Were you looking for an A to Z of child rights issues? If so, visit our 'issues' page.
The following explanation of child rights terms is not exhaustive, and will be updated and amended over time. If you have any suggestions, or corrections, please email us at [email protected].
ACCESSION: The act whereby a state accepts the offer or the opportunity to become a party to a treaty already negotiated and signed by other states. It has the same legal effect as ratification. Accession usually occurs after the treaty has entered into force. The conditions under which accession may occur and the procedure involved depend on the provisions of the treaty. A treaty might provide for the accession of all other states or for a limited and defined number of states.
BINDING AGREEMENT: Means that the contracting parties intended to create legal rights and duties. Treaties, agreements, conventions, charters, protocols, declarations, memoranda of understanding, modus vivendi and exchange of notes are all binding.
CHARTER-BASED HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES (see also TREATY-BASED HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES): These derive their establishment from provisions contained in the Charter of the United Nations, hold broad human rights mandates, address everyone and take action based on majority voting. The distinction between Charter-based and Treaty-based bodies is reflected on the website of the High Commissioner for Human Rights where documents are listed under the separate headings. While Charter-based human rights systems aim to promote human rights, Treaty-based systems seek to enforce the implementation of standards.
CHILD RIGHTS CAUCUS: There are two 'groupings' called 'the Child Rights Caucus.
The first one is the 'Child Rights Caucus for the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children' which was set up by a number of NGOs to promote full implementation and compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to ensure that child rights were given priority during the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children and its Preparatory process. It has now merged with the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Not to be confused with the Child Rights Caucus for the UN Human Rights Council (previously the Children's Human Rights Caucus at the UN Commission on Human Rights), which is a special interest group organised by the subgroup for the Human Rights Council (of the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child). The subgroup hosts a special interest group called the Child Rights Caucus during the Council. This Caucus serves as a focal point for participants on children's rights at the Council. Activities include: planning and organising morning briefings on children's issues at the Council sessions, and ensuring updates on children's issues at the Council are sent out to members worldwide, and liaising with other Caucuses, notably through CONGO (The Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations), in order to develop joint NGO information and lobbying efforts. Read a sample CRIN report from the Caucus.
CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS: The rights of citizens to liberty and equality; sometimes referred to as ‘first generation rights’. Civil rights include freedom to worship, to think and express oneself, to vote, to take part in political life, and to have access to information. These rights are often mentioned in conjunction with ‘second-generation’ economic, social, and cultural rights, which have sometimes been regarded as lesser rights.
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (CHR): The Commission was the UN’s principal mechanism and international forum concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights. In March 2006, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to replace the Commission with the UN Human Rights Council. Read how this happened
COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (CRC): The Committee is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State Parties. It also monitors implementation of two Optional Protocols to the Convention, on involvement of children in armed conflict and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS: All States parties that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child have to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially two years after acceding to the Convention and then every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State Party through “Concluding Observations”. Click here for examples
CONSULTATIVE STATUS: Refers to a status that NGOs and other organisations may gain in order to participate in the work of the UN. Consultative status enables qualifying organisations to serve as technical experts, advisers and consultants to governments and Secretariat. Sometimes, as advocacy groups, they further UN themes, implementing plans of action, programmes and declarations adopted by the United Nations.
In order to obtain consultative status an organisation's application must be reviewed by the Committee on NGOs of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which meets twice a year. The Committee recommends to the ECOSOC which organisations should be granted one of three categories (General, Special, and Roster).
General Category organisations must be "concerned with most of the activities of the ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies". These tend to be fairly large, established international NGOs with a broad geographical reach.
Special Category is granted to NGOs "which have a special competence in, and are concerned specifically with, only a few of the fields of activity covered by the ECOSOC". These NGOs tend to be smaller and more recently established.
Roster organisations "can make occasional and useful contributions to the work of ECOSOC or its subsidiary bodies". These NGOs tend to have a rather narrow and/or technical focus.
