Why the OPIC is key to providing redress to children when national mechanisms fail to do so
Child human rights violations are on the rise, particularly given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and escalating environmental crisis. According to UNICEF, 66% of countries reported a disruption in violence against children-related services due to COVID-19. “The Covid-19 pandemic has affected children in countless ways, including through school closures and limited access to essential services. […] The Committee is also deeply concerned about the growing body of alarming evidence on the adverse effects of climate change, pollution, environmental harm and the loss of biodiversity, on the life trajectory of children as well as on their full and effective enjoyment of human rights.” (Statement of the Chair of the CRC Committee at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in October 2021). Everywhere around the world, child victims of human rights violations face barriers in seeking redress, additional to those faced by adults, including social and legal barriers, often intersecting with gender-based, race/caste/ethnic, and socio-economic discrimination, to name a few. “In Korea, actually, there are many, many systems, like this constitutional appeal, that citizens can use to challenge human rights violations […] But I think most of these systems actually fail to adequately help children because they are not built in a child-friendly way. Sometimes they use too complicated and vague terminology that is very difficult for a child to understand”, said a Korean child human rights defender who took part in the event co-organised by Child Rights Connect in July 2021 in the framework of the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected children in countless ways, including through school closures and limited access to essential services. […] The Committee is also deeply concerned about the growing body of alarming evidence on the adverse effects of climate change, pollution, environmental harm and the loss of biodiversity, on the life trajectory of children as well as on their full and effective enjoyment of human rights.” (Statement of the Chair of the CRC Committee at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in October 2021).
A critical step in addressing these deficiencies was taken through the adoption and entry into force in 2014 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on an Individual Communications procedure (OPIC), which provides access to justice at the international level for child victims of human rights violations, where such violations cannot be addressed effectively at the national level. Child Rights Connect was at the forefront of the global campaign that led to the drafting and adoption of this instrument. The OPIC is a key instrument for child human rights defenders (CHRDs) and other defenders to denounce child human rights violations and allow child victims to access justice at the international level when national justice systems fail to provide effective redress. However, the effective use and impact of this instrument is challenged by a general lack of awareness and understanding of its mechanisms by States, children’s rights defenders, including children, lawyers and other stakeholders, as experienced by Child Rights Connect through its awareness-raising and capacity-building in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa. Around the world, children and children’s rights defenders generally do not know the OPIC well enough to be able to effectively use it, even if their State has ratified the OPIC. Often, they also lack connections to build the necessary partnerships for bringing strategic complaints, including with lawyers who have experience in litigation. The lack of capacity in strategic litigation and, more generally, of a proper understanding of the OPIC, results in issues of admissibility of communications brought before the CRC Committee, and missed opportunities for the CRC Committee to contribute through its jurisprudence to wider national law and policy reform protective of children’s rights. This leaves countless child victims of human rights violations with lack of access to, or inadequate, remedies and reparation at all levels which in turn feeds a cycle of impunity, discrimination and social injustice.
What did Child Rights Connect do and what difference did this make
In response to these challenges, and in line with its Strategic Priority 4 on advancing OPIC ratification and implementation, Child Rights Connect has since 2019 been increasingly developing the capacities of local actors to strategically use the OPIC with a view to ensure child access to justice from the national-to-international level. Child Rights Connect has equipped children, children’s rights defenders and other non-State actors in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa with improved awareness and understanding of the OPIC, its dimensions and mechanisms, in support of their efforts to use the instrument, mainly through capacity-building as well as by developing and sharing freely accessible resources (published on Child Rights Connect’s dedicated OPIC mini-site). Overall, in 2021, Child Rights Connect facilitated or co-facilitated with partners eight capacity-building workshops on the use and implementation of OPIC to equip local State and non-State actors with a better understanding of, and capacity to use, the mechanism to provide redress for child victims and advocate for the strengthening of national laws and practices on the rights of the child. Child Rights Connect conducted the first workshop exploring the further potential use of OPIC as a mechanism to follow-up to the CRC Committee’s Concluding Observations (COBs) for Palestinian State and non-State actors. In Latin America, Child Rights Connect equipped organized groups of children with tools on how to effectively use the universal human rights system, including the OPIC, to address the disconnect between Latin America being the second region with the highest number of States that ratified the OPIC, versus the very few cases brought to the CRC Committee under the OPIC.
Equipping Palestinian actors with tools to push for the implementation of recommendations from the CRC Committee, including through using the OPIC
In March and August 2021, Child Rights Connect collaborated with its member, Save the Children in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), to organise two online capacity-building workshops on the OPIC and follow-up to the Committee’s Concluding Observations (COBs) to the State of Palestine. There were two-sessions, the first one with 27 participants, of which ten were individuals from Child Rights Connect’s member organisations, while the second session counted with 25 participants, of which three were individuals from member organisations. Palestine ratified the OPIC in 2019 (the second State within the MENA region to ratify the OPIC, after Tunisia which ratified one year before) and reported to the CRC Committee for the first time in 2020. Given the recent OPIC ratification and adoption of the first COBs by the Committee, the training aimed to help the ICHR and relevant civil society stakeholders to empower other actors, especially children, in the promotion and protection of child rights using the OPIC and advocating for the effective implementation of the Committee COBs so as to address the most pressing child rights issues and strengthen the national framework providing for child rights in the oPt. The first workshop was conducted in March into two different parts. The first part focusing on the OPIC, provided participants with an improved understanding of the OPIC and its different procedures, to allow them to make a strategic use of the instrument while strengthening the protection of child rights in the State of Palestine. The second part, focused on the follow-up to COBs to the State of Palestine, provided a set of tools and strategies to follow-up on CRC Committee recommendations as well as a space for participants to share an overview of the current child rights situation, including developments that had occurred since the last CRC Committee reporting cycle and future directions. Based on the results of the questionnaires responded to by participants during and after the workshop, Child Rights Connect and Save the Children Palestine agreed on the agenda for the second workshop. Held in August, the second workshop adopted a practical approach, to allow participants to test the acquired knowledge and further develop their skills. The first part of the workshop allowed participants to elaborate a partial action plan in the follow-up to the CRC Committee COBs, with shared responsibilities, advocacy strategies and a focal point leading activities to enhance the coordination. The second part of the workshop focused on how to strategically address a situation of a child rights violation, previously identified in the COBs, through the OPIC, using a practical case study which related the theory to a practical situation.
