The government has been warned that it could be breaking international law against ‘enforced disappearances’ in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home scandal.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has called on the state to ensure that the families of children who were ‘forcibly disappeared’ via unmarked burials or illegal adoptions are told everything about the child’s fate and whereabouts.
If it doesn’t do so then it could be complicit in the ‘enforced disappearance’ of children, a grave human rights violation.
International law defines an ‘enforced disappearance’ as when a person is detained or abducted with the involvement of the State, after which the State refuses to disclose information about what happened to them.
Director of ICCL Liam Herrick said, “The State-sponsored system of forcibly separating unmarried mothers and their children during the 20th century appears to ICCL to involve ‘enforced disappearance’, one of the gravest violations of European and international human rights law.”
“Last year a European Parliament Committee recognised that a similar system in Spain, that of the ‘stolen babies’, constitutes crimes against humanity. Ireland needs to wake up to the seriousness of what is at stake.”
The ICCL is calling on the state to meet its international law obligations by exhuming the children buried on the grounds of the Mother and Baby Home so they can be identified and their families informed about the circumstances of their death.
Similarly, all those who were separated from their families by secret adoptions must be given any information the state has in its possession, the ICCL says.
Mr Herrick was highly critical of some of the actions taken by the state in the ongoing story of the Tuam Home, such a the poll conducted of local residents by Galway County Council at the behest of Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone.
“It is simply not good enough that Galway County Council conducted a straw poll as to what should be done in the Tuam case, including the option of simply covering over the site and placing a memorial there,” he said.
“The State is obliged to identify the children’s bodies, to conduct a full public investigation, and to provide guarantees that nothing like this can ever happen again.”
While so far this horror story has stayed focused on the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, that was far from the only such home in the country.
The government must also look to other Mother and Baby Homes and places involved in the institutional abuse of children, Mr Herrick said.
“We know that there are mass unmarked graves of children in places other than Tuam. We have heard adopted people and many others who were forcibly separated from their family members call repeatedly for information about what happened to them and to their relatives.”
“Full disclosure of information is required. The secrecy must stop and the State must recognise its human rights obligations towards all of these individuals,” he concluded.
The ICCL has also pressed the government to move ahead on ratifying the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
It has signed the Convention, but not yet ratified it into law.
Uniquely in international law, Enforced Disappearance is considered to be an ongoing crime until family members have been fully informed by the state about what happened to their relative.