Find out how to obtain consultative status here
CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (adopted 1989; entered into force 1990): Convention setting forth a full spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights for children. Since its adoption, it has been ratified more quickly and by more governments than any other human rights instrument. The USA and Somalia are the only countries which have failed to ratify. The Convention is also the only international human rights treaty that expressly gives non-governmental organisations (NGOs) a role in monitoring its implementation (under Article 45a).Visit CRIN’s page on the Convention here
COVENANT: Binding agreement between states; used synonymously with Convention and Treaty. The major international human rights covenants, both passed in 1966, are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
CUSTOMARY INTERNATIONAL LAW: Law that becomes binding on states although it is not written, but rather adhered to out of custom. When enough states have begun to behave as though something is law, it becomes law “by use”; this is one of the main sources of international law. For example, laws of war were long a matter of customary law before they were codified in the Geneva Conventions and other treaties. The vast majority of the world's governments accept in principle the existence of customary international law, although there are many differing opinions as to what rules are contained in it.
DAYS OF GENERAL DISCUSSION (also referred to as Thematic Days of Discussion and General Days of Discussion): Events hosted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the purpose of the Days of General Discussion is to foster a deeper understanding of the contents and implications of the Convention as they relate to specific articles or topics. After the discussion the Committee adopts recommendations, taking into account the issues raised. Representatives of Governments, United Nations human rights mechanisms, United Nations bodies and specialised agencies, non-governmental organisations, national human rights institutions as well as individual children and experts are welcome to take part. NGOs can also make submissions. The Day of General Discussion takes place during the September session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.
DECLARATION: Document stating agreed upon standards but is not legally binding. UN conferences, like the 1993 Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and the 1995 World Conference for Women in Beijing, usually produce two sets of declarations: one written by government representatives and one by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The UN General Assembly often issues influential but legally non binding declarations.
UN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL (ECOSOC): Assists the General Assembly in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development. ECOSOC has 54 members, all of whom are elected by the General Assembly for a three-year term. The president is elected for a one-year term and chosen amongst the small or middle powers represented on ECOSOC. The Council meets once a year in July for a four-week session. Since 1998, it has held another meeting each April with finance ministers heading key committees of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Viewed separate from the specialised bodies it coordinates, ECOSOC’s functions like those of other UN organs include information gathering, advising member nations, and making recommendations. In addition, ECOSOC is well-positioned to provide policy coherence and coordinate the overlapping functions of the UN’s subsidiary bodies; it is in these roles that it is most active.
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL and CULTURAL RIGHTS: These rights relate to the conditions necessary to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, health care, and gainful employment. They include the rights to education, adequate housing, food, water, the highest attainable standard of health, the right to work and rights at work, as well as the cultural rights of minorities and indigenous peoples.
ENVIRONMENTAL, CULTURAL and DEVELOPMENTAL RIGHTS: Sometimes referred to as third generation rights, these rights recognise that people have the right to live in a safe and healthy environment and that groups of people have the right to cultural, political, and economic development.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY: The General Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. It is composed of representatives of all member states, each of which has one vote. Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority. Decisions on other questions are by simple majority. The General Assembly issues declarations and adopts conventions on human rights issues, debates relevant issues, and censures states that violate human rights. The actions of the General Assembly are governed by the United Nations Charter.
GENERAL COMMENTS: Committees monitoring the implementation of Conventions issue general comments in order to interpret them. The Committee on the Rights of the Child publishes its interpretation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the form of General Comments on thematic issues. These comments are available here
GENERAL MEASURES OF IMPLEMENTATION: Strategies identified by the Committee on the Rights of the Child that States can apply to ensure the effective implementation of the CRC. The measures are broadly categorised into administrative and legislative measures.
HUMAN RIGHTS: These are the rights possessed by all persons, by virtue of their common humanity, to live a life of freedom and dignity. They give all people moral claims on the behaviour of individuals and on the design of social arrangements. Human rights are universal, inalienable and indivisible. The idea of human rights as inalienable means that it is impossible for anyone to abdicate their human rights, even if he or she wanted to, since every person is accorded those rights by virtue of being human. It also means that no person or group of persons can deprive another individual of her or his human rights. The indivisibility of human rights means that none of the rights considered to be fundamental human rights are more important than any other; they are inter-related. These rights express our deepest commitments to ensuring that all persons are secure in their enjoyment of the goods and freedoms that are necessary for dignified living.
