Advertisement

Netherlands International Law Review

, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 101–141 | Cite as

Prolonged Impunity as a Continuing Situation of Torture or Ill-Treatment? Applying a Dignity Lens to So-Called ‘Historical’ Cases

  • Maeve O’RourkeEmail author
Article

Abstract

Around the world many survivors of so-called ‘historical’ abuses persist in seeking truth and justice decades after rights violations have been perpetrated. Recognising that prolonged impunity may cause victims’ suffering to intensify over time, the United Nations Committee Against Torture stated in its General Comment No. 3 that victims of torture or ill-treatment must be enabled to access comprehensive redress regardless of when the violation occurred. However, it seems far from settled in international human rights law that there is a substantive right to redress for torture or ill-treatment regardless of when in the past the violation occurred. In cases before several international human rights treaty bodies (and domestic courts), claims concerning ‘historical’ rights violations have been rejected on the basis that the adjudicating body does not have temporal jurisdiction or, if temporal jurisdiction is not in issue, because the claimant is guilty of ‘delay’. This article proposes that a focus on the dignity of survivors could enable the international human rights treaty bodies and other actors to recognise the existence of a ‘continuing situation’ of torture or ill-treatment where impunity for the initial substantive violation is prolonged. Such an understanding could provide the doctrinal basis for recognising a substantive right to redress for torture or ill-treatment even where the initial torture or ill-treatment occurred prior to the coming into force of the relevant treaty obligation, and indefinitely. The article illustrates its arguments using the case study of impunity for the systematic abuse of girls and women in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.

Keywords

Dignity Reparation Redress Continuing violations Torture Historical abuse 

Notes

References

  1. Burgers JH, Danelius H (1988) The United Nations Convention against Torture: a handbook on the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Martinus Nijhoff, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  2. Buyse A (2006) A lifeline in time—non-retroactivity and continuing violations under the ECHR. Nordic J Int Law 75:63–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Byk C (2014) Is human dignity a useless concept? In: Duwell M et al (eds) The Cambridge handbook of human dignity: interdisciplinary perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 362–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carozza P (2008) Human dignity and judicial interpretation of human rights: a reply. Eur J Int Law 19:931–944CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Feldman D (1999) Human dignity as a legal value: part 1. Public Law 44:682–702Google Scholar
  6. Fischer C (2016) Gender, nation, and the politics of shame: Magdalen Laundries and the institutionalization of feminine transgression in modern Ireland. Signs J Women Cult Soc 41:821–843CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gallen J (2016) Historical abuse and the statute of limitations. Statute Law Rev 39:103–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Grieg DW (2001) Intertemporality and the law of treaties. British Institute of International and Comparative Law, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Luban D (2014) Treatment of prisoners and torture. In: Duwell M et al (eds) The Cambridge handbook of human dignity: interdisciplinary perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 446–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. McAlinden A-M (2013) An inconvenient truth: barriers to truth recovery in the aftermath of institutional child abuse in Ireland. Legal Stud 33:189–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Nowak M (2005) Challenges to the absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Neth Q Hum Rights 23:674–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. O’Rourke M (2016) The justice for Magdalenes Campaign. In: Egan S (ed) Implementing international human rights: perspectives from Ireland. Bloomsbury, Dublin, pp 145–169Google Scholar
  13. O’Rourke M, Smith JM (2016) Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: confronting a history not yet in the past. In: Hayes A, Meagher M (eds) A century of progress? Irish women reflect. Arlen House, Dublin, pp 107–133Google Scholar
  14. Olsen TD, Payne LA, Reiter AG (2012) Conclusion: amnesty in the age of accountability. In: Lessa F, Payne LA (eds) Amnesty in the age of human rights accountability. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 336–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Rubio-Marín R (2009a) Gender and collective reparations in the aftermath of conflict and political repression. In: Rubio-Marín R (ed) The gender of reparations: unsettling sexual hierarchies while redressing human rights violations. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 381–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Rubio-Marín R (2009b) Introduction: a gender and reparations taxonomy. In: Rubio-Marín R (ed) The gender of reparations: unsettling sexual hierarchies while redressing human rights violations. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rubio-Marín R, Sandoval C (2011) Engendering the reparations jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: the promise of the Cotton Field Judgment. Human Rights Q 33:1062–1091CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Shaw MN (2003) International Law, 5th edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Shelton D (2003) The world of atonement: reparations for historical injustices. Neth Int Law Rev 50:289–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Strawson PF (1968) Freedom and resentment. In: Strawson PF (ed) Studies in the philosophy of thought and action. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  21. Sveaass N (2013) Gross human rights violations and reparation under international law: approaching rehabilitation as a form of reparation. Eur J Psychotraumatol 4:17191.  https://doi.org/10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.17191 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sveaass N, Lavik NJ (2000) Psychological aspects of human rights violations: the importance of justice and reconciliation. Nordic J Int Law 69:35–52Google Scholar
  23. Walker MU (2013) Moral vulnerability and the task of reparations. In: Mackenzie C, Rogers W, Dodds S (eds) Vulnerability: new essays in ethics and feminist philosophy. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 110–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Press 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Irish Centre for Human RightsNational University of IrelandGalwayIreland

Personalised recommendations