Rights of the Child: better a good neighbour than a far-away friend
Regional organisations are better able to enforce compliance with children's rights than the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child with its limited powers. This is why we should embrace these organisations as our partners in the same fight, Julia Sloth-Nielsen, Professor of the Rights of the Child in Developing Countries, argued in her inaugural lecture on 17 November.
The achievements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted 25 years ago, are phenomenal, says Sloth-Nielsen. No other human rights convention has been ratified by so many countries (nearly 200). Before 1989, information on the well-being of children was often inadequate, but that has changed thanks to the compulsory reports that members are required to produce on their compliance with the rights of the child.
Unfortunately, according to Sloth-Nielsen, the figures on matters such as exploitation and abuse remain painful. In her opinion, the supervisory UN Committee on the Rights of the Child falls short. It has on the whole too little capacity to link concrete actions to the alarming reports. And it has no mandate to enforce independent investigations. ‘This UN body cannot be proactive and it is a bit paralysed in this respect.’
This is why she approves of the appearance of regional human rights organisations and conventions. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, for instance, monitors compliance with the rights of the child in American countries and its European equivalent does the same in Europe. In Africa, the rights of the child are monitored by the African Committee of Experts. Sloth-Nielsen, who has South African nationality, is Vice-Chair of this committee. There are also subregional initiatives such as the East African Community and the Pacific Island Forum.
According to Sloth-Nielsen, these regional and subregional organisations have been demonstrably successful in their efforts. The African Committee, for instance, reprimanded the Kenyan state when it became apparent that Nubians, a Kenyan tribe, were not issued with a passport at birth. And the Inter-American Court has made important contributions to jurisprudence in their own region.
Due to their proximity, regional regulators are better able to enforce human rights, says Sloth-Nielsen. They can monitor more effectively, especially in regions such as the European Union where national laws are partially harmonised and guidelines are binding. In addition, regional and subregional institutions are closer to the local corporate world that offers opportunities for collaboration. Sloth-Nielsen: ‘Countries are less likely to reproach a regional human rights organisation for not knowing the context and culture of their country.’
Sloth-Nielsen does not anticipates any serious legal problems if the regional regulators start to play a more active role, because the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does not include any agreements regarding a potential monopoly on monitoring compliance. ‘The convention is not hostile to collaboration between international and regional and subregional organisations. The two need not be split.’
But Sloth-Nielsen is also aware of the risks. Regional human rights organisations differ greatly in terms of their access to resources such as funding and information. In addition, there are still many regions that have little or no connection to a credible subregional system. Furthermore, regionalisation may also lead to different standards in human rights.
Sloth-Nielsen is nevertheless of the opinion that the advantages outweigh the risks. This is why regional human rights organisations should be embraced as our partners in the same fight. We don’t have a choice, she argues. ‘Closing our doors to a regional movement for the rights of the child is comparable to closing a stable door after the horse has bolted.’
Julia Sloth-Nielsen's inaugural lecture is part of Children's Rights Week (17 to 21 November) in Leiden with various events such as the Rights of the Child Top, the International Conference and the international student moot court competition for the rights of the child.
(18 November 2014)