Becky Randel, PRI’s Research Assistant travelled to Geneva last week, with Nikhil Roy PRI’s Programme Development Director and Triona Lenihan PRI’s Policy Intern, to discuss, promote and engage with States on PRI’s programme of work relating to children deprived of their liberty.
On Thursday 13 March, the Human Rights Council had its Annual Day on the Rights of the Child – a full day dedicated to the discussion of a specific issue related to children. This year the discussion was focused on children’s access to justice, which the OHCHR in its report to the Council defined as “the ability to obtain a just and timely remedy for the violation of rights”.
The morning session focused on the international norms and standards and speakers identified situations where access to justice for children is vital, what mechanisms should be in place to enable children to access justice at the national, regional and international level, the steps States must take to develop these mechanisms and make them accessible, and the challenges for children in general, as well as specific groups of children, in using them.
There was discussion on the new Third Optional Protocol to the CRC which, following ratification from ten member States this year, establishes an international complaints mechanism for children. While States were encouraged to ratify the new Protocol to enable children in their jurisdictions to access this international mechanism, it was stressed strongly that this did not negate the need for effective national complaints mechanisms to be put in place.
The afternoon session focused on the more practical challenges for children in accessing justice and how States and organisations can empower children to claim their rights. Our Programme Development Director spoke on the panel about both the increased risk children in detention face of having their rights violated and their increased difficulty in accessing justice for the violation of these rights. Other speakers looked at children vulnerable in other situations and solutions to this, including Maya Bhandari who spoke of her experience working as a volunteer paralegal in her community in Nepal and how community paralegals such as herself play a vital legal and support role as a bridge between the formal justice system and children who have had their rights violated.
States responded to both sessions stating their commitment to child rights in general and ensuring access to justice in particular. They requested good practice examples from the panel and other States on practical mechanisms and frameworks for progressing in this area. However, it will be the action following the day’s discussion at the national level that will tell if the issue has been taken seriously.
With such an important meeting focused on access to justice for children on Thursday, side events across the week also provided fora for exploration of related issues. On Tuesday 11 March, Marta Santos Pais launched her latest report, on restorative justice, with a side event. PRI was happy to speak on the importance of restorative justice in informal justice settings and ensuring safeguards are in place so that systems protect and promote child rights.
Finally, following the HRC Annual Day on the Rights of the Child, Defence for Children International launched their Call for a Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty, an initiative supported by a range of child rights organisations including PRI.
As I finish writing this, I rush off to the last side event of my trip on the first World Congress on Juvenile Justice, which is taking place in January next year hosted by the Government of Switzerland and Terres des Hommes. We’re already looking forward to this important event and coming back to Geneva for a whole week dedicated to in-depth discussions and workshops next January!
Throughout the week, we were also able to promote our three latest justice for children publications.