The Irish advocacy group seeking justice for the Magdalenes (the generations of Irish women hidden away, often for life, at the Magdalene laundries) took their campaign to the United Nations Committee Against Torture this week.
Spokesperson Maeve O’Rourke from the Justice for Magdalenes group made a verbal submission to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva this week, where she told the panel that former Magdalene residents still alive today continue to suffer degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT).
Justice For the Magdalenes estimates that tens of thousands of Irish women who were pregnant out of wedlock or considered too attractive, too independent, too spirited, too sexually frank, or too otherwise challenging to the Irish society of the time were often sent to the laundries. Many of them are now dead.
O’Rourke claimed that by refusing to investigate and ensure redress for the remaining survivors, the state is disregarding its obligations under UNCAT Articles 12-14.
'They have received no apology from the state, no investigation, no redress, and no compensation for their abuse. They receive no pension for their unpaid labour,' O'Rourke told the Irish Examiner.
Between 1922 and 1996, 10 Magdalene laundries operated in Ireland, run by four Catholic orders of nuns. Justice for the Magdalenes argues the Irish state had a role to play in the laundries as it knew children were imprisoned there and were supplying child labour.
They have also shown state policy required the transfer of 'repeat' unmarried mothers from state-funded mother and baby homes to the unregulated laundry institutions.
It has also harshly criticized the state for not forcing the religious orders to release their detailed records on Magdalene detainees.
In November 2010, the Irish Human Rights Commission released a report that said there is sufficient evidence of state responsibility for unlawful imprisonment, servitude, forced labour and cruel and degrading treatment, and called for a statutory inquiry into human rights violations at the laundries.