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Address by Ms. Navanethem Pillay at the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Geneva, 8 october 2009

 Distinguished Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child,

Distinguished Panelists,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome all of you here on this auspicious occasion. As you know, we will soon commemorate the 20th anniversary of the General Assembly's adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which falls on November 20.

This occasion offers us the opportunity to take stock of progress and gaps in implementation of this crucial human rights instrument, as well as chart an effective roadmap to bridge these gaps and help build a more hospitable world for future generations. We can all draw from the knowledge, insights and wisdom of the experts who will participate in today’s discussion. Indeed, some of them are veritable early champions and illustrious pioneers of the rights of the child.

This group of experts includes individuals who played an essential role in the drafting and adoption of the Convention and others who contributed to its formative monitoring and interpretation phases as the first members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

In addition, we are joined by many of the current members of the Committee, as well as by other experts and child-rights advocates. Together, these individuals consistently expand the boundaries of our knowledge and awareness about current and emerging issues of particular relevance to the rights of the child and devise the most effective ways and means of promoting and protecting those rights.

And, we are very pleased to welcome here a special group of children from around the world who are instrumental in creating an environment where all children are entitled to claim and fully enjoy their rights.

With the adoption of the Convention by the General Assembly two decades ago, the international community unanimously recognized for the first time in history that children, both girls and boys alike, are not simply the property of their parents or of their care givers, but individual rights-holders, fully entitled to their rights and in charge of their own destiny according to their age and level of maturity.

In addition to this innovative concept and outlook, the Convention provides a framework for the comprehensive promotion and protection of the rights of the child, which are interdependent and indivisible and must be upheld in their totality.

Specifically, the Convention encompasses a series of provisions which outline the actions that must be taken by States parties to give effect to these rights, including the development and implementation of targeted legislative provisions, policy measures and plans of action.

Although the universal nature of the rights of the child is a central feature of the Convention, this treaty also recognizes that measures of implementation may be adapted in accordance with the diverse circumstances of a State party. In giving effect to these measures, States parties must ensure that the Convention's four guiding principles of non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right to survival and development, and the right of the child to be heard are upheld.

The Convention has achieved nearly universal ratification and remains the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. Despite this widespread support for, and awareness of the rights of the child, there persist severe violations, including violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, child trafficking and forced labor. Also tragically evident are those multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination that affect girls, children with disabilities and those from minority and indigenous populations, street children, children in conflict with the law, refugee and migrant children and children from other marginalized and displaced groups.

Some of the most pervasive forms of discrimination and exploitation experienced by children have become more widespread and known since the adoption of the Convention. And it is largely due to the efforts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in their monitoring of national-level implementation of the Convention, and the complementary work of other child-rights advocates, that these issues have been brought to the international community’s attention.

Grave concerns regarding the vast and pervasive nature of the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and the devastating consequences of armed conflict on the lives of children led to the adoption of two Optional Protocols to the Convention. The first pertains to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The second tackles issues that affect children in armed conflict.

Let me take this opportunity to draw your attention to an important initiative that is currently underway. I refer to the possibility of elaborating an Optional Protocol to the Convention that would introduce a communications procedure for violations of the rights of the child where national-level remedies have failed or do not exist. This mechanism could significantly strengthen the monitoring of the Convention and contribute to the effective implementation of children’s rights. The Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its full support for this mechanism. This is an issue that we will be following closely. We will be supporting the activities of the Open-ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol, scheduled to meet from 14 to 18 December 2009.

Although the Committee has consistently emphasized that States parties bear the primary obligation for implementation of the Convention, it has also been keen to point out that the realization of the rights of the child will only be possible with the cooperation and active participation of a comprehensive network of committed partners. Indeed, during both the reporting process and its thematic days of general discussion, the Committee has set a standard for innovative engagement with relevant actors including representatives of intergovernmental organization, non-governmental organizations and other sectors of civil society, such as representatives of national human rights institutions, experts, advocates and children themselves. In these efforts, the Committee has further enhanced the effects of the Convention as a guiding force in actions related to the rights of the child.

It is the combined experience gathered in the course of these collaborative interactions and the Committee’s work during the reporting process by State parties on implementation of the Convention that has influenced one of the Committee's most significant contributions, namely its General Comments. These General Comments elaborate the substantive content of the Convention's provisions and provide practical advice to States parties and relevant stakeholders regarding steps that should be taken to enhance implementation efforts. They have the added benefit of providing guidance to States parties between reporting sessions while also taking into account the latest research findings and emerging global phenomena and their potential impact on children's rights.

These two latter elements will inspire our work over the next two days, according to the themes selected for your discussion, that is, Dignity, Development and Dialogue. Each of these themes underpins the provisions of the Convention. Our objective will be to highlight the main challenges we currently face and the responses we should devise in promoting the dignity of children, providing them with opportunities for development, and facilitating their participatory dialogue with adults. Specifically, we will do this in a set of workshops that will address the most salient issues of our time, including combating the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, dismantling discrimination against children, with a particular focus on children with disabilities, prioritizing the rights of the child in light of the current economic crisis, and securing children’s right to participation in the public and private spheres.

At the end of this process, we should be able to identify a series of recommendations that will help re-focus our attention, both nationally and internationally, on the practical measures that must be taken to bring about effective realization of the rights of the child. As we pause to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Convention, committing ourselves to making these objectives a reality will be the greatest gift that we can give to the world's children.

Finally, let me take this opportunity to stress that the progressive development of the rights of the child through the Convention and the Committee on the Rights of the Child proves the importance of strengthening the treaty bodies system. The overall success of the human rights protection system, marked by the increase in the number of human rights instruments and corresponding monitoring bodies, together with greater compliance by States parties with reporting obligations, is most welcome and encouraging. It also places additional demands and tasks on the system. I encourage States parties to human rights treaties and other stakeholders to initiate a process of reflection on how to streamline and strengthen the treaty body system to achieve better coordination among its mechanisms, as well as in their interaction with Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review.

With these parting thoughts, let me wish you a fruitful discussion. I look forward to its outcome.

Thank you.