The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) released its report, The Role of the Universal Periodic Review in Advancing Children's Rights in Juvenile Justice, in Paris last month.
The report highlighted key challenges in the day-to-day protection of children within criminal justice systems with a view to obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It also called for justice systems around the world to meet its international law obligations by shifting from punitive to restorative models.
IBAHRI co-chair Hans Corell, who is a retired ambassador and under-secretary for Legal and Consular Affairs in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that states have to step up efforts to prevent further risk and harm to vulnerable children.
“[It] is a vital appeal, and echoed by the IBAHRI,” Mr Corell said.
“Unfortunately, around the world, the abusive resort to detention, inhumane sentencing and dangerously low minimum ages for criminal responsibility steer national systems away from the objective of rehabilitation,” he said.
Key reforms advocated in the report included the abolition of the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18 and with a punishment appropriate to the age of the child. Sentences which were lengthy and involved cruel punishment must also be done away with, the report added, with deprivation of a child’s liberty to be used only as a last resort.
IBAHRI co-chair, the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG, acknowledged that global change would be a long process; however, he urged all states to commit to a shift towards more restorative methods for juvenile offenders.
“Children are human beings and they have human rights. Children rely on legal assistance to understand and take part in the judicial process, which should respect their rights and take into account their vulnerability,” Mr Kirby said.
“The absence of legal representation makes it difficult for children to participate effectively in judicial processes. This must be corrected forthwith for the betterment of all societies.”
The retired High Court of Australia judge added that more legal professionals and law enforcement officials should be trained on children's rights, given the significant role these actors played in juvenile justice procedures.
Recommendations coming from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a unique international peer-to-peer mechanism, through which each state is reviewed by all other UN Member States, were also examined in the IBAHRI report.
The analysis revealed that while the current level of protection afforded to juveniles had been bolstered by two cycles of the UPR, long-standing issues remain. These issues included the creation or improvement of a specialised juvenile justice system and the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Of all the UPR recommendations, those that called for the abolition of inhuman sentencing, and suggestions pertaining to fair trial rights, were the least accepted by states under review.
“Despite the strengthening of protection, the study indicates that the UPR has not sufficiently addressed the prevention aspect and the diversion process placed at the core of juvenile justice systems in the convention,” the IBAHRI said.
“Additionally, it was found that the process falls short of considering fair trial guarantees and procedural rights to which children are entitled when deprived of liberty.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by all countries in the world but for the United States.