Tuam and adoption scandals may involve enforced disappearances

On UN International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL ) has called on the State to ensure that family members of children who were forcibly disappeared, either through forced adoption or unidentified burials while in institutional care, are given information about the children’s fate and whereabouts.

Enforced disappearance is widely considered one of the gravest possible human rights violations, and is recognised in international law as a crime against humanity when widespread or systematic.

Under international law, an enforced disappearance occurs when a person is detained or abducted with the involvement of the State, following which the State refuses to disclose his/her fate or whereabouts.

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.”

ICCL is calling on the State to provide statutory rights to information to all those who survived the Irish system, including all people who were forcibly separated from their family members through the closed, secret, adoption system in Ireland, as well as the family members of children who died in institutional care.

This means that the bodies of children in the Tuam grave must be exhumed, identified, and all possible information about their circumstances of death given to their family members.

Mr Herrick said: “It is simply not good enough that the 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. 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.

"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.”

ICCL is also calling on the Government to ratify the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which it has already signed but not yet ratified.

Enforced disappearance is unique in international law in that it is considered an ongoing crime until family members have been informed by the State as to the fate and whereabouts of their relative.

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