Update: Ireland ratifies UN complaints mechanism for children

Ireland has ratified the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes a quasi-judicial complaints mechanism for children and their advocates to the UN Committee’s on the Rights of the Child.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Charlie Flanagan, signed and ratified the Protocol at the 69th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York yesterday, 24 September 2014.

This follows a commitment last week by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. James Reilly, to ratify the Protocol.

Update: Ireland ratifies UN complaints mechanism for children

Understanding Children’s Rights: A Training Programme on Children’s Rights and Effective International Advocacy

Ireland will appear before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2015/2016 to report on its record for children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In advance of this examination, the Children’s Rights Alliance is providing an exciting opportunity to upskill on children’s rights and effective international advocacy.This training programme is the first of four key activities that we will undertake in advance of Ireland’s examination which includes: conducting a nationwide consultation, drafting a national parallel/shadow report, coordinating a children and young people’s report and advocating/leading a delegation before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

This two-day interactive training programme will take place on Thursday 16 and Friday 17 October 2014. The programme will cover:

  • Understanding childhood
  • Introduction to children’s rights
  • Exploring ways to make children and young people active agents in their rights
  • Enforcement of children’s rights in Ireland
  • Understanding the UN Human Rights Reporting Process and the workings of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Writing impactful Parallel Reports and taking part in effective international advocacy

 

An array of expert speakers will provide interactive, engaging and practically-focussed sessions. Each participant will receive a full training pack and resources for each session. Speakers include:

  • Brian Barrington BL
  • Professor Dympna Devine, University College Dublin
  • Anne O’Donnell, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Participation, Play, Recreation and Culture
  • Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection
  • Dr. Liam Thornton, University College Dublin
  • Veronica Yates, Children’s Rights Information Network

 

Venue: Carmelite Centre, 56 Aungier Street, Dublin 2

Cost:    Children’s Rights Alliance members: €50; non-members: €100

Places: Places are limited and preference will be given to Children’s Rights Alliance members. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties will subsidise up to six places for those on limited incomes.

For more information and to book your place contact: Edel Quinn, Children’s Rights Alliance by phone at (01) 6629400 or by email at edel@childrensrights.ie.

This training programme is kindly co-sponsored by the UN Human Rights Council Legacy Project of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. For more information, visit www.rightsnow.ie and www.iccl.ie.

Understanding Children’s Rights: A Training Programme on Children’s Rights and Effective International Advocacy

Ireland to ratify complaints mechanism under UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On 17 September 2014, the new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. James Reilly, announced that Ireland would sign and ratify the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This will allow children and young people an international route by which to vindicate their rights where this has not been possible through state agencies or the courts at domestic level.

The Third Optional Protocol to the UNCRC establishes a communications procedure or, in effect, a complaints mechanism.  This is a quasi-judicial mechanism that allows children and their advocates (parents, guardians etc.) to submit a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a group of 18 international children’s rights experts. Complaints must relate to specific violations of rights under the UNCRC and its first two optional protocols, if ratified. Violations must be ongoing when the Protocol is ratified or occur after ratification in order to be admissible under the procedure.

Because the original text of the UNCRC did not include a communications procedure, a new Optional Protocol is required in order to facilitate its establishment. Ireland ratified similar communications procedures under Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1989 and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2000. In 2011, the State committed to ratifying the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which also establishes a complaints procedure. This has yet to happen.

As with other similar regional or international mechanisms, a complaint under the new mechanism can only be made after domestic remedies have been exhausted. In Ireland, there are, of course, a variety of existing legal and quasi-legal remedies open to children and families when their rights are violated such as taking a case through the courts, the Equality Tribunal or the Ombudsman for Children’s office.

Unlike complaints taken to the European Court of Human Rights, decisions by the Committee are non-binding on States. However, by ratifying the Optional Protocol, States commit themselves to follow the decisions and provide redress to victims. There is also provision for the facilitation of friendly settlements, if parties to the communication find an agreeable solution between them.

