Human Rights in Ireland is pleased to welcome back Fergal Landy and Danielle Kennan who offer this assessment of the importance of recognising the rights and voice of the child within the UPR process. This analysis is offered solely in the authors’ personal capacity.
The process of monitoring the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), by means of periodic country reports submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, has been criticised as being a weaker enforcement mechanism than the individual right of petition available under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other UN Conventions. Whilst an optional protocol is currently being drafted in relation to a new communications procedure for the CRC, any additional means to strengthen child rights monitoring and enforcement is welcome. The UPR represents one such additional means of monitoring the implementation of children’s rights in Ireland. The relative success in developing awareness of the CRC can lead practitioners to overlook the importance of other human rights treaties in enforcing children’s rights. Article 41 of the CRC outlines how nothing in it shall affect any provisions which are more conducive to the realization of the rights of the child and which may be contained in…international law in force for that State. Not only can the UPR process strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of child rights based on all UN human rights treaties to which the State is a signatory to and which can be applied to children, it can also review children rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is particularly significant in the context of countries that have not yet ratified the CRC, namely the United States and Somalia.
UPR operates in a four year cycle, meaning that each UN member State will be reviewed once every four years. As UPR enters its fourth year of the first cycle, Ireland is in a privileged position to have the opportunity to glean learning from the UPR process to date in order to reap maximum benefit from the review process. This is as much the case with children’s rights as with the process as a whole. A recent Report by the Children’s Rights Information Network (CRIN) identified that, thus far, one fifth of all points made across the UPR process are children’s rights focused. CRIN questions whether this is satisfactory given that children cut across all human rights clusters. They have also observed that States are avoiding more controversial matters by accepting recommendations on softer issues and rejecting recommendations on harder issues. Pressure should be applied to ensure the Irish Government does not adopt a similar approach. CRIN also indentify that NGOs have lagged behind UN bodies and UN Member States in addressing children’s rights. These are critical lessons for the planning and participation of the relevant stakeholders in Ireland in the run up to the UPR process.
We would advocate that children should be one of the core population groups to be focused on during Ireland’s review. The range of issues that could be raised is extensive. In the United Kingdom, the following children’s rights issues came under focus during the review process – detention of asylum-seeking children, corporal punishment of children, child poverty and issues surrounding the incarceration of children. While all the above issues are equally of concern in Ireland there are additional pressing issues in the Irish context. The Ryan Report and other recent reports highlight Ireland’s failure to take appropriate measures to protect children from harm. This review process provides an opportunity for the Irish Government to reaffirm on an international stage its commitment to implement in a timely manner the recommendations emerging from these Reports and to take the appropriate measures, identified in the Reports and in previous recommendations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to protect children from harm.
Other key issues from Ireland’s last appearance before the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006 remain outstanding. Ireland has still not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Furthermore, the UN Treaty Monitoring bodies have repeatedly recommended that the Irish Government take further action to incorporate the Human Rights Conventions, which they are party to, into domestic law. The proposed Constitutional Referendum on Children’s rights would go some way towards incorporating the underpinning principles of the CRC into Irish Constitutional law and clearing the way for an act of the Oireachtas to incorporate the full text of the CRC into Irish legislation. However, the ongoing delay in holding a constitutional referendum on this issue is inexcusable. If a date has not been set for the referendum before October of next year then this failure should be highlighted and a commitment sought from the Government to set a date. A new National Children’s Strategy will also be introduced in 2011. An issue that may arise with the introduction of this Strategy is the need for strong commitments in relation to implementation and to ensure that a rights-based approach is applied to all the activities undertaken as part of the Strategy. The existing weak and ad hoc level of access to legal advice and representation for children and young people is also an issue. Full participation by children and young people in the justice system and indeed society must include the opportunity to benefit from legal advice and information, initiate legal proceedings when necessary, be represented in proceedings that affect them and if necessary to have a guardian ad litem appointed.
While these are some suggested areas to be prioritised in all submissions to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in this context the key “relevant stakeholders” are children. Children’s views should be sought or previous consultations with children should be drawn on to understand what the pressing issues are for children in relation to where they experience in their daily lives a denial of their fundamental rights.