Extract from CRIN‘s New Year special newsletter consisting of a summary, by each month, of the incidents of 2011:
‘The year got off to a turbulent start, with hundreds of thousands of Ivorian refugees fleeing violence following disputed elections, most of whom were children and pregnant women. Later in the year, former President Laurent Gbagbo would be sent to the International Criminal Court charged with crimes against humanity.
January 2011 also marked a year since Haiti’s devastating earthquake killed over 230,000 people. UNICEF and Amnesty International identified ongoing problems as lack of access to basic services and sexual violence against women and girls in camps for the internally displaced.
On a more uplifting note, January also brought us the first of the year’s string of victories for discontented citizens in the Middle East and North Africa with the ouster of longtime Tunisian President Ben Ali, albeit at the cost of over 200 lives.
Egypt soon followed in February, as Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime came to an end. He would later be charged with the deaths of 846 civilians during 18 days of protests. These achievements appeared to galvanise civilians in Libya and Yemen, among others, with a civil uprising in Syria also gaining momentum.
That children and young people were also taking part in the protests, prompted CRIN to look at children’s right to freedom of association around the world.
Also in February, the international community moved a step closer to creating a complaints mechanism for children by finally agreeing on a draft text for such a mechanism under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, albeit with compromises made.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer finally settled a 15-year legal battle over its controversial drug trial in the state of Kano that resulted in the deaths of 11 children and serious injuries to many others. Families of affected children would receive compensation later in the year.
In March, the world’s attention turned to Japan, as the most powerful earthquake in the country’s history sent a tsunami on a collision course to its northeast coast, leaving at least 19,000 dead in its wake, and as many as 100,000 children displaced. (Read more)
Meanwhile in Bolivia, where there are an estimated 850,000 working children, members of the UNATSBO union of child workers sent a proposal to the government calling for their rights as both children and workers to be recognised in law. Additionally, the UN Human Rights Council dedicated its 2011 Day on the Rights of the Child to children living and/ or working on the street.
In April, France became the first European country to ban wearing clothing that conceals the face – such as a burqa or a niqab – in a public place. Belgium was to later follow suit. In response, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg spoke out against such a ban, saying that rather than liberating Muslim women, as governments have claimed they are doing, the ban only fosters intolerance against those who continue to wear the veil.
By now, Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had revealed his true face amidst growing opposition to his 41-year rule by launching a full-scale attack against objectors, killing an estimated 10,000, including children and human rights defenders.
At its 141st session, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights addressed, among other issues, institutional violence in Chile against Mapuche children in the context of the State’s repression of the indigenous group’s claim to their ancestral territories.
Yet April was also a progressive month for children’s rights, as the Bangladeshi government proposed a new law seeking to give male and female children equal inheritance rights; while in India, child labour in circuses was banned on account of children being made to perform dangerous stunts often without protective measures.
In May, CRIN launched a toolkit on child-friendly justice and children’s rights, and prepared an advocacy toolkit to support the work of organisations and individuals campaigning against the inhuman sentencing of children by providing advocacy ideas and technical advice.
Also in May, schools were no longer a safe haven for children in Bahrain after reports emerged that police carried out periodic raids on 15 girls’ schools detaining, beating and threatening to rape students as young as 12; while in Syria security officers tortured children in school cellars as part of an intimidation campaign to inhibit further protests.
In June, the brutality of Syria’s regime reached new heights, as the mutilated bodies of Hamza al-Khateeb, 13, and Thamer al-Sahri, 15, were returned to their parents weeks after they were arrested at anti-government rallies.
Meanwhile for victims of the Bosnian War, justice felt more tangible when war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic was extradited to stand trial in The Hague, including for orchestrating the murder of around 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in 1995.
Good news also came from Belize, which became the first English-speaking Caribbean country to ban corporal punishment of children in schools.
Several new precedents in human rights standards were also set in June. The International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the landmark Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, effectively extending key labour protections to between 50 and 100 million domestic workers worldwide, the vast majority women and girls.
In addition, the Human Rights Council adopted the text of the complaints mechanism for children, endorsed the new set of Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, and passed the first ever resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Children’s rights in the Americas also received an extra boost as Rosa Maria Ortiz, a former member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child from Paraguay, was elected as a Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In July, as the worst drought in east Africa in almost 60 years spread through the region, the United Nations declared famine in southern Somalia, with child malnutrition in the area three times the emergency level.
In the same month, Norway was the site of a twin terrorist attack by a right-wing extremist who set off a car bomb in Oslo, killing eight people, and then went on a shooting spree that left 69 dead, mostly teenagers at a Labour Party summer camp.
The Republic of South Sudan became an independent state in July. It was also the third African country to enforce a complete ban on corporal punishment of children, following in the footsteps of Tunisia and Kenya. Togo later followed suit.
