Ireland publishes report on 'appalling' abuse at mother and baby homes
by Rory Carroll
Ireland has ripped back the veil on a dark historical chapter that condemned tens of thousands of unmarried mothers and their babies to callousness and cruelty in institutions run by both the state and the Catholic church.
A judicial commission of investigation published a long-awaited 2,865-page report into a network of “mother and baby homes” that inflicted abuse and shame – with the complicity of wider society – for much of the 20th century.
The five-year investigation into the homes – religious institutions for unmarried mothers and their children that doubled as orphanages and adoption agencies – chronicles deprivation, misogyny, stigma and in some cases shocking levels of infant mortality, adding up to a blistering indictment not just of the institutions but the wider culture of oppression that sustained them.
“The regime described in the report wasn’t imposed on us by any foreign power,” the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, told a news conference. “We did this to ourselves as a society. We treated women exceptionally badly, we treated children exceptionally badly.”
Ireland had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy, he said. “Young mothers and their sons and daughters were forced to pay a terrible price for that dysfunction. As a society we embraced judgmental, moral certainty, a perverse religious morality and control which was so damaging. What was so very striking was the absence of basic kindness.”
The taoiseach is to give a formal state apology in the Dáil on Wednesday. The government has promised to set up a redress scheme to compensate survivors.
The report has received saturation coverage in Ireland and came as a stark reminder that a multiracial, pluralist society with same-sex marriage and abortion services was not so long ago beholden to the Catholic church and deeply conservative values.
About 56,000 women and 57,000 children were placed or born into the homes from 1922 until the last one shut in 1998. Other countries had similar institutions but the per capita numbers in Ireland were probably the highest in the world, the commission found.
It estimated 9,000 children, 15% of the total, died – an “appalling” infant mortality rate about double the national average. Neglect, poor food and extreme austerity all played a part. Instead of saving the lives of children legally deemed illegitimate, the homes “significantly reduced their prospects of survival”.
The investigation was prompted by the revelation in 2014 that there were no burial records for almost 800 children who died at the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. Excavations subsequently found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers of a disused septic tank containing significant quantities of human remains.
The commission uncovered other troubling cases such as the Bessborough home in County Cork where three-quarters of the babies who were born or admitted in 1943 died.
Investigators found infant human remains during an excavation at the Sean Ross home in County Tipperary, which ran from 1931 to 1969. Unlike in Tuam, the children had coffins. “All individuals were less than one years old. The skeletal remains of 21 individuals were uncovered in situ. The remains of a further 11 coffins, indicating undisturbed burials, were evident.”
Local and national authorities recorded the mortality rates, which peaked in the 1940s, in official publications, with little or no response from the public or politicians.
The commission said responsibility for the system lay mainly with the fathers of the children and the families of the women who sought to hide them from view, an intolerance and deep conservatism supported by the state and the churches.
It said the women were not forced into the homes but many had no alternative. The homes, for all their faults, provided refuge when the women’s families “provided no refuge at all”.
The investigation found no evidence of sexual abuse and few cases of physical abuse but abundant examples of emotional abuse, which some survivors still carry. Another source of anger for survivors was the policy to impede them from tracing each other. Ireland denies adopted people the legal right to their own information and files – something the government has promised to change.
Survivors and human rights groups gave a mixed response to the report.
Joan Burton, a former deputy prime minister who was born in such a home in 1949, said the findings were a landmark in documenting a system that risks being forgotten in a liberalising country.
Philomena Lee, whose battle to find her son was dramatised in the 2013 film Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, said testifying to the commission had been a positive experience. “Today is about giving the women the opportunity to be able to find out about the birth of their child,” she told RTE.
However Catherine Corless, whose research helped uncover the Tuam mass grave, said a government webinar with survivors on Tuesday was a whitewash that left survivors deflated and confused. There was too much of a focus on society’s culpability and not enough on the institutions; survivors would not find peace without a formal apology from the religious orders, she said.
Amnesty urged Northern Ireland, which had more than a dozen mother and baby-type homes operated by Catholic and Protestant churches, to hold its own investigation.