While it is too early to identify any case submitted to the CRC Committee by training participants, Child Rights Connect observed that, although limitations exist, there is a growing interest in considering the use the OPIC among non-State actors in the oPt, as a mechanism to redress child rights. Participants gained familiarity with the OPIC as a unique mechanism to redress child victims, including its limitations, as admissibility requirements do not always allow for the use of this instrument. Participants also acquired an improved understanding of the most adequate international human rights mechanisms to use depending on the specificities of the case, including to follow up on COBs. The results of the pre- and post-training knowledge-based tests taken by participants have shown, overall, a substantial knowledge gain in all the topics covered during the training. In a post-workshop survey, around 83 per cent of the respondents reported that the training had empowered them to use the OPIC in the future. Amongst key take-aways, participants cited “learning about the OPIC, its use and the possibility of intervening as a NHRI”; “learning about the mechanisms that children and child rights workers have to report violations of children’s rights”; and “learning about the role that can be played by the NHRI on activating the OPIC as a procedure under the CRC Committee”. Participants also gained an understanding of the existing link and interaction between COBs and the OPIC, between the reporting and complaints procedures. More widely, the workshops contributed to improving the coordination between civil society and the NHRI in advocacy for the promotion and protection of child rights in the State of Palestine, as discussions on the establishment of a permanent structure to coordinate between these organisations were initiated then. This could lead to enhanced monitoring of, and reporting on, the implementation of child rights in the oPt. Finally, the participation of State representatives in the training provided a concrete example of the OPIC as an instrument to build capacity within the State for the improvement of national laws and policies providing for child rights, demystifying political misconceptions over the instrument.
Amongst key take-aways, participants cited “learning about the OPIC, its use and the possibility of intervening as a NHRI”; “learning about the mechanisms that children and child rights workers have to report violations of children’s rights”; and “learning about the role that can be played by the NHRI on activating the OPIC as a procedure under the CRC Committee”.
Empowering children/children’s networks in Latin America to use the OPIC and claim their rights
In June 2021, Child Rights Connect teamed up with the IIN-OEA (Instituto Interamericano del Niño, Niña y Adolescentes) to conduct a workshop on the universal human rights system, particularly the UNCRC and CRC Committee, and the OPIC, for 44 children and adults mostly members of RedSurca (Red Sur de Crianças e Adolescentes), the first network of children from the Comisión Permanente Niño Sur (Child Permanent Commission) of the Member States and Associates of the Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR), established in 2020 to foster child participation in the decision-making mechanisms of the regional organisation. RedSurca includes child members from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. The workshop was hosted by Argentina, the State Party which at the time had the Pro-Tempore Presidency of the MERCOSUR Child Permanent Comission (“Comisión Permanente Niño Sur”). Following the efforts of the Reunión de Altas Autoridades sobre Derechos Humanos (the Human Rights Commission) from the MERCOSUR and its Child Permanent Commission (“Comisión Permanente Niño Sur”), including in mobilizing civil society, all MERCOSUR Member States ratified the OPIC. Building the capacity of this newly established network of children to better understand how to use OPIC and the international human rights system the workshop was thus timely and the next logical step for the Child Permanent Commission of MERCOSUR. The workshop aimed to empower organized groups of children and adolescents, such as RedSurca, already active in promoting the rights of children and adolescents, with knowledge and tools on how to use the OPIC in particular, and the universal human rights system in general, to facilitate access to justice for children and adolescents.
Despite the high rate of OPIC ratification by States in Latin America, the CRC Committee has received very few cases of children and adolescents from the region, due to lack of knowledge of the OPIC by children’s rights defenders, children and other non-State actors and a wide use of the Inter-American human rights system.
Through this workshop children have been empowered at an individual level and as a group, as child participants have been sharing the acquired knowledge on the OPIC and the universal human rights system with their peers. Also, the workshop helped foster good collaboration with Argentina, which is now willing to explore ways in which to replicate this training at the national level. Further, the partnership and joint initiatives with IIN-OEA have led to wider institutional changes towards increased prioritization of the OPIC in the region. This has contributed to set OPIC ratification and implementation higher on the agenda of the IIN-OEA with potentially wide replication effects. For instance, as a follow-up to the training for children, the IIN-OEA invited Child Rights Connect to include within “A Participar se Aprende” (APSA), a complete and structured online training module on the OPIC directed to 14 child human rights defenders (nine girls and five boys), selected by Organisation of American States member States. The online module is now part of the IIN-OEA’s training booklet used to train children’s networks partners of IIN-OEA (such as Red CORIA, Red Surca and the recently created Red RENNACEM). In 2022, Child Rights Connect will build the capacity of other networks of children in the region, for instance the Red CORIA, this time with an emphasis on equipping them to undertake their own advocacy for OPIC ratification, as these children are from countries which are yet to ratify the treaty.