In August, riots broke out in cities across England. Youth organisations were quick to spot that the media was unfairly singling out young people as rioters and looters, with 95 per cent of news reports failing to label the other age groups involved, despite only a quarter of those appearing before court actually being under 18.
Meanwhile in Chile, thousands of secondary school and university students took to the streets to demand a reform of the country’s “unequal” education system, despite being met by police repression and mass arrests.
At the same time in Guatemala, the country celebrated its first ever trial against former members of the military accused of genocide during the country’s 36-year civil conflict, as four ex-soldiers received multiple life sentences for the 1982 massacre of 201 peasants, including over 100 children.
Also in August, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly recognised the “stunning” role young people have played in bringing dictatorships to an end during the Arab Spring. Yet State repression of protesters continued unabated in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, where to the Human Rights Council agreed to dispatch a fact-finding team, which would later find that authorities committed crimes against humanity.
In September, CRIN launched its “Children’s Rights Wiki”, which brings together the huge volume of information that exists about children’s rights. The aim of the project is to build a clearer picture of the persistent violations of children’s rights in a given country, and ultimately to use this as a basis for exploring possible avenues of redress.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child celebrated its 2011 Day of General Discussion (DGD) under the theme of ‘Children of Incarcerated Parents’. (Read CRIN’s coverage)
In its three sessions in 2011, the Committee issued Recommendations to 22 countries on their implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols (OPAC/ OPSC).
The Human Rights Council also concluded its 18th Session at the end of September, during which children’s rights featured prominently in resolutions on the administration of justice and on the death penalty.
Also in September, victims of sex abuse by Catholic clergymen brought claims to the International Criminal Court, requesting an investigation of the Pope and top Vatican cardinals for possible crimes against humanity.
In October, a global follow-up report on the UN Study on Violence against Children exposed that “staggering levels of violence” continue to be perpetrated against children despite several commitments by States to tackle the problem. (Report)
CRIN launched its Legal Reform Project on sexual exploitation and child-friendly justice, which reviews the implementation of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child pornography, and child prostitution in national law around the world.
CRIN also released an updated version of its ‘Status of Children’s Rights in the Universal Periodic Review’ report that analyses the extent to which children’s rights were addressed during the first cycle of this UN mechanism, when the human rights records of 112 States were reviewed. CRIN also produced reports documenting mentions of children’s rights for each State review.
The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child published its first ever decision on a communication, which found Kenya in violation of the rights of Nubian children to non-discrimination, nationality and protection against statelessness.
Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community continues to deteriorate, as now the “protection” of children is being used as an excuse to ban “homosexual propaganda”. Such laws have been proposed in Ukraine, Russia, and previously in Lithuania. A month later, the legal rights group Human Dignity Trust would launch a global strategic litigation campaign to challenge homophobic laws in 80-plus countries around the world.
At the end of October, Libya’s General Muammar Gaddafi was captured by rebels in his home town and killed. He had ruled Libya for over four decades.
November saw the demise of yet another autocrat. After 11 months of calls for Yemen’s Saleh to step down as president, he eventually signed a UN-brokered transition deal, bringing to an end his 33-year rule.
Meanwhile in Syria, as the UN estimated a death toll that exceeded 4,000, Arab ministers finally agreed to suspend Syria from the League of Arab States and impose political and economic sanctions on the country.
At the 143rd session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, hearings addressed the issues of juvenile justice, sexual violence in schools, and children’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.
December brought disaster to the Philippines, as floods killed almost 1,500 people, and left hundreds others disappeared.
Despite these setbacks, the year ended with positive moves around the world. The United States declared an official end to the nine-year war in Iraq, which left more than 4,000 US soldiers and well over 100,000 Iraqis dead.
Syria eventually allowed entry to an Arab League fact-finding team to assess the human rights situation in the country. By then, the death toll had reached 5,000.
Key organisers of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the deaths of around 800,000 people in just 100 days, were sentenced to life imprisonment by a United Nations tribunal.
The European Union voted against textile trade preferences for Uzbekistan until the International Labor Organization is granted access to the country to examine widespread reports of forced child labour in its cotton industry.
And last, but most definitely not least, the year ended with one of the best outcomes for children’s rights, as after a four-year campaign, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Optional Protocol for a complaints mechanism to the CRC!’
2012: As for the year ahead, apart from the review of other country reports on the UNCRC, OPSC and the OPAC by the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s 59th session in January, there are positions up for renewal or election such as for the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and for Children and Armed Conflict, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Furthermore, the Human Rights Council’s 19th session set for February includes this year’s annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child based on the 2012 theme of ‘rights of children and the administration of justice’.
The CRIN mail ends with, ‘and here’s to hoping…
…that the UN and the international community speed up their glacially slow response to the human rights situation in Syria.
…that the Russian electorate remains firm in its demands for political “evolution”.
…that the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant for the Pope for covering up the child sex abuse scandal.
…and, as always, that the United States ratifies the CRC.’