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Upholding the responsibilities established in the Genocide Convention
by Uniited Nations News
The 9th of December 2020 marks the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, as well as the 72nd anniversary of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the “Genocide Convention”), the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly.
The Convention signifies the international community’s commitment to “never again” and provides the first international legal definition of “genocide,” widely adopted at national and international levels. It also establishes a duty for State Parties to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.
The Genocide Convention
The Genocide Convention (article 2) defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group … ", including:
Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The Convention confirms that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or war, is a crime under international law which parties to the Convention undertake “to prevent and to punish” (article 1). The primary responsibility to prevent and stop genocide lies with the State.
Prevention of Genocide
To prevent genocide and genocidal conflicts, it is critically important to understand their root causes. While conflict has many causes, genocidal conflict is identity-based.
Genocide and related atrocities tend to occur in societies with diverse national, racial, ethnic or religious groups that are locked in identity-related conflicts. It is not simply differences in identity, whether real or perceived, that generate conflict, but the implication of those differences in terms of access to power and wealth, services and resources, employment, development opportunities, citizenship and the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.
These conflicts are fomented by discrimination, hate speech inciting violence and other violations of human rights.
In terms of prevention, the critical step is to identify the factors (discriminatory practices) in a given situation that lead to or account for acute disparities in the treatment of a diverse population, and to seek ways to diminish and eventually eradicate these possible causes of genocidal violence.
Given that no country is perfectly homogeneous, genocide is a truly global challenge.
Responsibility to Protect
At the 2005 World Summit, Member States committed to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, as well as their incitement.
They agreed that when States require assistance to fulfil that responsibility, the international community must be ready to assist them and, when States manifestly fail to protect their populations from those crimes, the international community must be ready to take action, collectively, in accordance with the United Nations Charter. Intervention only happens when prevention fails. Therefore, prevention is the basis of the principle of the responsibility to protect.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres:
'Genocide is the most heinous of crimes, encompassing all it touches in a tsunami of hate and destruction. It is an assault on our most fundamental shared values.
Today, as we remember and honour the victims of the crime of genocide, let us remember that the imperative to prevent genocide is foundational to the United Nations.
The Genocide Convention, adopted in December 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the Second World War, was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly. It remains as relevant as ever as we work to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes – crimes which are sadly still being perpetrated with impunity and no regard for the sanctity of human life.
Genocide never fails to shock the world when it occurs. But it is never committed without clear, multiple warning signs. The victims are often early targets of hate speech, discrimination and violence. One of our remaining challenges, 72 years after the Genocide Convention’s adoption, is to promptly recognize and act on these warning signs.
Hate speech is a clear warning sign, and we need to do better in rejecting it in all its forms. This includes ensuring that technology companies and social media platforms play their part.
Religious leaders and civil society also have a key role in prevention. Governments need to guarantee civic space for human rights institutions and defenders to do their essential work, and they need to protect the rights of those at risk.
To prevent genocide, it is also essential that we pursue credible and effective accountability. The link between systemic impunity and atrocity crimes is clear. The answer lies in impartial investigations backed up by prosecutions.
It also means access to justice and effective remedies for victims. Although accountability processes acknowledge the suffering and courage of victims, they rarely address their psychological and material needs.
Victims have rights to truth, justice, reparation and a comprehensive package of guarantees of non-recurrence.
Ultimately, preventing genocide involves all of society. It is crucial that we all join hands to defend the principles of equality and human dignity and to repair the fissures and polarization that are so prevalent in our societies today.
On this international day to commemorate the victims of genocide and affirm their dignity, let us invest in prevention and commit to upholding the responsibilities established in the Genocide Convention. http://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/
http://www.un.org/en/observances/genocide-prevention-day http://www.un.org/en/globalceasefire http://www.gaamac.org/news-post/319/promoting-human-rights-mechanisms-to-prevent-mass-atrocities-reflections-challenges-and-ways-forward http://www.gaamac.org/news-posts http://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2464/2020/11/Politorbis-68-1-2020-Atrocity-prevention.pdf
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