In this issue:
In this month’s UN CRINmail, we bring you the latest news on children’s rights at the United Nations, including a very busy 35th session of the Human Rights Council which saw the presentation of reports on various topics including sexual orientation and gender identity, climate change and the rights of the child, and mental health. A number of resolutions related to children were adopted including one on the right to education, which addresses the issue of privatisation of education, and a panel on “unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights” was held. June also featured the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in conflict as well as the World Day against Child Labour.
The Human Rights Council (HRC) held its 35th session from 6 to 23 June. Here we summarise some of the developments concerning children’s rights. For more information on the Human Rights Council’s 35th session, you can view the reports, and read the summaries of the meetings that have taken place, and access all the adopted resolutions. Other information can be found on the homepage of the Human Rights Council website.
The Independent Expert (IE) on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity(SOGI), Vitit Muntarbhorn, presented his first report to the Council during an interactive dialogue. He underlined the need to recognise that gender identity could be different from the gender assigned at birth. He recalled that in many countries, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons were still victims of torture, mistreatment, killing, harassment and bullying from a young age. Muntarbhorn further explained how promoting non-discrimination in education and raising awareness were essential to put an end to disrespectful and hateful attitudes. He called on States to respond to his report, in the hope that it would encourage States to ratify human rights instruments and fight all kinds of violence and discrimination. The next report of the IE will focus on the specific rights violations affecting children who identify as LGBTI. See CRIN’s submission here.
The Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution on the protection of the family with a focus on “the role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons”. It was adopted by a vote of 30 in favour, 12 against and five abstentions. As for the previous annual resolutions on “the protection of the family”, strong opposition from human rights organisations took place during the process of adoption. A coalition of NGOs made a statement to the Council arguingthat this resolution aimed “to subvert the universality of international human rights; stifle diversity and autonomy; and to shift rights protections away from family members, including older persons, into the institution of ‘the family’”. The failure of the resolution to recognise that various forms of family exist everywhere was also highlighted.
Read more about what is wrong with this resolution in CRIN’s article “Claiming back rights: the family rights fallacy”.
Presenting her thematic report on the realisation of the right to education through non-formal education, the Special Rapporteur (SR) on the right to education, Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, noted 263 million children, mostly girls, were out of school, and some 775 million adults in the world were illiterate. The report explored how informal education could play a vital role in the realisation of the right to education. Non-formal education programmes were often not favourably seen even though, by being learner-centred, they were more flexible and could improve school results. The SR noted that education must become more flexible to respond to the needs of millions of children and adult learners without compromising the minimum norms of quality established by the State. Flexible and adaptable programmes were needed in countries affected by armed conflict or natural disasters. In many countries, the children that were out of school were poor children and children living in remote areas, who often worked for their families and could not go to schools that did not take account of the needs of farming and herding communities. The SR noted that informal education would often be able to better respond to these local contexts.
In an important resolution on the right to education, States have reaffirmedthe urgent need to address the potential negative impacts of the commercialisation of education on human rights. The resolution, adopted by consensus, urges all States, “to put in place a regulatory framework for education providers, including those operating independently or in partnership with states, [...] that […] addresses any negative impact of the commercialisation of education”. It also calls on States to: “regulate and monitor education providers, and to hold accountable those whose practices have a negative impact on the enjoyment of the right to education”, while, “recognising the significant importance of investment in public education”. According to the organisation “Right to Education Initiative”, this resolution comes against the backdrop of a massive growth of private education providers in developing countries over the past 15 years, sometimes with the support of donor states and agencies, which has raised multiple human rights concerns.
In a resolution on child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian settings, adopted without a vote, the Council urges States to remove any provisions that may enable, justify or lead to child, early or forced marriage, including provisions that enable perpetrators of rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abduction, trafficking in persons or modern slavery to escape prosecution and punishment by marrying their victims, in particular by repealing or amending such laws. It further stresses that girls must be afforded the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health. The resolution finally requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to create a web portal to bring together and collate information relating to child, early and forced marriage, including in humanitarian settings.
