The European Network of Ombudspeople for Children (ENOC), which comprises institutions entrusted by their respective national law with the monitoring of the level of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in more than 30 Council of Europe member states, strongly supports the elaboration of an Optional Protocol to the CRC to provide a communications procedure.
Noting that, the CRC is the only international human rights treaty with a mandatory reporting procedure which does not have, in addition, a communications procedure, we believe that this raises an issue of fundamental discrimination against children and weakens effective implementation of the CRC. Children and their representatives are unable to address a specialist communications procedure, with complaints concerning the full range of rights safeguarded by the CRC – and, as we all know, there are many unique rights for children in the Convention which cannot be taken to other existing communications procedures. And it is common ground that, for human rights to have a meaning, effective remedies must be available to redress violations.
We are all aware of the huge gap between the obligations taken on by states when they ratified the CRC, and the reality of breaches of children’s rights. The CRC needs a communications procedure and also a provision for formal inquiries, just as other core human rights instruments have. To me, it is quite extraordinary that any state could argue that this is unnecessary. It is an essential additional tool for pursuing implementation of the Convention. It is absolutely necessary in order:
(1) To protect the full range of children’s rights under the CRC
(2) To ensure that children have effective remedies available to redress violations and
(3) To strengthen the effective implementation of the CRC and accountability of States Parties
Furthermore, the establishment of a procedure will provide a useful pressure on States to develop remedies at the national level for children whose rights are breached. ENOC has established a Working Group on children’s access to national and international justice, because of our concerns about the lack of real remedies for many varied breaches of children’s rights. In some states, children have no legal standing, independent of their parents, and there is poorly developed legal advocacy for children.
A parameter that cannot go unnoticed is that, the lack of a complaints mechanism, allows states not to take the CRC seriously. The prospect of being immediately exposed to the International Community for abuse of children’s rights, will make states more responsive to requests at national level to remedy violations of children’s rights.
In addition, a communications procedure will pave the way for the development of international jurisprudence, which will clarity and elaborate on, the provisions of the CRC. This, on the one hand, will assist States to understand the extent of their obligations and how best to implement them; and, on the other, it will set the standards for child sensitive processes at national level – judicial and other.
In Europe, we are lucky to have the European Court of Human Rights. But the European Convention on Fundamental Rights, although it safeguards “everyone’s” rights including children’s, was not drafted with children in mind. The Court has begun to use the UNCRC in interpreting children’s rights but, I dare say, it does not operate within a children’s rights framework. Nor does it have the required expertise on children’s rights. Furthermore, the CRC goes wider in its protection of all children’s economic and social, as well as civil and political rights, which means that those unique rights of the children cannot be taken into account. The same is true for other international mechanisms. And because of this, there has been little use of them by or on behalf of the children.
I have no doubt that the new CRC communications procedure, would be used, and used effectively, on behalf of children, to pursue the rights which states have voluntarily agreed to safeguard when they ratified the Convention. And I am confident that children’s ombudspeople, other human rights institutions, NGOs and legal advocates for children will be able to surmount the special difficulties and ethical issues of representing children. ENOC, as I have said, is working towards this goal. The Working Group, which I have the honor to chair, has among its aims to:
- to ensure that ENOC members are fully aware of the mechanisms that can be used to pursue breaches of children's rights (such as the European Court of Human Rights and other Council of Europe mechanisms and, also, the international treaty body mechanisms) that will, of course, include a complaints mechanism under the CRC, and to arrange appropriate information and training and to consider what other forms of support are needed, to ENOC members and others, to encourage greater use of such mechanisms.
- to review the capacity of ENOC members, to empower and enable children to access information and appropriate recourse to justice, if they so wish, as well to support and represent them in pursuing legal remedies for breaches of their rights at national level as well as using international mechanisms.
Thus, we Children’s Ombuds are empowering ourselves to be able to represent children before the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
We are aware that the Human Rights Council Working Group will hold its first meeting in December, to consider the development of the Optional Protocol. I and my colleagues in ENOC very much hope that States will quickly agree to start elaborating the OP and design a procedure that effectively meets children’s needs. We can no longer tolerate the international protection system of children’s rights to remain incomplete. I am pleased to note that my Country, Cyprus has cosponsored red the Resolution for the Working Group.
Children have waited for 20 years for this essential mechanism to reinforce full implementation of the CRC. They had hoped that, it would be open for signature by the 20th anniversary of the adoption of their Convention, that is, by the 20th of November this year. This leaves no room for further delay.
Speaking on behalf of the children, not only of Cyprus as I am authorized by law to do, but also of the children of Europe as I represent ENOC, I urge you: Please we need the Optional Protocol as soon as possible.
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