The Protocol provides for three separate procedures:

  •  The Individual Communications Procedure allows individuals, groups of children and their representatives to bring complaints in respect of alleged violations of rights under the UNCRC and its Optional Protocols.
  •  The Inquiry Procedure provides for any person or organisation to submit information to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child alleging grave or systematic children’s rights violations under the UNCRC by a State. If the Committee receives reliable information indicating that grave or systematic children’s rights violations have occurred, it can decide to conduct an inquiry. The inquiry procedure is an “opt-out” mechanism, meaning that States can chose not to be subject to the inquiry procedure when they ratify the Optional Protocol.
  • The Inter-State Communications Procedure allows the Committee to receive and consider communications from a State against another State that is not fulfilling its obligations under the UNCRC. The inter-state communications procedure is an optional mechanism and both States must have ratified the Optional Protocol in order for it to be invoked.

Complaints have been taken against Ireland under similar international complaints mechanisms, under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for example. In 1998, in the case of Kavanagh v Ireland, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Ireland had breached the applicant’s rights under Article 26 of the Covenant (equality before the law). The Committee found that the State failed to provide him with a reasonable and objective justification for its denial of his right to a trial by jury by trying him before the Special Criminal Court. He was again before the Committee in 2002 claiming a violation under Article 2(3) of the Covenant for the State’s failure to provide him with an effective remedy but this was deemed inadmissible.

Ireland will be the twelfth State to ratify the Protocol after Albania, Belgium, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Gabon, Germany, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Thailand. It entered into force on 14 April 2014 after its tenth ratification.

The UNCRC has two other Optional Protocols – First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was signed by Ireland on 7 September 2000 and ratified on 18 November 2002) and the Second Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography  was Signed by Ireland on 7 September 2000 but it has not yet been ratified.

Now that this commitment has been made, signature and ratification of the Optional Protocol should happen simultaneously and without delay, in order to open up this important new avenue of redress for children in Ireland who have been unable to receive an effective remedy at home as quickly as possible.

Ireland to ratify complaints mechanism under UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Taking stock of Ireland’s international human rights reporting obligations

Ireland is often lauded for its human rights and development work abroad and has included human rights and accountability as a priority area for action in its new international development policy. When it comes to human rights at home, how is Ireland’s record tracked against its international human rights commitments and to what extent does the State engage with the monitoring system it has signed up to?

Where Ireland’s international human rights obligations come from
Over the past 70 years, the international community, through the UN, has agreed on nine core United Nations international human rights treaties and nine Optional Protocols, which are open to ratification and domestic implementation by all States. These treaties cover:

On ratifying these treaties, States commit to partaking in a review process, whereby their compliance with and implementation of the treaties is monitored on a periodic basis by UN committees, called treaty bodies.  Though nominated by his or her own State, a committee member sits on a treaty body as an independent expert. Two such committees have benefited from the expertise of Irish members: current Chief Human Rights Commissioner for Northern Ireland, Michael O’Flaherty who sat on the UN Human Rights Committee and the Head of Applied Social Studies at NUI Maynooth, Anastasia Crickley, who was recently re-elected to the UN Committee against Racial Discrimination.

The treaty bodies engage with States on their compliance with the treaties in both written format and through dialogue and make recommendations to each State (called Concluding Observations) as to how to further the full implementation of the relevant convention at national level. Each State submits a common core document which outlines the basic legal, economic, social and human rights infrastructure of the State as well as demographic and other basic information. Ireland’s common core document is currently in draft and is expected to be submitted to the OHCHR by the end of the summer.

Placing an international spotlight on national issues can be an important means of highlighting a violation of human rights. A good example of this is 2011 review of Ireland by the UN Committee against Torture which recommended that the Irish State conduct an investigation into the abuses at the Magdalene laundries. This international condemnation, together with a hard-fought campaign, helped to put the issue on the political agenda back home. NGOs have an important place within the system and have the opportunity to submit alternative reports and make representations to the treaty bodies. This allows the treaty bodies to receive an additional perspective to that of the State on the situation in a given country as well as highlighting issues that have not been addressed in a State Report. NGOs play a key role in educating the public about their human rights as well as disseminating the recommendations of the treaty bodies in their countries.