In a resolution on youth and human rights, adopted without a vote, the Council calls on States to promote and ensure the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for youth, including, by taking measures to combat age discrimination, neglect, abuse and violence, and to address issues related to barriers to social integration and adequate participation. The resolution also requests that the OHCHR conducts a detailed study on the implementation of human rights with regard to young people, identification of cases of discrimination against young people in the exercise of their human rights, and best practices on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by young people. This study should also highlight the contribution of empowered youth to the realisation of human rights in society and will be submitted to the Council prior to its 39th session. The report of the panel discussion that was held on the same topic at the 33rd session of the HRC in September 2016 is also available on the OHCHR website.
In a report presented to the Council, the High Commissioner looked at the relationship between climate change and the full and effective enjoyment of the rights of the child. Ms. Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights said that it addresses the many threats that climate change poses to the enjoyment of the rights of the child. She also stressed that the human rights commitments contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and those from the Paris climate agreement were clear on the obligations of States to protect the rights of the child and address climate change while taking into account the principle of the best interest of the child, as expressed by children themselves. She also recalled that States must guarantee access to remedies for children affected by climate change. Making recommendations to States parties in order to take a human rights-based approach to protect those most vulnerable to climate change from its worst impacts, the report also provides good practices in promoting children’s rights in national climate actions, including educational policies, disaster risk reduction measures, strategic litigation and engagement by human rights mechanisms.
The report on the panel discussion, held in March 2017, on “the adverse impact of climate change on States’ efforts to realise the rights of the child and related policies, lessons learned and good practices” is also available on the OHCHR website.
A panel on “unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights” was held during the session of the HRC. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the panel by recalling that at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children had been recorded in some 80 countries in 2015 and 2016. Above all, they remained children, said the High Commissioner, who noted that it was of utmost importance that further efforts were carried out to ensure that all States did a better job of providing protection and assistance for all migrant children. The best interest of the child had to guide all relevant policies, including with regard to age assessments, entry, stay and expulsion, he added. Also on the panel was Benyam Dawit Mezmur, member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, who underlined that “age was central to children and their rights.” However he expressed concerns over some States’ practices in that regard, stressing that the processes were not conclusive, did not respect children’s best interests, and were intrusive. He also underlined that children were detained while their age was being assessed, echoing the concerns of several participants to the ensuing discussion, calling for an end to the detention of children seeking refuge.
Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the SR on the human rights of internally displaced persons, presented her first report to the HRC, noting that in recent years, the picture of internal displacement and the plight of internally displaced persons globally offered little positive news. She said that children made up the majority of those displaced by conflict and frequently bore the brunt of the suffering. Their situation and lack of protection remained a considerable concern worldwide. She said it was necessary to adopt a comprehensive refugee response framework, as well as addressing the root causes behind displacement, such as armed conflicts, lack of security, poverty and economic uncertainties. The SR said that during her mandate, she would bring further focus to the needs and protection issues that internally displaced children were facing, with a view to bringing renewed attention to their plight and in order to seek innovative approaches, concrete actions, and new commitments to their protection in displacement-affected countries.
The SR on the right to health, Dainius Pûras, has called for a sea change in mental health care around the world after presenting his latest report to the HRC. He urged States and psychiatrists to act with courage to reform a crisis-hit system built on outdated attitudes. “We need little short of a revolution in mental health care to end decades of neglect, abuse and violence,” the SR noted, adding that mental health is grossly neglected within health systems around the world. Where mental health systems exist, they are segregated from other health care and based on outdated practices that violate human rights. Some groups in special situations of concern, such as women, children, adolescents and youth, suffered disproportionately, and he highlighted the particular situation of children with mental health needs who deserved equal treatment and respect for their rights. Adolescents would only use services if they were adolescent-friendly, and punitive measures should not be used. The SR called for States to move away from traditional practices and thinking, and to pursue a long overdue shift to a more rights-based approach.
More must be done by the Government of Myanmar to protect children, the SR on the situation of human rights in the country, Yanghee Lee saidwhile reporting to the HRC. She reminded the Government that it is obliged to extend protection to all children within its jurisdiction, including all those from the Rohingya minority living in Rakhine State. Expressing concern that at least 13 children were being held by police in Rakhine, the SR said that children should be detained “strictly as a last resort.” She also called for an immediate Government investigation into the death of a child in custody, and why the death was not reported for four months. The SR also expressed concern about the situation of Rohingya children who have fled Myanmar and the reported rise in the number of child brides among women and girls who fled Myanmar and live in neighbouring countries, which perpetuates a cycle of violence and of poverty experienced by these young women.
