome this difficulty. For example, prosecuting sexual violence against women as torture (as is often done in the case of sexual violence against men) would overcome the consent requirement. Second, women’s social and economic rights ought to be enhanced so that they could overcome the social barriers which tended to exclude them from post-conflict negotiations. Ms. Reese argued that temporary special measures of positive discrimination ought to be applied post-conflict.

Col. Ben Klappe, Military Judge/Judge in the District Court Arnheim/Netherlands Defence Academy, presented ongoing efforts to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers. He began by noting that UN peacekeeping forces have been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse since the Balkan missions in the early 1990s. Col. Klappe’s own presentation centred on allegations made against UN peacekeeping personnel in Bunia, DRC in 2004. The most recent set of allegations is contained in the Save the Children report No One to Turn to, published in May 2008, which claimed that sexual violence perpetrated against children went largely unreported. Col. Klappe outlined the following UN initiatives which aimed to tackle this problem:

Col. Klappe argued that a key obstacle in this area was the difficulty in disciplining perpetrators. Disciplinary power extends at most to repatriation and sending States retain exclusive criminal jurisdiction. The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations mandated the development of a legal framework enabling criminal prosecution. The 2007 model memorandum of understanding between the UN and sending countries has shored up possibilities for enforcement. In the memorandum, sending countries undertake to bring the full force of their legal sanctions to bear in enforcing agreed standards of conduct for troops. Another important recent development from the victims’ perspective is the General Assembly’s adoption in 2007 of a victim assistance strategy. Under this strategy, victims would receive assistance to address their needs which could include medical treatment, social support, legal services or material care.

Lt. Col. Oliver Barbour, Irish Defence Forces/GBV Consortium, dealt with two related areas. First, he touched on the work of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence which has 14 members, including two Irish government departments as well as Irish human rights, humanitarian and development agencies. Its objectives are: to ensure that actions to prevent and respond to GBV are visible and systematically addressed in the work of its member agencies; to document and share resources on the prevention of GBV and to develop an advocacy strategy to promote awareness of and improve actions on prevention of GBV. The Consortium’s Advocacy Group works to raise awareness of the consortium’s work and GBV, and is promoting the development by the Irish government of an effective Irish National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325. During 2008, the Consortium will build on its current training and dissemination work and will also host an international conference in Dublin.
Second, Lt. Col. Barbour discussed the wide range of attempts to integrate a gender perspective into EUFOR’s recent operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His core message was that gender issues ought to be given effect at a practical operational level. In explaining the successes of efforts in the DRC, he discussed a number of key initiatives:

  • gender issues had been incorporated into the planning stage of the mission and eventually formed part of the operational plan.
  • a gender advisor was appointed to the EU OHQ to provide basic training for OHQ and FHQ personnel
  • reports on gender issues were compiled weekly.
  • a gender issues soldiers’ card was developed which provided for a zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • women were specially trained to take part in patrols along w
    ith soldiers.

Lt. Col. Barbour reported that, as a result of these efforts, the force’s credibility among local women and among influential women’s organisations improved tremendously. However, he expressed concern that the legal officer was appointed gender officer at FHQ as he suggested that this ‘double-hatting’ undermined the importance of the role.

Summary provided by PhD candidate and IRCHSS scholar Máiréad Enright.