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Universal Periodic Review

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The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was established in 2006 to assess how individual member states of the United Nations (UN) respect their human rights commitments. The process highlights any gaps in human rights fulfilment and protection in the state under review. Each state is reviewed under the UPR every four years. Ireland’s first review under the UPR took place in 2011 and its second will happen in May 2016.

The IFPA and the UPR

The IFPA is a member of Your Rights Right Now, a coalition of seventeen civil society organisations formed in advance of Ireland's first UPR in 2011 and co-ordinated by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).

Ireland's Second UPR: May 2016

In March 2016, the IFPA delivered a statement on Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws to Permanent Representatives to the UN in Geneva. This statement highlighted that:

  • Ireland’s abortion laws are out of step with European consensus.
  • Ireland’s abortion restrictions significantly harm women and girls:
    • Women and girls must leave the state to access abortion unless their life, as distinct from their health, is at risk, incurring significant financial, physical and psychological burdens, as well as experiencing stigma.
    • Not all women can travel. Some women are forced by the law to parent against their will. Others risk prosecution by self-inducing abortion in Ireland using medication obtained online.
  • Every UN treaty body that has examined Ireland’s abortion laws has concluded that they are irreconcilable with women’s human rights.

Also in March 2016, the IFPA highlighted the impact of Ireland's abortion laws on women's human rights to UN member states as part of a Your Rights Right Now event in advance of Ireland's second UPR.

In September 2015, the IFPA made a submission to the UPR Working Group in relation to Ireland's second UPR. We also contributed to the second Civil Society UPR Stakeholder Report, launched in December 2015.

The IFPA has suggested the following measures be recommended to Ireland during the second UPR:

  • Repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.
  • Take all necessary steps to bring Ireland’s laws on abortion into compliance with international human rights standards in law and in practice.
  • Decriminalise abortion by repealing sections 22 and 23 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.
  • Repeal the Abortion Information Act 1995.

Ireland's First UPR: October 2011

The IFPA actively engaged with the first UPR of Ireland in 2011 and made a submission to the UPR Working Group, highlighting the human rights violations of women and girls in Ireland who are denied access to safe and legal abortion services within the State. The IFPA also contributed to the first Civil Society UPR Stakeholder Report. Read our reaction to the recommendations in relation to Ireland’s abortion laws during the first UPR here.

Recommendations about Ireland’s abortion laws from Ireland's first UPR (2011) and notes on the status of implementation:

Human rights standards

Norway: Bring its abortion laws in line with the ICCPR.

Note: This recommendation was rejected and has not been subsequently implemented. The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), which monitors implementation of the ICCPR (International Convention on Civil and Political Rights), has called on the State make legislative and constitutional changes to its abortion laws in order to meet its obligations the Covenant.

Widen grounds for abortion

Denmark: Take measures to revise the law on abortion with a view to permitting termination of pregnancy in cases where pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or in situations where the pregnancy puts the physical or mental health or well-being of the pregnant woman or the pregnant girl in danger.

Slovenia: Allow abortion at least when pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the pregnant woman.

Note: These recommendations were rejected and have not subsequently been implemented. There has been no change since 2011 on the situation of women who seek to end a pregnancy because of rape or incest or where a pregnancy poses a risk to their health or well-being. Women in these situations have to travel to another state to access a procedure that would be available in almost all other European countries.

Decriminalise abortion and safeguard reproductive rights

Spain: Adopt legislative measures that guarantee greater integration of women as well as safeguards for their personal rights and reproductive healthcare and reform the Offences against the Person Act of 1861 to decriminalise abortion under certain circumstances.

Note: This recommendation was rejected and has not subsequently been implemented. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 includes criminal provisions under which a woman who had an abortion in Ireland and anyone who assisted her would be liable to prosecution and a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

Legislate to give effect to the right to lawful abortion if a pregnant woman’s life is at risk

United Kingdom: Introduce legislation to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C v Ireland case.

Netherlands: Ensure that the establishment of an expert group on abortion matters will lead to a coherent legal framework including the provision of adequate services.

Note: The European Court of Human Rights required Ireland to give effect in practice to the limited constitutional right to lawful abortion if a woman’s life, as distinct from her health, is at risk. An expert group established in June 2011 recommended legislation as the means to fulfil the Court’s requirements. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was enacted in 2013 to implement this judgment. However the Act retains harsh criminal sanctions and its provisions have been criticised as cumbersome and discriminatory, including by the UN HRC and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Below: statement delivered to the Human Rights Council by the IFPA's Meghan Doherty in March 2012, highlighting the need for the Government to heed UPR recommendations and reform its restrictive abortion laws.

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