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: In June 2006, the Human Rights Council replaced the Commission on Human Rights as the main UN body in charge of monitoring and protecting fundamental rights and freedoms. The Human Rights Council (HRC) was created on 15th March 2006 with the almost unanimous adoption of General Assembly Resolution A/Res/60/251. It held its first session on 19-30 June 2006. The new Human Rights Council carries high expectations – it was established with the hope that it could be more objective, credible and efficient in denouncing human rights violations worldwide than the highly politicised Commission on Human Rights.
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL MEMBERS: On 9 May 2006, the first 47 members of the Human Rights Council were elected. The United States, which voted against the Human Rights Council Resolution, did not submit their candidacy, unhappy with the fact that the new membership modalities still allow human rights abusers to be elected to the Council. As part of the Council’s formation, some members won three-year terms and others were given one-year terms and allowed to run for re-election again in 2007. Under Council rules, members serve three-year terms and cannot run for re-election after two consecutive terms. In May 2007, fourteen new countries were elected to serve on the Council after two rounds of balloting among Member States at the UN Headquarters in New York. Those elected will serve three-year terms. Find out more about Human Rights Council members, and their pledges, here and information about the election process here
HUMAN RIGHTS TREATIES, COVENANTS and CONVENTIONS: These are part of international law. Used interchangeably, treaty, covenant and convention refer to legally binding agreements between states. These agreements define the duties of states parties to the treaty, covenant or convention. They apply in times of peace and conflict. Human rights treaties regulate obligations of states towards persons in their own territory (rather than towards other states).
INDEPENDENT EXPERT: Experts appointed or elected to fulfil a role within the UN system. This could be in different bodies of the UN, for instance, each monitoring body of the Treaty Bodies is composed of Independent Experts. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is composed of 18 Independent Experts, appointed as part of Special Procedures, who are persons of ‘high moral character and recognised competence in the field of human rights’. Members are elected for a term of four years by States parties in accordance with article 43 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Members serve in their personal capacity and may be re-elected if nominated. May have a thematic or country mandate. See the current list (2007)
Other Independent Experts may be appointed by the UN Secretary-General to undertake a specific task, for instance, the Study on Violence Against Children, for which Kofi Annan appointed Paulo Sergio Pinheiro as Independent Expert. The nature of their ‘independence’ means that they are not representing the views or opinions of the UN or any government, but are meant to present an objective view of a given situation.
INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINTS: There are three main procedures for bringing complaints of violations of the provisions of the human rights treaties before the human rights treaty bodies:
Note: not all committees have the right to consider such complaints. Only the Human Rights Council, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee Against Torture and the Committee for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women can do so. There are also procedures for complaints which fall outside of the treaty body system - through the special procedures and the 1503 procedure of the Commission on Human Rights and through the Commission on the Status of Women.
INSTRUMENT: Legal tool used to designate, define and harmonise international human rights standards, for example Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
INTERGOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS (IGOs): Organisations sponsored by several governments that seek to coordinate their efforts; some are regional (e.g., the Council of Europe, the Organisation of African Unity, Organisation of American States (OAS), some are alliances (e.g., the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO); and some are dedicated to a specific purpose (e.g., the UN Centre for Human Rights, and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO).
MANDATE: The literal definition of 'mandate' is simply a 'command' or 'instruction.' In the context of the UN, it is frequently used to refer to the document describing how a particular role is to be fulfilled. For example, the mandate of the Special Representative on Violence Against Children may include investigation into the different types of violence experienced by children. Or you might say s/he is mandated to investigate alleged cases of violence against children as perpetrated by governments, for example.
MECHANISM: A process or body that monitors the implementation of an instrument(s). The mechanism is usually created by the instrument that it monitors. E.g. the Committee on the Rights of the Child was created by Article 43 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Other examples include the Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteurs, complaints procedure 1503.
MEMBER STATES: Countries that are members of the United Nations.
NATIONAL COALITIONS: NGOs that collaborate on activities such as reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child by presenting one joint Alternative Report to the Committee. National Coalitions work closely with the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child which provides them with technical support, training, and other support. Read more
NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS: Administrative bodies set up to protect or monitor human rights in a given country. There are some 90 such bodies, not all compliant with United Nations standards.
