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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.

This peer-to-peer review process sees each of the 193 UN member states voluntarily submit for a review of their domestic human rights record every four and a half years. The review takes places before the UN Human Rights Council and highlights any gaps in human rights fulfilment and protection in the state under review.

Ireland’s first review under the UPR took place in 2011 and second review in 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

Ireland's second UPR took place on 11th May 2016 and the IFPA was actively engaged.

We made a submission to the UPR Working Group, highlighting the impact of Ireland's restrictive abortion laws on women's health, and contributed to the second Civil Society UPR Stakeholder Report, launched in December 2015. In March 2016, we delivered a statement on Ireland’s abortion laws to Permanent Representatives to the UN in Geneva and participated in a Your Rights Right Now event with UN member states.

During Ireland's second UPR, Ireland's restrictive abortion laws were the main issue of concern for UN member states, with criticism tripling since Ireland's first UPR in 2011. 15 countries issued recommendations on Ireland’s abortion laws: Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, India, Republic of Korea, Lithuania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay. The United States, France and Canada also issued recommendations asking Ireland to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights. Read our reaction to the recommendations.

Ireland responded to the majority of UPR recommendations in May, but deferred its decision on others to allow for further consideration. In September 2016, the Government issued its response to these outstanding recommendations made by UN member states in May. Among these recommendations, 16 related to abortion and three referred to sexual and reproductive health and rights more generally – none were accepted by the Government. In a written submission to the Human Rights Council outlining its response to the UPR recommendations, the Government referred to its decision to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to review the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Article 40.3.3) and report back to the Houses of the Oireachtas. Read our reaction to the Government's decision to reject the recommendations.

The IFPA travelled to Geneva to address the UN at the adoption of Ireland's UPR report and delivered an oral statement on behalf of the IFPA, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the National Women’s Council, the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Recommendations about Ireland’s abortion laws from Ireland's second UPR (2016) and notes on their current status:

Human rights standards

Germany: Further strengthen women’s rights and review Articles 40 and 41 of the Irish Constitution with a view to abandon formulations that potentially promote gender discrimination and to bring Ireland’s laws on abortion into compliance with international human rights standards in law and in practice.

Norway: Revise its legislation on abortion, including its Constitution, to provide for additional exceptions in cases of rape, incest or serious risks to the health of the mother, building on the recommendation from the UN Human Rights Committee.

India: Take all necessary steps to revise the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013 in line with international human rights standards.

Republic of Korea: Consider revising its relevant legislation on abortion in line with international human rights standards on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Slovakia: Ensure the full right for women to abortion and implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights regarding this right.

Sweden: Take necessary steps to revise its legislation on abortion and provide for clear exceptions, in line with international human rights law and standards, so as to ensure the right to abortion in cases of rape and incest, as well as cases entailing serious risks to the health of the mother or fatal foetal abnormality.

Note: None of these recommendations were accepted by Ireland.  

Widen grounds for abortion

Switzerland: Conduct consultations involving all stakeholders, including civil society organisations, in order to examine whether Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution could be revised and the legal framework related to abortion broadened.

Note: This recommendation was accepted by Ireland.

Slovenia: Repeal Articles 42.1 and 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

Netherlands: Establish a Constitutional Convention on article 40.3.3 of the Constitution with the aim to remove all restrictive legislation on abortion.

Iceland: Ensure availability of safe abortions, at a minimum in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and in cases of severe and fatal foetal impairment.

Lithuania: Amend the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 that the women interests and health are better protected, especially in instances where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or in cases of severe foetal impairment.

Czech Republic: Broaden through an inclusive public debate the access to abortion for pregnant women, in particular in cases of threat to health, rape and incest.

Uruguay: Review the law on abortion to expand the circumstances in which it can be carried out.

Note: None of these recommendations were accepted by Ireland.   

Decriminalise abortion and safeguard reproductive rights

Iceland: Repeal legislation that criminalizes abortion and eliminate all punitive measures, in particular Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution.

Denmark: Take forward the democratic process of repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution with a clear timeline, and take all necessary steps to decriminalise abortion in all circumstances, in accordance with the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Take the necessary steps aimed at revising the relevant legislation with a view to decriminalize abortion within reasonable gestational limits.

Slovenia: Decriminalize abortion in all circumstances and, as a minimum, ensure access to safe abortion also in cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the mother and fatal foetal abnormality.

United States of America: Identify and address gaps in reproductive health legislation to ensure the protection of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

France: Take all necessary measures to ensure the full respect of sexual and reproductive rights.

Canada: Protect and promote reproductive rights without any discrimination, recognising reproductive rights include the right to the highest attainable standard of sexual and reproductive health, the right of all to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children, as well as decide on matters related to their sexuality, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, violence or coercion.

Note: None of these recommendations were accepted by Ireland.   

During its second UPR (2016), Ireland also received recommendations from three countries – Lithuania, Mexico and New Zealand – about the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents:

Lithuania: Adopt a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy for adolescents and ensure that sexual and reproductive health education is a part of the mandatory school curricula and targeted at adolescents.

New Zealand: Adopt a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy for adolescents and ensure that sexual and reproductive health education is part of the mandatory school curriculum and targeted at adolescent girls and boys, with special attention on preventing early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Note: These recommendations were partially accepted by Ireland.

Mexico: Ensure that the new system of universal health care guarantees availability and access to services to boys and girls and contraception methods to adolescents, while allowing access to these services in general without discrimination on any grounds.

Note: This recommendation was not accepted by Ireland.

    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.

    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.

    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.

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