Annual day of discussion on the rights of the child
Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights opened by noting the huge divide between the realisation of children’s rights in the developed and the developing world. Gilmore also noted that inequalities faced by children were often masked due to insufficient data collection, a comment echoed by several speakers later in the day. Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child highlighted that half of those surviving on $1.25 per day are children, noting that the realisation of children’s rights is linked to many of the goals, and the key to a sustainable future. Mezmur stated that all those involved with the 2030 agenda would need to look back at MDGs to see where progress has stalled, and to identify areas where more work is needed.
Most States used their speaking time to highlight steps they had already taken to improve the realisation of children’s rights, rather than sticking strictly to the topic of the SDGs. It wasn’t all bad news though. Brazil and Croatia used the debate to announce that they would soon ratify the third optional protocol to the CRC on a communications procedure, allowing children to bring complaints about violations of their rights to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Picking up the debate from last week on with the Special Rapporteurs on counter-terrorism and cultural rights, States including Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and Syria articulated their positions on responses to the threat of terrorism. Another heated discussion broke out between China and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights around the treatment and cultural rights of Tibetans. A number of NGOs also took the opportunity to raise the alarm about the rise in hate crime in the US, with others noting that LGBT rights should not be used as an excuse for islamophobia.
During the interactive dialogue with the mandate holders on persons with disabilities and on persons with albinism, the discussion focused on the threats faced by people with Albinism and how States have been working to realise the rights of persons with disabilities. The main area of contention in this debate focused on the family unit, with competing statements being made about its positive and negative roles in relation to Albinism and disability. Some NGOs stated that the family remains the main source of sexual violence experienced by children, women and people with disabilities, while others sought to defend the role of the family in protecting the rights of these groups.
Despite the time constraints, diplomatic spats between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece as well as a separate dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia carved off another 20 minutes from the annual day.
The afternoon session refocused the debate on the challenges and opportunities related to reinforcing children’s rights through the SDGs.
Dr. Flavia Bustreo of the World Health Organization focused on children’s right to health, but addressed the broad ways in which the SDGs touch on this issue. Highlighting the WHO’s recent report - Do Not Pollute My Future - Dr. Bustreo recognised the effects that pollution, water and environmental change can have, including the disproportionate impact they have on children. This argument picked up the baton from the recent report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics from the last Human Rights Council session, which tackled the effects toxics and pollution on children’s enjoyment of their rights.
The SRSG on Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, focused on goal 16.2 - to end all forms of violence against children - describing the SDGs as an opportunity to translate this commitment into action. Many States pledged their commitment to this goal, but few, if any, recognised the role that the UN’s Global Study on Violence Against Children played in setting out how violence affects children around the world and the recommendations it made to end it.
Many States spoke of the need to ensure a human rights based approach to realise the SDGs as well as the need for accountability. Discussing the value of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in realising children’s rights through the SDGs, Rodolfo Succar, Ombudsperson for Sante Fe, Argentina, highlighted the way that NHRIs can address complaints from children as well as monitoring children’s rights standards. Yet as the afternoon wore on, there was a lack of debate on mechanisms to ensure the realisation of children’s rights through the SDGs. Discussion of remedies and redress was in short supply throughout the day. Access to justice for all is itself a goal within the SDGs, and access to justice for children was the focus of the HRC’s annual day on the rights of the child only three years ago, but few speakers recognised the need to make access to justice fundamental in the SDGs process as a right in itself and as a means of ensuring all of the goals are met.
On the sidelines of the HRC session, NGOs and States tackled some of the emerging children’s rights issues.
New guidelines for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child were adopted today by the European Union and panelists in their side event explored the opportunities and challenges they present. Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Benyam Dawit Mezmur, noted that many countries mentioned children’s rights in law, but few were thorough in their implementation. Mezmur praised the EU for adopting the new guidelines, claiming that they represented a show of political will, but noted that the ongoing refugee crisis has shown where there are holes in Europe’s child protection system. Mezmur added that the crisis could serve to highlight where work was most urgently needed. UNICEF representative Verena Knaus also welcomed the guidelines but noted that funding based on one or two year programmes would not be sufficient to address deeply entrenched discrimination against children, particularly girls, which is often accepted by children during their early years. PLAN International’s Tanya Cox stressed that implementation of the guidelines would require people in leadership roles to be engaged and would also need to see many EU staff members trained in the application of the guidelines.
Poorly defined legal frameworks took centre stage in a side event on surveillance and democracy as panelists discussed how governments were increasingly collecting huge amounts of data on citizens’ communications without sufficient oversight. The session opened with remarks on how a child born today will grow up virtually without a concept of privacy, having been exposed to surveillance from their earliest years. Concerns about increased use and abuse of mass surveillance programmes in the United Kingdom from several panelists were echoed by the UN Special Rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci. The SR noted that data on any citizen could be retained over the course of several government terms, meaning that there was significant scope for abuse. Cannataci also noted that such huge repositories of data were increasingly vulnerable to hacking by foreign governments and organised criminal organisations.
Tomorrow at the Human Rights Council
As well as the side events listed below tomorrow will see both a joint interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and on truth and justice. The day will also see a second joint interactive dialogue with the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict and a third featuring the SR on Privacy and the SRSG on the Sale of Children.
Supporting the implementation of the 2030 agenda through a rights-based approach: Child focused partnerships
- 1.30-3pm Room XXI. Palais des Nations, Geneva
Violence against children
- 4.30-6pm, Room XII. Palais des Nations, Geneva
Child soldiers and rehabilitation
- 5-6pm, Room XXIII. Palais des Nations, Geneva
The CRIN team have been playing a specially formulated game of bingo
during the Human Rights Council this year, tracking the sights, jargon and human rights language
. We’ve already ticked off the diplomatic feud (twice
) and the harsh but fair moderating which saw many a State and NGO cut off mid-sentence. Truly, we were spoiled for choice with jargon.
We’ve had sarcastic State responses by the bucketload and one or two speeches with some “alternative facts”. We’re yet to spot a sleeping diplomat, but we were sat next to an NGO worker struggling to stay conscious. Nor have we managed to wrangle a peacock, but the thundery downpours would have scared off the bravest of birds.
We’ve done pretty well on the human rights lingo too - though we’ll be back tomorrow in the hope of someone discussing justiciable rights and State obligations.