Such bodies can be grouped together in two broad categories: human rights commissions and ombudsmen. While most ombudsman agencies are built around a single person, human rights commissions are multi-member committees, ideally representative of various social groups and trains of thought. They are sometimes set up to deal with specific issues such as discrimination, although some are bodies with very broad responsibilities. Specialised national institutions exist in many countries to protect the rights of a particular vulnerable group such as ethnic and linguistic minorities, indigenous peoples, children, refugees or women. You can find more information about children’s commissioners here
NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS (NGOs): Organisations formed by people outside of government. NGOs monitor the proceedings of human rights bodies such as the Human Rights Council and are the “watchdogs” of the human rights that fall within their mandate. Some are large and international (e.g., the Red Cross, Amnesty International); others may be small and local (e.g., an organisation to advocate for people with disabilities in a particular city). NGOs play a major role in influencing UN policy, and many of them have official consultative status at the UN.
NGO GROUP FOR THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD: A coalition of international non-governmental organisations, which work together to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was originally formed in 1983 when members of the NGO Group were actively involved in the drafting of the Convention. One key role of the NGO Group is to facilitate the participation of NGOs and NGO Coalitions in reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Find out more
NGO SUBGROUPS (eg. Subgroup for the Human Rights Council): NGO Group members form Subgroups and Taskforces work on themes or issues related to specific articles of the CRC. These thematic areas include child labour, sexual exploitation, children in armed conflict and displacement, to name a few. Subgroups form an integral part of the NGO Group's work in ensuring that children's rights is actively advanced within the UN system, as well as other international fora. Through these Subgroups members have a platform for debate and joint action.
The Subgroup for the Human Rights Council’s aim so far has been to ensure that the Human Rights Council addresses the specific rights and situations of children worldwide in its regular work and sessions on human rights. By advocating for the inclusion of its concerns into the Council's programme of work, the NGO community has ensured better support and coherence between international politics and local realities affecting the realisation of children's rights. Read also about the NGO Subgroup on Children and Violence and the Subgroup on the Human Rights Council
OMBUDSMEN: An ombudsman is an official, usually appointed by the government, parliament or other institutions such as the European Union, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens. In some jurisdictions, the Ombudsman is referred to, at least officially, as the 'Parliamentary Commissioner' (e.g., the West Australian state Ombudsman). As well as for a government, an ombudsman may work for a corporation, a newspaper, an NGO, or even for the general public. In the case of children, such roles may be referred to as both ‘Children’s Ombudsman’ or ‘Children’s Commissioner’.
OPTIONAL PROTOCOL (OP): An optional protocol to a treaty is a multilateral agreement that States parties can ratify or accede to, intended to further a specific purpose of the treaty or to assist in the implementation of its provisions.
PLENARY SESSION: A term used for those sessions with no competing sessions and where all (or more likely, most) members are in attendance.
RATIFICATION/RATIFY: Ratification, acceptance and approval all refer to the act undertaken on the international plane, whereby a State establishes its consent to be bound by a treaty. Most multilateral treaties expressly provide for States to express their consent to be bound by signature subject to ratification, acceptance or approval.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Addressed to States Parties by any of the Committees in the treaty-body system , usually elaborating the Committee's view of the obligations assumed under the Convention.
RESERVATION: to a treaty (covenant, convention) indicates that a state party does not agree to comply with one or more of its provisions. Reservations are, in principle, intended to be used only temporarily, when states are unable to realise a treaty provision but agree in principle to do so. Reservations can be made when the treaty is signed, ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to. Reservations must not be incompatible with the object and the purpose of the treaty. Furthermore, a treaty might prohibit reservations or only allow for certain reservations to be made.
RESOLUTION: A formal text adopted by United Nations and regional mechanisms, or other inter-governmental bodies. – not exclusive to UN system, also issued by regional mechanisms. Although any UN body can issue resolutions, in practice most resolutions are issued by the Security Council or the General Assembly. The legal status of UN resolutions has been a matter of intense debate.
SIGNING/SIGN: In human rights the first step in ratification of a treaty; to sign a Declaration, Convention or one of the Covenants constitutes a promise to adhere to the principles in the document and to honour its spirit.
SPECIAL PROCEDURES: The general name given to the mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights to address either specific country situations or thematic issues. The special procedures are a way for the Commission to be constantly engaged on an issue of concern throughout the year.