In many ways, having an international consensus on what is essentially the lowest common denominator of human rights, consolidated into international law, is nothing short of a remarkable feat. Many of the treaties entered into force decades ago and while the system is not without its problems, and represents many compromises, one cannot help but wonder whether similar attempts to find consensus on such agreements would be successful today.

The treaty body system today – reform on the way?
After three years of consultations, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has proposed amendments in an effort to strengthen the treaty body system. The process of reform is politically charged – some see it as a means of necessarily improving a system built for earlier times while many see it as a useful opportunity to put manners on the treaty bodies themselves. Among the key issues faced by the system is that with 10 separate treaty bodies (including the Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture, each has different procedures and reporting structures, leaving many States feeling overburdened by their duties to report. States that have ratified a large number of treaties, such as Ireland, feel the heavy burden of having to report to the various treaty bodies well as other fora such as the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Process and regional bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. These have a major impact on the timeliness and quality of reports.

From the perspective of the committees, because of the large number of States involved, and the proliferation of treaties and optional protocols, they faced challenges in their capacity to deal with reviewing States in a timely manner, particularly as they generally meet just a handful of times each year. For example, all but three of the 193 UN Member States have ratified the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, who not only monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but also two Optional Protocols to the Convention relating to the sale of children and children in armed conflict. A third Optional Protocol, providing for a complaints mechanism under the Convention opened for signature February 2012 and will enter into force, also coming under that Committee’s remit, once it has been ratified by ten countries. In order to get through the high number of reports it receives, the Committee has taken the approach of dividing itself to sit in dual chamber.

There is the prospect of a resolution between States on a number of basic reform proposals put forward by the High Commissioner. These include the use of new technologies such as webcasting of public meetings and translation costs. Other suggestions have been less well-received such as the High Commissioner’s proposal to adopt a calendar to coordinate the reporting obligations of the States across the treaty bodies to ensure they are evenly spread out and adding a degree of predictability to the process. The issue of the costs of reform has also not garnered agreement. Other proposals from the High Commissioner include increased consistency in the jurisprudence of the treaty bodies in individual communications; more simplified and aligned reporting with a focused set of questions by the treaty bodies on particular areas of concern rather than the traditional practice of reviewing each article under the convention in question, and capacity building for state parties in their reporting duties. The extent to which these and other proposals for reform become a reality depends on the deals struck at the negotiating table.

Until then, the show must go on
In the meantime, the reporting process continues. Having ratified six of the treaties, Ireland has undertaken to report to the various treaty bodies on a periodic basis. The State has not ratified the convention relating to people who have disappeared (signed but not ratified), migrant workers (neither signed nor ratified) or the disabled. With regard to the latter, while the State has signed but not yet ratified the treaty, a commitment has been made to do so. The Department of Justice and Equality is leading the way on drafting the necessary legislation to give effect to its provisions.

UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
The ICCPR was ratified in December 1989 and Ireland has thrice been reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1993, 2000 and 2008. The State has been involved in a follow-up process with the Committee since 2009 on the issues of the availability of non-denominational education at primary level, conditions in prisons and counter-terrorism measures. While the Committee was satisfied with responses received in relation to the first two issues, it found the State’s response in relation to counter-terrorism measures to be incomplete and requested further information on this issue to be included in the State’s fourth Report, submitted in July 2012. Ireland will be reviewed under the ICCPR in July 2014.

Ireland has ratified the two optional protocols to the ICCPR relating to a complaints mechanism to the Committee and the abolition of the death penalty. One case has been taken against the State through this complaints mechanism, Kavanagh v Ireland in 1998 and again in 2002.

UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Ratified jointly with the ICCPR in 1989, Ireland has submitted two reports to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in 1997 and 2002. The State’s Third Periodic Report, due in 2007, was only recently submitted and somewhat arbitrarily covers the period up to the end of 2010. NGOs have been encouraging the State to submit an update in advance of the review to cover the intervening period. The Third Report is unlikely to be reviewed before 2015 due to the Committee’s backlog. Ireland has signed but not yet ratified the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure for complaints to the Committee.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
Ratified by Ireland in September 1992, the State has twice been reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1998 and 2006. Now four years overdue, the State is due to submit its Consolidated Third and Fourth Reports this summer. The date of the review itself will be set once the Report is received by the Committee’s Secretariat and is expected to be in 2015-2016. The Committee also oversees the implementation of the three optional protocols to the Convention. Ireland has ratified the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict and has been reviewed under this agreement once in February 2008. The State has signed the Optional Protocol relating to the sale of children. It is currently reviewing its position relating to the latest Optional Protocol on a communications procedure to the Committee which opened for signature in February 2012 and will enter into force once it has been ratified by ten countries – six countries have ratified or acceded to date. Work is being done behind the scenes to make the necessary legislative and other arrangements to ratify both.

UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD)
The UNCERD was ratified in 2000 and Ireland has been reviewed twice by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2005 and 2011. The State’s next report to the Committee is due in January 2014. The State partook in the follow-up procedure with the Committee by May 2012 on four issues arising under the Concluding Observations:

  • Reduction of financial resources for human rights institutions
  • Recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group
  • Improving certain pieces of legislation such as that relating to immigration
  • Incorporation of the treaty into domestic law under our dualist system.

The NGO Alliance against Racism has produced a monitoring tool of indicators to help track the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations annually in the period leading up to the next review.

UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT)
The UNCAT was ratified by Ireland in April 2002 and the State submitted its first report in 2005, four years overdue. Ireland was reviewed for the first time by the Committee against Torture in March 2011 and is scheduled to submit its Second Periodic Report in June 2015. The Committee requested follow-up information from the State within a year on:

  • Reduction of financial resources for human rights institutions
  • Follow-up to the Ryan Report on child abuse including implementation of the recommendations, investigations of all reported cases of abuse and redress.
  • Investigation into the Magdelene Laundries
  • Expedition of legislation banning Female Genital Mutilation.

Ireland has signed but not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to UNCAT which establishes the Sub-Committee against Torture. Unique among the treaty bodies, the Sub-Committee has a preventative role and conducts regular visits to States to engage with authorities on torture prevention.

UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (UNCEDAW)
Ratified by Ireland in 1985, the State has been reviewed under UNCEDAW three times, having submitted reports in 1987, 1997 and 2005. The State’s next periodic Report was due back in 2007. Ireland ratified the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure for complaints to CEDAW in 2000.

While the State engages to varying degrees with the numerous treaty bodies, fundamental challenges remain for these interactions to have a meaningful impact for people on the ground struggling to exercise their rights:

  • The failure of the State to fully incorporate the provisions of human rights treaties into national law means that their provisions are not binding at national level or justiciable in Irish courts. This means that a child who is denied his or her right to access education in Ireland for example, cannot rely on the right to education under Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the courts.
  • State reports from Ireland do not provide the treaty bodies with a rights-based analysis of the situation at home. They tend to provide a compilation of activities, plans and strategies that exist rather than a comprehensive review of the impact of these activities, plans or strategies on the Convention rights of those affected by them.
  • A lack of up-do-date, disaggregated data and information presents not only the treaty bodies with difficulties in assessing the situation with regard to a particular right but also the State in its own assessment and planning.
  • Finally, without a commitment to the implementation of the various rights to which the State has committed itself, the treaty monitoring system itself is of limited value to vulnerable groups such as Travellers, asylum seekers and children, whose rights it was created to protect.
Taking stock of Ireland’s international human rights reporting obligations

Quinn: Next Steps for Children's Rights in Ireland

Edel Quinn is a member of the Legal and Policy team at the Children’s Rights Alliance.  The Alliance is a coalition of over 100 organisations working to secure the rights of children in Ireland, by campaigning for the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It aims to improve the lives of all children under 18, through securing the necessary changes in Ireland’s laws, policies and services.

