Justice for Magdalenes by Professor Siobhán Mullally

On Monday February 18th 2013, the CCJHR hosted a seminar with Maeve O’Rourke, Advisory Committee Member of  Justice for Magdalenes (JFM). Maeve’s seminar formed part of the LLM in International Human Rights Law clinical module.


Maeve spoke in detail of the role played by UN human rights bodies, in particular, the UN Committee Against Torture, in raising the question of the state’s liability for continuing violations of the rights of Magdalene survivors. Specifically, the UN Committee Against Torture called on the State to:


institute prompt, independent and thorough investigations into all complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries and, in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed, and ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.

A key issue that has emerged from the submissions made by JFM and the testimony gathered from Magdalene survivors is that of the State’s responsibility for the failure to prevent, investigate and prosecute those responsible for forced labour, servitude and slavery.

The prohibitions of Article 4 ECHR are clearly relevant here, and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights since Siliadin v France has relied on the indicators of forced labour identified by the ILO, and have drawn upon the 1930 ILO Forced Labour Convention. More recent cases, including CN v UK and CN and V v France, have explored in some detail the definition of servitude in particular and the State’s positive obligations arising under Article 4.

In C.N and V v France, it was particularly the absence of choice and the isolation experienced that was critical to the Court’s finding that, in C.N.’s  case, a breach of Article 4’s prohibition of servitude had occurred. The Court also found that C.N. had been subjected to forced or compulsory labour, given the amount of work that she had been required to carry out, under threat ‘or menace’ of reporting to immigration authorities.

Dr Cliodhna Murphy, former Post-Doc fellow with the Irish Research Council funded Migrant Domestic Workers project at UCC, has pointed out that  Ireland is still without an effective statutory framework prohibiting forced labour. It is now  expected that the Employment Permits Act will be amended to correct this following the High Court judgment in Hussein v the Labour Court.

Today, we will hear what the State’s response is to the documented human rights abuses endured by the Magdalene survivors. A failure to adequately respond at this point, will mark a continuing violation of the rights of the Magdalene survivors. On this, the recently adopted General Comment no.3 on Article 14 of the UN Convention Against Torture, provides an authoritative interpretation of the right to redress that will be relevant to those watching and assessing the Government’s response.