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A justice system that fails children ultimately also fails society, UN rights expert warns

GENEVA (18 June 2015) – The treatment of children in judicial proceedings, both civil and criminal, is not satisfactory if not unacceptable, United Nations human rights expert Gabriela Knaul warned today during the presentation of her last report* to the UN Human Rights Council.

“Every day throughout the world, countless children suffer adverse consequences at the hands of justice systems that disregard or even directly violate their fundamental human rights,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers noted. “Not only do children face the same obstacles as adults to access justice, but they also encounter challenges and barriers linked to their status of minors.”

“Children still count among the most vulnerable to human rights violations and other types of abuse,” Ms. Knaul said, calling on States to develop justice systems adapted to their needs and rights. “Justice must be child-sensitive; it needs to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of children and take into account their best interests.”

In her report, the expert emphasizes that the administration of justice, whether in criminal, civil or administrative processes, “must be guided at all times and in all matters concerning children by the fundamental principles of non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right to life and development, and the right to be heard.”

The Special Rapporteur called for adoption of alternative mechanisms to complement or replace judicial proceedings, in order to mitigate or avoid the trauma that can result when children go through the established process.

“Judges, prosecutors and lawyers can influence the future course of children’s lives,” the expert said. “To discharge such a great responsibility, it is essential that they receive specialized education and training in international human rights and in particular children’s rights.”

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Human Rights Council: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/Annual.aspx

Gabriela Knaul took up her functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. In that capacity, she acts independently from any Government or organization. Ms. Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/IDPIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/IndependenceJudiciary.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Amanda Flores (+41 22 917 9186 / aflores@ohchr.org) or write to srindependencejl@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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