Saturday, 12 November 2012 was an historic day for children in this country.  The people of Ireland voted in favour of the 31st amendment to the Constitution to strengthen the rights of children in the Irish Constitution.  While the Children’s Referendum was passed by a modest majority of 58% to 42%, the Children’s Rights Alliance remains optimistic about the potential of the amendment for progressing children’s rights in the State.

Of course, the amendment alone is not going to address all of the gaps in the protection of children’s rights in Ireland today: much work remains to be done.  Our attention now shifts towards actively lobbying for key actions to bring the amendment to life, and ensure that it truly makes a difference to the lives of children in Ireland.

Next Steps:

1. Timely introduction of specific legislation to give effect to the constitutional provisions.  The new article employs a novel, though not unprecedented, approach to a number of the rights provided therein.  Some provisions are not constitutional directives Continue reading “Quinn: Next Steps for Children's Rights in Ireland”

Quinn: Next Steps for Children's Rights in Ireland

The Children's Referendum: The Time is now for Children’s Rights in our Constitution

Edel Quinn is a member of the Legal and Policy team at the Children’s Rights Alliance.  The Alliance is a coalition of over 100 organisations working to secure the rights of children in Ireland, by campaigning for the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It aims to improve the lives of all children under 18, through securing the necessary changes in Ireland’s laws, policies and services.

It may not feel like it, but we are living in privileged times.  In two weeks’ from now, on Saturday 10 November, we will be presented with an historic opportunity to amend our Constitution to strengthen the rights of the children of Ireland.  It was over 30 years ago that the first call to do so was made by then Senator and former President Mary Robinson.  This call was repeated by various official reports, such as the Kilkenny Incest Investigation Report in 1993, the Constitution Review Group in 1996 and that of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006.  In spite of the 17 statutory reports detailing the abuse suffered by children in Ireland over the past four decades that flagged the Constitution as a problem, this is the first time that such an amendment will be put to the people.  The Children’s Referendum is possible today because of a unique set of circumstances: the achievement of a workable framework for the amendment, an amenable political environment, public awareness and will for change.

The Children’s Rights Alliance has been lobbying hard for constitutional change since its establishment in 1995.  Over the past seven years, the Alliance has made key interventions to the various Ministers as well as the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children to advocate for a comprehensive amendment.  We have previously made the case for reform on this blog and while the final amendment is not as strong as we would have liked, we believe it deserves our full backing.  The judiciary will ultimately Continue reading “The Children's Referendum: The Time is now for Children’s Rights in our Constitution”

The Children's Referendum: The Time is now for Children’s Rights in our Constitution

The kids are all right? The case for constitutional reform.

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Edel Quinn. Edel is a member of the Legal and Policy team at the Children’s Rights Alliance.  The Alliance is a coalition of over 100 organisations working to secure the rights of children in Ireland, by campaigning for the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It aims to improve the lives of all children under 18, through securing the necessary changes in Ireland’s laws, policies and services.

The referendum on a constitutional amendment on children’s rights is just around the corner.  Holding the referendum on Saturday 10 November 2012 is a welcome development and will allow young people in particular the opportunity to travel home to vote and ensure that children do not miss out on a day of school.  With the wording of the proposed amendment and accompanying adoption legislation expected to be published later today, in this post we explore the key issues at the heart of the debate and the potential impact of change.  One of the founding objectives of the Children’s Rights Alliance when it was established 17 years ago was to seek an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland to strengthen the rights of children.  The Alliance has engaged in extensive advocacy on this issue in particular over the last six years since the publication of its second shadow report on Ireland to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006.

Continue reading “The kids are all right? The case for constitutional reform.”

The kids are all right? The case for constitutional reform.