UN Finds “Grave” and “Systemic violations” of Human Rights in Northern Ireland

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23 February 2018

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has today released an Inquiry Report on access to Termination of Pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The Report has found that the UK government is responsible for systemic violations of human rights by criminalising termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The Committee visited Northern Ireland in September 2016.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We welcome the recommendations of today’s critical report, which echo the grounds of our own legal challenge on access to abortion services. The Inquiry interviewed women who conveyed the “extreme vulnerability, physical and psychological stress, mental anguish, desperation and isolation they experienced in seeking appropriate medical treatment to terminate their pregnancy”. The Commission notes the UN Committee has called for a change in the law so that “no criminal charges can be brought against women and girls who undergo abortion” in Northern Ireland. We will now review the report in full detail.”

Separately, the Human Rights Commission is waiting for the judgment on its own legal challenge to Northern Ireland Termination of Pregnancy Laws. The UK Supreme Court is expected to deliver a decision this year.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby added:

Today’s report is timely as the Commission is waiting for the outcome of our own legal challenge. In Northern Ireland if a girl or woman is pregnant as a consequence of rape, incest or has a pregnancy with a serious foetal abnormality they cannot access a termination locally. If they attempt to do so, then they commit a criminal offence and may face life in prison. We believe this situation is wrong and that it violates their human rights. The Commission will be updating the Supreme Court of today’s critical United Nations report. ”

For further information, please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org or (028) 90269760.

Notes to Editors

1. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Inquiry report can be found here

2. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The UK has ratified the Optional Protocol of the treaty in 2004, thereby recognising the competence of the Committee.

3. What is a United Nations Inquiry?

A number of the United Nations Treaty Bodies can initiate a confidential inquiry procedure upon receipt of a complaint about a serious, grave or systematic violation of the relevant Convention. This can be done in relation to States who have recognised the competence of the relevant Committee to carry out this process.

4. The United Nations Inquiry procedure

• Once the Committee has received information about a serious, grave or systematic violation, the State Party will be invited to co-operate by submitting observations.

• On the basis of this information, the Committee may appoint one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry.

• This may include a visit to the country, with the consent of the State, where Committee members will meet with relevant parties including State officials, the NHRI and civil society groups.

• The member will report to the full Committee and the findings will be transmitted to the State party, along with any recommendations.

• The State Party will submit its own observations to the findings and recommendations within a period of six months, prior to the reports publication.

5. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s legal challenge to Termination of Pregnancy Law:

• From 2013 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has continued to seek a change to the law to allow termination of pregnancies in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.

• Recognising how difficult it would be for a woman or girl to challenge the law in the circumstances covered by the case the Commission took the case in its own name.

• In the Commission’s view the existing law in Northern Ireland violates the human rights of women and girls.

• Termination of pregnancy is only available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully procures or performs a termination.

The Case ran from Tuesday 24 October, Wednesday 25 October and Thursday 26 October. Judgment is expected this year.


23 Feb 2018