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Also in June, the ongoing consultations towards the Global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration continued with a Global Conference on Children on the Move, convened in Berlin, with participants from United Nations agencies, States, academia, members of civil society and the private sector. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) stressedthat all parties involved in these talks must work together to address the needs of migrant children, consistent with their human rights. “We want to ensure that child migration is always in the best interests of the child and that when it is not, sustainable solutions are found for children and their families both at home or in a new home elsewhere”, said William Lacy Swing, IOM Director General.
The 20th of June was also the celebration of the World Refugee Day. On this occasion, Secretary-General (SG) António Guterres recalled the latest figures from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), showing that at least 65.6 million people - 1 of every 113 people - have been forcibly displaced within their own countries or across borders. “While Syria remains the world’s largest source of refugees, South Sudan is the biggest and fastest growing new displacement emergency, with 1.4 million refugees and 1.9 million internally displaced, the vast majority of them under 18 – a further blow to the future prospects of the world’s youngest nation” he said. Stressing the violations of human rights and international law that are happening with the closing of the borders, people perishing in transit, and refugees and migrants alike being shunned, SR Guterres called on Member States “to do far more to protect people fleeing for their lives, buttress the international protection regime, and find solutions so that people are not left in limbo for years on end.” “It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law” he added.
According to these latest figures on people forcibly displaced from their home in 2016 released by the UNHCR in its report ‘Global trends’, half of the 22.5 million refugee people were children younger than 18 years of age, while they only make up 31 per cent of the total world population. Among its findings, the report also notes that some 75,000 asylum claims were received from children travelling alone or separated from their parents.
On the occasion of World Day against Child Labour, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) emphasised the special vulnerability of children in conflicts and disasters who are at particular risk of child labour. “Child refugees and migrants, particularly those on the move who are separated from their families, are especially vulnerable and can easily fall prey to trafficking and child labour” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Children who stay – or are left – behind are especially vulnerable to the worst forms of child labour, including in mining or scavenging for metal and minerals in war-torn areas, clearing rubble, or working in the streets” he added, while also referring to children being used by armed forces or groups as combatants, spies, helpers and porters, or becoming victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. “All children have the right to be protected from child labour”, Ryder said, recalling that all countries have committed to eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025 under the target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The commemoration of the International day for the elimination of sexual violence in conflict also took place in June. Speaking at an event organised on this occasion, Virginia Gamba, the newly appointed UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG) recalled that ‘rape and other forms of sexual violence’ are one of the six grave violations against children. Armed groups or armed forces who commit grave violations of children's rights in times of war are added to the UN Secretary General (SG)’s annual list of perpetrators, which triggers the global process of ‘monitoring and reporting mechanism’ (MRM) established by the Security Council to hold accountable those who commit grave violations of children’s rights during armed conflict. “The process serves the dual purpose of publicly holding perpetrators to account for their crimes as well as creating the political space to engage them in view of ending and preventing future violations” said Gamba. According to the SRSG, accountability remains a central concern in the majority of situations of armed conflict; encouraging Governments to hold their own troops to account, including through supporting the implementation of action plans, reinforcing local justice systems and joint advocacy is an important prerequisite to disrupt the cycle of impunity.
Over the past two years, human rights organisations have criticised the politicisation of the SG's list of perpetrators of grave violations of children's rights. This includes high profile action from Saudi Arabia, which allegedly threatened to withdraw funding from key UN programmes if it was kept on the list over ongoing children’s rights violations in Yemen and reports of intense pressure from Israel and Israel’s allies, notably the US, not to include the Israeli Defence Forces on the list.
Read CRIN’s critical review of UN’s work on children and armed conflict: The UN and children in armed conflict: playing politics?
Read more on the role of the Security Council on the issue.
The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, applauded the endorsement by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights of the Regional Action Plan to end attacks on persons with albinism in Africa, and called for all States to take 15 practical steps set out in this first ever regional action plan. The UN expert said this new move to take joint action gave grounds for optimism ahead of International Albinism Awareness Day on 13 June. “International cooperation will be a turning point in the long battle to end discrimination for people with albinism, some of whom continue to be murdered for their body parts,” the Independent Expert said. People, especially women and children, continue to suffer extreme forms of violence, discrimination, stigma and social exclusion. People with albinism also face significant barriers restricting their equal participation in society, impacting their rights to enjoy physical and mental health and their ability to access adequate health care, education, social services, legal protection, and redress for abuses, she stressed.
