Blog: UN Committee Against Torture

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November 13, 2014

U.S. Dodges Questions on Senior-Level Prosecutions at CAT Review

Posted by Deborah Popowski, Morgan Davis, JD '15, Pete Barnett, LLM '15, Lauren Blodgett, JD '16, Darren Bartlette, JD '16

Just a few hours ago, the U.N. Committee Against Torture concluded its formal review of the United States. As members of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, our clinical team has been in Geneva all week advocating for senior-level prosecutions of those responsible for the U.S. program of torture of detainees post-9/11.

Here’s our group’s statement:

In its response to the Committee’s questioning, the U.S. government failed to answer whether the Durham investigation looked up the chain of command at those who authorized, ordered, and justified the torture. The government did not address how any such investigation could have failed for lack of evidence when former President George W. Bush and other senior officials have acknowledged authorizing torture, including waterboarding, in public statements. The elephant in the room is the legal architecture that senior officials and lawyers put in place to shield themselves from criminal responsibility for torture in the first place. The Committee’s clear concern with U.S. failures of accountability is another important sign that “get out of court free” cards will not last forever.

Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions is a group composed of concerned U.S. citizens, residents, and students—scholars, legal and health care professionals, and law students—who have sought for years to use what modest levers we have to end the U.S. program of torture put in place post-9/11, to obtain justice and redress for those harmed, and to seek accountability for those responsible. We were joined in our shadow report by nearly 300 supporting organizations and individuals from across civil society.

Read the shadow report we submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture

Read our briefer, “Dismantling the Legal Architecture of Impunity: A Necessary Step Towards Torture Accountability in the United States”

October 24, 2011

Today, October 25: Seeking Justice for the Women of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries

Event poster shows an image of an old hospital in Ireland that appears to be a Margdalene Laundry. In front of the building is a statute of an angel. Overlaid with the image is the event information.

October 25, 2011

“Abuse by Church and State: The Hidden Story of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries”

A Talk by Maeve O’Rourke, 2010 Global Human Rights fellow
and James M. Smith, Author and Associate Professor of English, Boston College

12:00- 1:15 pm

Lewis Hall 302

Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, and Associate Professor James M. Smith, author of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment, will discuss their legal campaign for an investigation into- and reparations for- the abuse of thousands of girls and women in Ireland’s church-run Magdalene laundry institutions from 1922 – 1996.

Prof. Smith will explain the workings of the Magdalene Laundries, which incarcerated vulnerable girls and women including those considered to be “fallen” and subjected them to forced unpaid labor.  He will also reveal the Irish State’s interactions with the laundry system.  Maeve will discuss the legal case she presented to the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in May 2011, the resulting UNCAT recommendations, and the Irish government’s response to date. She will also share some experiences of the Magdalene Laundries from women who gave their testimony for the UN submission.

This event is being co-sponsored by Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Harvard Women’s Law Association.

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June 22, 2011

Ireland Finally Announces Inquiry Into Magdalene Laundries

Posted by Cara Solomon

Here’s an encouraging update from Global Human Rights fellow Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, who has been working on behalf of the all-volunteer advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes.  Her recent submission to the UN Committee Against Torture led that body to call on Ireland earlier this month to investigate the Magdalene Laundries, where as many as thousands of women were forced to live and work.  Now this:

“I’m really glad to say that the Irish government has at last responded to calls for an investigation, apology and redress for women who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries.

On Tuesday night, the government announced the establishment of an inter-departmental committee, chaired by an independent person, to investigate the state’s role in relation to the laundries and to report back within 3 months.  It also announced that it would be calling for the production of all records held by the religious orders, and that the Minister for Justice will be holding discussions with the church and survivors’ groups to discuss how best to achieve reconciliation and reparations.

We (Justice for Magdalenes) welcomed the news as a significant step in the right direction.  Despite our disappointment at the continued absence of a state apology, which is long past due, we expect that this initial inquiry, if conducted quickly and fairly, will soon lead to an apology and a guarantee of redress, as is the state’s obligation under international human rights law.

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June 6, 2011

UN Committee Against Torture Calls on Ireland to Investigate Magdalene Laundries

Posted by Cara Solomon

Great news this morning from Global Human Rights fellow Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, who recently made a submission to the UN Committee Against Torture on behalf of the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes.

“I’m delighted to report that the UN Committee against Torture released its Concluding Observations for Ireland this morning, and among them is an extremely strong recommendation to the Irish government to investigate and provide redress for the Magdalene Laundries abuse.

At paragraph 22 of the Concluding Observations, the Committee states that it is ‘gravely concerned at the failure by the State party to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries, by failing to regulate their operations and inspect them, where it is alleged that physical, emotional abuses and other ill-treatment were committed amounting to breaches of the Convention.’

The Committee recommends ‘that the State party should institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries.’

It also recommends that the state ‘ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.’

Finally, the Committee recommends that the state ‘in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed.’

The Committee has included the Magdalene Laundries as one of its four issues for follow-up, at paragraph 33 of the Concluding Observations.  This means that the Irish government will have one year within which to demonstrate to the Committee the steps it has taken to implement the Committee’s recommendations, and the Committee will formally review these steps next year in its Annual Report.

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