Although they may be constituted in any manner, special procedures commonly are either an individual, called a Special Rapporteur or representative or an independent expert, or a group of individuals, called a working group.
Although the mandates given to Special Procedure mechanisms vary, their role is to examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories, known as country mandates, or on major phenomena. They are thus divided into thematic or country mandates. Various activities can be undertaken by Special Procedures including conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation, responding to individual complaints, and engaging in general promotional activities.
All Special Procedures are required to report on their activities to the annual session of the Human Rights Council (formerly Commission), which takes place each year. The working methods of the Special Procedures are currently under review by the Human Rights Council.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR: An individual who serves as a Special Rapporteur, representative, Independent Expert or member of a Working Group is appointed by the Chairperson of the Human Rights Council after consultation with the five regional groups, which consist of Member States of the Council. The Special Procedures are independent, are not paid and serve in a personal capacity for a maximum of 6 years. Special Rapporteurs may have a thematic mandate (e.g. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography) or a country mandate (e.g. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar). See a list of United Nations Special Rapporteurs, inlcuding 17 frequently asked questions about them. Read the latest reports of the Special Rapporteurs relevant to children (http://www.crin.org/resources/infoDetail.asp?ID=12237&flag=event).
SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE: Part of Special Procedures, Special Representatives report directly to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and may have a country or thematic mandate. Read why we need a Special Representative to the Secretary General violence against children and sign the petition
SUB-COMMISSION on the PROMOTION and PROTECTION of HUMAN RIGHTS: The main subsidiary body of the former Commission on Human Rights. It was the UN’s principal mechanism and international forum concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights. On 15 March 2006 the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to replace the Commission on Human Rights with the UN Human Rights Council. However, all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities of the Commission on Human Rights, including the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, were assumed by the Human Rights Council in 2006. The Sub-Commission's main functions are to undertake studies on human rights issues, to make recommendations concerning the prevention of discrimination of any kind relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms and the protection of racial, national, religious and linguistic minorities.
TREATY: Formal agreement between states that defines and modifies their mutual duties and obligations; used synonymously with Convention and Covenant. When Conventions are adopted by the UN General Assembly, they create legally binding international obligations for the Member States who have signed the treaty. When a national government Ratifies a treaty, the articles of that treaty become part of its domestic legal obligations.
TREATY BODIES: The committees formally established through the principal international human rights treaties to monitor States Parties' compliance with the treaties. Seven Treaty bodies have been set up for the core UN human rights treaties to monitor states parties’ efforts to implement their provisions. There will be eight once the new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities enters into force and spawns its own committee.
TREATY-BASED HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES (see also Charter-based human rights bodies): These bodies exist as a result of specific legal instruments (eg the Committee on the Rights of the Child is born out of the Convention on the Rights of the Child). They hold more narrow mandates than Charter-based bodies (i.e. the set of issues in the legal instrument involved), they address only those countries that have ratified the legal instrument in question, and base their decision-making on consensus. Reflecting this distinction with Charter-based bodies, the human rights documentation posted on the website of the High Commissioner is organised into two databases: Charter-based bodies and Treaty bodies. A crucial difference between the two is that charter-based systems aim to promote human rights, while treaty-based systems seek to enforce the implementation of standards.
UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (UDHR): Adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Primary UN document establishing human rights standards and norms. All member states have agreed to uphold the UDHR. Although the declaration was intended to be non binding, through time its various provisions have become so respected by States that it can now be said to be Customary International Law.
UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW: A system of the Human Rights Council whereby the human rights records of all UN Member States regardless of their size, wealth, or military or political importance will be regularly examined through a common mechanism. Although the working methods of the UPR are still being debated, Human Rights Watch said it was “one of the most significant innovations in this new Human Rights Council.” Read the Joint NGO Statement on the Universal Periodic Review and the Universal Periodic Review Debate at the Human Rights Council.
WORKING GROUP: A collaboration of NGOs/researchers working on activities that would be difficult to develop under traditional mechanisms. Goals to be achieved may include the creation of an informational document, the creation of a standard, or the resolution of problems related to a child rights system or network. For example, the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.