IBAHRI report emphasises global need for juvenile justice systems that comply with international norms

In a report published today, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) asserts that, in order to protect the rights of children alleged as, accused of or recognised as having infringed penal law, specialised juvenile justice systems must be established or improved to conform with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). Titled The Role of the Universal Periodic Review in Advancing Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice, the report will be launched during the World Congress on Justice for Children, being held at UNESCO House in Paris.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell commented: ‘All countries, with the exception of the United States, have ratified the UN CRC. However, the reality faced by children is far from the model of rehabilitative and restorative justice required by the Convention. 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. The Universal Periodic Review’s call for states to prevent further risk and harm to children by establishing or improving their juvenile justice systems, in line with their obligations under international law, is a vital appeal, and echoed by the IBAHRI.’

The report highlights the key challenges encountered worldwide in the daily protection of children within criminal justice systems and examines the juvenile justice-related recommendations emanating from the first two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – a unique international peer-to-peer mechanism, through which each state is reviewed by all other UN Member States.

The analysis revealed that, although the UPR has bolstered the current level of protection afforded to juveniles, the number of recommendations received by states under review illustrates the magnitude of long-standing issues pertaining to juvenile justice. For example, on the use of detention, recommendations were made to 118 states; 115 states were advised to either establish or improve a specialised juvenile justice system; and proposals pertaining to the minimum age of criminal responsibility were made to 57 states.

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 UN CRC. 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 report also reveals that recommendations calling for the abolition of inhuman sentencing, and suggestions pertaining to fair trial rights, were the least accepted by states under review.

Further to its analysis, the IBAHRI has included in the report a number of recommendations for various stakeholders, including states, which, among other things, are urged to:

  • abolish the death penalty for crimes committed by persons under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, without replacing it with a life sentence, with or without parole, but with punishment appropriate to their age;
  • ensure that any deprivation of liberty of a child is used as a last resort;
  • discontinue all sentences, including lengthy imprisonment, that amount to cruel punishment;
  • amend existing legislation to guarantee fair trial rights, in consultation with children and the legal community; and
  • make sure that legal professionals and law enforcement officers are trained on children’s rights, and are available to provide adequate and accessible legal aid services to children having regard to their special vulnerability.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘Taking everything into account, there needs to be a shift by states away from the current punitive systems to restorative justice systems. This will undoubtedly involve a long process. In the meantime, more legal professionals and law enforcement officials should be trained on children’s rights, as these individuals play a significant role in juvenile justice procedures. 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. 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 launch of The Role of the Universal Periodic Review in Advancing Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice takes place at the Children’s World Congress in Paris on 29 May 2018.


Notes to the Editor

  • 1. Click here to download a PDF of the report The Role of the Universal Periodic Review in Advancing Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice.
  • 2. The 2018 World Congress on Justice for Children: six complementary civil society organisations, prominent in the fields of juvenile and family justice systems, are jointly convening the 2018 World Congress on Justice for Children from 28–30 May 2018 at the UNESCO House in Paris, where they will consider several pressing concerns within juvenile and family justice and the phenomenon of violent extremism.
  • 3. The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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