The Government will be questioned by the UN’s Committee Against Torture in Geneva today and tomorrow on its record on the human rights of those detained by the State, write Carol Coulter and Jamie Smyth in today's Irish Times.
This is the first time Ireland has been questioned on its human rights record as part of the UN CAT monitoring process. Last Friday, 20th May, a group of human rights NGOs (including IPRT and ICCL) briefed the Committee privately, as did the Irish Human Rights Commission. Particular issues raised include: conditions in prisons, the treatment of asylum seekers and of the women sent to work in the Magdalene laundries.
"They all raised concerns about conditions in prisons, including the continuing practice of “slopping out” and the breach of the human rights of prisoners, asylum seekers and children in detention."
"In its briefing, the IHRC recommended an overhaul of penal policy, including the immediate end to slopping out and to overcrowding, and improvements in the protection of the human rights of people with mental illness who are detained."
The Joint Shadow Report presented by the NGOs to the Committee against Torture identifies serious shortcomings in the prison system, rehabilitation services for victims of torture and access to a lawyer during Garda questioning. Overcrowding, lack of sanitation and escalating prisoner violence were among the major concerns around Irish prisons.
The article quotes Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, on the Government’s own report to the UN committee over its efforts to prevent inhuman and degrading treatment:
“Incredibly, given the national and international reports on overcrowding, lack of in-cell sanitation, and escalating inter-prisoner violence, the State report is largely silent on these acute human rights issues within the prisons.”
The article reports that the human rights commission highlights problems related to the treatment of children and people with mental illness who are detained. The article quotes Dr Maurice Manning, president of the Irish Human Rights Commission, thus:
“Children should not be detained in adult facilities, nor be supervised by inadequately vetted staff. Children should have access to adequate educational, mental health and other services tailored to their age. They should know their rights and understand how to have their concerns heard and addressed in a fair and child-friendly manner.”
The IHRC has called for the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to be widened with urgency to include children detained in St Patrick’s Institution. The human rights commission and the NGOs, including IPRT, have all called for the establishment of an independent statutory complaints mechanism for all those deprived of their liberty.
The article gives the latest prison figures from the Department of Justice, which show that there were 4,490 prisoners in custody and 835 on temporary release last week; this is more than double the total in 1997.