UN celebrates 20 years of children’s rights

  • Date / 13 March 2009

Sophie Erskine, IHEU’s new intern at the UN Human Rights Council, reports on the annual full-day debate on the Rights of the Child held on 11 March 2009: The debate, held in the United Nation’s dignified ‘Salle des Alliances des Civilisations’, began cheerfully, as the Human Rights Council celebrated the 20th birthday of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sadly, as the debate was about to begin, 15 people including nine children were gunned down by an ex-student at a school in Germany. But, this news notwithstanding, States reporting on their work to protect the rights of children gave the impression that, as the Burkino Fasan delegate said, substantial work had been done to protect the rights of the child in the past 20 years.

Despite numerous reservations by States parties to the Convention, it seems to have remained the international symbol of collective commitment to respecting children’s rights. For example, Jordan and Algeria highlighted their excellent cooperation with UNICEF. And China, who has one fifth of all the world’s children, claimed it had issued very specific action plans for children.

The only striking exception to the general optimism of the meeting was the strong condemnation of Israeli aggression against Palestinian children. Palestine itself stressed the condition of children in the occupied territories and condemned the displacement of more than 112,000 of its children. Since the beginning of the 2nd intifada in 2000 more than 6,000 children have been arrested by Israeli forces, which use physical violence to make children confess. Likewise, Yemen, on behalf of the Arab Group, lamented the Israeli murder of many Palestinian children and called for the unanimous condemnation of Israeli action in Gaza.

The IHEU’s contribution was strong and striking. Limiting his contribution to two minutes, Roy Brown brought to the attention of the Council to the issues of child marriage and child execution. Although the marriage of girls as young as nine stands in contravention of the Convention in question as well as CEDAW and General Assembly resolution 843 (IX), Brown noted, millions of young girls are married every year. And although it also contravenes the Convention, five States – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and Pakistan – are still guilty of executing children. Brown called on the OIC to use its influence with these countries to stop this “the ultimate barbarity”.

However, the Chair was apparently unimpressed. Thanking Mr Brown for his contribution, she cautioned that she was not sure it was entirely relevant to the matter under discussion. Perhaps she objected to Brown’s singling out the criminal record of particular States, or petitioning the OIC in particular. It would certainly be strange to think that the execution of children is irrelevant to the protection of children’s rights. Let us hope that the imminent appointment of a Special Rapporteur on violence against children will give the world’s children a voice to express the problems they face. It is surely individual cases and individual problems that the Council must focus on now – not only national laws and governmental reports.

It was encouraging that IHEU’s condemnation of the execution of children were picked up in the report by Reuters on the meeting – reproduced below.

Israel hit at UN over Palestinian child rights

  • Israel said to violate child rights in Gaza
  • Islamic states accused of executing children

GENEVA, March 11 (Reuters) – Arab countries and Cuba on Wednesday accused Israel of grossly violating the rights of Palestinian children during its December assault on Gaza.

But in a debate in the United Nations Human Rights Council, a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) charged that a range of Islamic countries, especially Iran, had been executing children, calling it “the ultimate barbarity.”
The Gaza attack at the end of December “left children as the main victims, with many severely wounded, and even many cases of a serious pathological nature as a result of destruction wrought by Israel”, declared a Yemeni delegate. Palestinian researchers have said around 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the attack, of whom 280 were under 18.

Speaking for all Arab states on the 47-member Council, the Yemeni delegate said the incursion—which Israel says was aimed at stopping cross-border rocket attacks on its towns near Gaza—was “a violation of every humanitarian law”.

Cuba, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement which includes most developing countries, said Israel had killed many Palestinian children in Gaza through the use of “excessive and indiscriminate force”.

The charges were issued during a debate marking the 20th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which most of the world body’s 192 members have signed.

Italy told the Council—on which a bloc of Islamic and African states backed by China, Cuba and Russia have a majority — that the Convention’s ban on executing offenders who committed crimes when aged under 18 should be enforced.

This appeal was backed by a spokesman for four NGOs who said five Islamic countries, including Council members Pakistan, which speaks there for the 56-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Saudi Arabia executed children.

Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), identified the other three as Iran, Sudan and Yemen. He said the five had executed 32 children between them since 2005, of whom 26 were put to death by Iran.

Brown—speaking also for the World Population Foundation, the Association for World Education and the World Union of Progressive Judaism—said eight people were executed in Iran last year for crimes committed when they were under 18.

A total of 133 more remained under sentence of death there, he said. He urged the OIC “to use its influence with the states concerned to end what many see as the ultimate barbarity: states killing their own children”.

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