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The Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity will visit Cuba from 10 to 14 July
The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises will visit Peru from 10 to 19 July
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will visit the country from 17 to 21 July
The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism will visit Tanzania from 18 to 28 July
The Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice will visit Samoa from 8 to 18 August
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons will visit El Salvador from 14 to 18 August
The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context will visit Japan from 22 to 31 August
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The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held its 92nd session in April and May and reviewed the compliance of six countries with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:
Armenia: the Committee was concerned at the lack of disaggregated statistical data on how many members of minority groups completed and dropped out of both primary and secondary school and how many enrol in university. It also expressed concerns at reports that child marriage remained frequent in the Yezidi community and that rates of unregistered marriages were high.
Bulgaria: the Committee was concerned about the continued marginalisation of Roma in all walks of life, and the serious challenges they face in accessing basic services. In particular, the Committee expressed concerns about the persistence of de facto educational segregation, combined with limited access to mainstream education, especially at the preschool level, and high dropout rates, including at the primary school level. It recommended that the State party eliminate any discrimination against Roma pupils in respect of access to an adequate education and combat stereotypes that lead to social exclusion.
Cyprus: the Committee noted with concern that Roma/Kurbets continue to face discrimination and stigmatisation as well as challenges such as low school attendance and high dropout rates of children, difficulty accessing adequate housing, unemployment, and reported racist attacks. It recommended that the State party develops a comprehensive strategy for the inclusion of Roma/Kurbets to ensure, in particular, that they have access to education, including in the Kurbetcha language where and when appropriate.
Finland: the Committee noted that 75 per cent of Sami children under the age of 11 years lived outside the Sami homeland and was concerned that, despite an allocated budget increase, the number of qualified teachers of Sami languages remained insufficient. Expressing concerns over the incidence of bullying at school, that had not decreased despite the anti-bullying programmes put in place by the State party, the Committee recommended to strengthen its efforts to promote tolerance, diversity and equality in school curricula in order to encourage an effective multicultural learning environment.
Kenya: expressing concerns at reports that indigenous peoples have difficulty accessing education due to the lack of nearby schools, the Committee recommended that the State party strengthen its efforts to ensure that all Kenyans enjoy access to education without discrimination, including through the adoption of appropriate special measures.
Moldova: the Committee remained concerned that persons belonging to minority ethnic groups such as Bulgarians, Gagauz, Russians and Ukrainians were reportedly unable to gain access to mother-tongue education. It was further concerned that, in schools where mother-tongue education was offered to minority students, instruction on the State language was reportedly of insufficient quality, thereby affecting the ability of ethnic minority students to have access to higher education and employment opportunities that required knowledge of the official State language.
The Committee on the rights of the child (CRC) has published a list of upcoming cases brought before the Committee in application of the Third Optional Protocol on a communication procedure (OP3). These individual communications alleging violations of the Convention will be considered by the Committee.
Individual complaints are the most direct form of complaint under the communications procedure, which allows for individuals, or groups of individuals to complain about a violation of their rights, either themselves or through their representatives. For more information and explanations on how to bring a complaint before the Committee, read CRIN’s toolkit.
Read the summaries of the first three cases:
- J.A.B.S. v. Costa Rica
- A.H.A. v. Spain
- A.A.A. v. Spain
In last month’s edition of this CRINmail, we wrote that the Committee on migrant workers (CMW) reviewed Niger’s compliance - instead of Nigeria’s compliance - with the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
We apologise for this error.
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: 31 July for the review of: Latvia, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Morocco, Panama, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Committee on Enforced Disappearance: 10 August for the review of Gabon and Lithuania.
Committee on Migrant Workers: 14 August for the review of Indonesia, Ecuador and Mexico.
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THE LAST WORD
“Under the disguise of protecting the family, some States are taking initiatives aimed at diluting human rights. We obviously recognise that the family is the fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection, but we insist on the need to (...) recognise that diverse forms of families exist.”
-- Statement delivered at the end of the HRC by the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice; Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune; Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed; Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity Vitit Muntarbhorn; and Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Dubravka Šimonović.
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Millions could escape poverty by finishing secondary education, says UN cultural agency.