On International Women’s Day, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg released a viewpoint which argued against restrictions on women’s religious dress. He stated that:
Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing. Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do. There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure – but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women.
Hammarberg seems to be in something of an unfashionable minority.In the past fortnight, three significant stories have broken about the regulation, in France, Belgium and Quebec, of the niqab and burqa worn by some Muslim women.
The Law Reform Commission’s Consultation Paper on Jury Service launched by the DPP earlier this week recommends removal of the discriminatory provisions in the Juries Act 1976 (as amended) which exclude persons with disabilities from jury service. The DPP was supportive of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in this regard. The general outline of the Consultation Paper and provisional recommendations are set out in this earlier HRiL blog post. Read more…
The French Conseil d’État, in its capacity as advisory body rather than as administrative court of final appeal, yesterday issued a lengthy report, on the request of the Prime Minister, on the “legal possibilities surrounding the prohibition of the full veil.” This follows controversy and debate in France in recent months surrounding the wearing of the burqa in particular, the publication of the Gerin parliamentary report in January, and the report today that Belgium appears likely to become the first European state to legislate on this issue. In a measured, comprehensive and nuanced report, the Conseil concluded, somewhat predictably, that an outright prohibition on the wearing of the full Islamic veil would like contravene a number of provisions of the French Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights (the report is published online here and the very useful summary here; it is unlikely, however, that either will receive an official translation into English).
We at Human Rights in Ireland welcome the announcement by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy yesterday that a new Garda Unit dealing with sex offences is to be established. Speaking at the Annual Conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors in Galway, Commissioner Murphy said that the publication of the Murphy and Ryan Reports had “highlighted shameful history of child sexual abuse in this State.” He continued:
We now see the community looking for answers as to how such abuse occurred and An Garda Síochána has had to ask its own searching questions following critical findings and comment about the manner in which some complaints were investigated. Read more…
I’ve blogged previously about the policing of the Shell to Sea Campaign but a number of developments of late are worth noting. Last week 9 activitists were in court on charges of public order but had the charges struck out as the court held that they had been unlawfully held for 27 hours in Garda custody before being brought before a judge.
Indymedia explain that one of the nine cases was used as a test case, that of Eoin Lawless. Mr Lawless was arrested at 2.20pm on 28th June last year, on a public road. He was detained at the Shell site for two hours, before being brought to a police station. He was charged at 9.15pm. He was not brought before a court until 5.30pm the next day. The Supt at court offered the explanation that there insufficient officers at hand to deal with prisoners, but this of course is not a satisfactory reason to deny a person their right to liberty. Read more…
On St Patrick’s Day, while we were engaging in national celebrations, the European Commission was addressing the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). For those who are not familiar with the history of this issue, the European Convention is the basis of human rights protection across Europe and is under the custodianship of the Council of Europe (an organisation of 47 Member States including all EU Member States). The EU has long harboured an ambition to join the Convention. However, in 1994, a decision of the European Court of Justice (Opinion 2/94) declared that the EU could not join the Convention without an explicit treaty basis allowing it to do so. In the absence of such a basis in the EC and EU Treaties, accession would have to wait. Read more…
The Commencement Order for the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009 was issued last week bringing the Act into force. The legislation creates new statutory offences that protect victims who are attacked on the basis of their disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity in Scotland. Specifically section 1 of the Act makes provision for offences aggravated by prejudice relating to disability (or presumed disability). Section 2 of the Act makes provision for offences aggravated by prejudice relating to sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) or transgender (or presumed transgender) identity. Under the Act where it is proven that an offence was motivated by malice or ill will towards a victim on the basis of their identity the court is required to take that motivation into consideration when determining the sentence to be imposed. This legislation builds upon Scottish law on hate crimes carried out on the basis of race and religion or belief under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. Similar legislation is in force in England and Wales.
Following on from Cian’s earlier blog on the response of the DUP to the NIO’s Consultation Paper on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, it is worth noting that 24 March saw the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Committee release ‘A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland: An Interim Statement‘.
Given the political make-up of that Committee, many of those in favour of a NIBOR regarded the NIAC’s decision to carry out such an inquiry as an effort on the part of political actors unhappy with the NIHRC’s advice to have ‘another bite at the cherry’. Arguably, the limited and poor quality consultation document produced by the NIO in response to the NIHRC’s advice rendered this unnecessary. (For a discussion of some of the criticisms made of the NIO document, see here)
Whatever its reasons, the Committee itself does not make an explicit recommendation either in favour or against a NIBOR. Rather it states: Read more…
Tomorrow is the closing date for submissions to the Northern Ireland Office in response to their consultation on the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. We have previously discussed this matter at much length (see Colin Harvey here and myself here). However, the Irish Times is today reporting that the Democratic Unionist Party has called for the plans to be abandoned. Against the backdrop of the upcoming British General election, this is another blow to those who believe that a Bill of Rights is necessary to fully embed the constitutional change wrought by the Good Friday Agreement. Further information on the campaign for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland can be found at http://www.borini.info/.
The Irish Human Rights Commission today released a lengthy report on an enquiry into conditions, services and care provided in the John Paul Centre in Galway. This is a residential centre for adults with severe to profound learning disabilities and the enquiry was conducted following a representation to the IHRC from concerned parents of residents. The report is very detailed and we hope in the following days to bring you some specialist commentary on it here at HRinI. Readers might also be interested in two previous posts on HRinI on standards of care in residential centres for people with disability: this post from Mary Keogh & Charles O’Mahony and this separate post from Charles.
In the course of the enquiry the IHRC found that there had been breaches of the residents’ human rights in respect of the failure to provide adequate services and care to the residents of the centre. In many ways, these failures are bound up with the lack of accountability mechanisms and the fact that such centres are unregulated and uninspected in spite of being state-funded. However, it seems clear from the report’s recommendations of which there are many) that the problems are envisaged by the IHRC as being more multi-disciplinary and multi-layered than ‘simple’ lack of inspection/regulation. From recommending the immediate ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the formation of tailored service agreements taking the needs of residents into account, the recommendations are wide-ranging. They are also important inasmuch as they highlight the various different stakeholders—the Departments of Health, Justice and Education, the HSE, the residents, the Brothers of Charity (who run the centre), the parents—whose input is required to provide a service that is truly fit for purpose and respectful of the rights and liberties of the residents.
The report is certainly welcome and there can be little doubt that its findings are replicated in similar centres throughout the country. The sooner the state moves on ensuring effective, properly resourced, respectful, appropriate, adequate and accountable levels of health and support service provision to people with disabilities in Ireland the better.