UN General Assembly adopts complaints mechanism

Date: 21st December 2011
Category: General measures of implementation, UK 1st periodic review

The UN General Assembly has adopted the new Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child establishing a complaints mechanism for children.

This concludes an almost five-year campaign to create such a mechanism, also known as a communications procedure, in which over 80 NGOs formed an international coalition coordinated by the NGO Group for the CRC.

A complaints mechanism allows individuals, groups or their representatives, who claim that their rights have been violated by a State that is a party to a Convention, to bring a complaint before the relevant UN committee, provided that the State has recognised the competence of the committee to receive such complaints, and that all domestic remedies have been exhausted.

Until now, the CRC was the only international human rights treaty with a mandatory reporting procedure to not have, in addition, an existing or draft complaints mechanism. "The international community has effectively put children's rights on an equal footing with other human rights and recognised that children too have the right to appeal to an international mechanism, just like adults," said the NGO coalition in a joint public statement.

On a similar note, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said "children will now be able to join the ranks of other rights-holders"; while Peter Newell, coordinator of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, summed up that "children's rights are no longer 'mini rights'."

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, also welcomed the adoption of the protocol, saying it "consolidates the international system of accountability for human rights," adding that "its provisions will help bring to an end the invisibility and conspiracy of silence surrounding incidents of violence against children."

Prior to its adoption, critics argued that the CRC did not need its own complaints mechanism because those that already exist under other treaties are also available to children. However, as these instruments do not cover, separately or together, the full range and detail of rights in the CRC, they have barely been used by children or their representatives. The new mechanism under the CRC, on the other hand, is uniquely adapted to children. Among others features, it specifies that:

  • In reviewing communications, the Committee on the Rights of the Child must follow the principle of the best interests of the child and have regard to the rights and views of the child;
  • The Rules of Procedure for using the complaints mechanism are to be child-sensitive;
  • Safeguards must be introduced to prevent the potential manipulation of children, and the Committee can decline to consider communications found not to be in a child's best interests;
  • The identity of any individuals involved in submitting a complaint, including child victims, cannot be revealed publicly without their express consent; and
  • Communications must be submitted with the child victim's consent, unless the person submitting the complaint can justify acting on the child's behalf without that consent.

The NGO coalition now calls on all States to "initiate national discussions and processes in view of ratification of the new Optional Protocol as soon as possible, and urges them to sign the new Optional Protocol at the official signing ceremony to be held in 2012 to demonstrate their commitment to the protection of child rights." It will enter into force upon ratification by 10 UN Member States.

For more details on the campaign for a complaints mechanism, click here.

Also download CRIN's Advocacy Toolkit on the complaints mechanism here.