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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS ANNUAL HIGH-LEVEL PANEL DISCUSSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS MAINSTREAMING, FOCUSING ON CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

24 February 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, focusing on advancing the mainstreaming of children’s rights within the United Nations system through a child rights-based approach.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the United Nations General Assembly, in a keynote statement, urged all Member States to take action to implement the recommendations of the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, which had been mandated by General Assembly resolution 69/157. He further noted that upholding children’s rights was critical in order to address deepening inequalities within and between countries, and to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a keynote statement, noted that while the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, achieving its aims continued to be a challenge. The shocking reports issued on Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Burundi, South Sudan and the occupied Palestinian territory demonstrated the grave impact of conflict on children’s rights.

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, panel moderator and member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted that it was crucial to reflect on how a comprehensive approach to children’s rights could help to strengthen the coherence of the work of the United Nations. The mainstreaming of children’s rights required a comprehensive approach from micro to macro level, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of children’s wellbeing that went beyond nutrition and health.

Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support and panellist, reminded that the United Nations peacebuilding architecture, the Peacebuilding Fund, was supporting interventions that promoted a child rights-based approach to programming at the field level. He highlighted four areas which the Fund had supported: creating space for the inclusive participation of children in political and peacebuilding processes, the implementation of peace agreements in a way that integrated children, the protection of rights as a critical foundation for sustaining peace, and the transformative role of education in promoting a culture of respect for human rights and inclusion.

Zsuzsana Jakab, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization and panellist, stressed that the child and adolescent health agenda remained largely unfinished, both from a perspective of public health and human rights. Progress on achieving child-related Sustainable Development Goals had stalled. In 2018, 5.3 million children did not live to see their fifth birthday, and over half of those deaths could have been prevented.

Afshan Khan, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia at the United Nations Children’s Fund and panellist, acknowledged significant progress in the rights of children in the 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including falling mortality rates, improving education rates, and a decline in the number of child marriages. However, despite this, children’s rights continued to be limited by a range of barriers, including climate change, migration and conflicts, from Syria to Yemen to South Sudan.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, millions of children had seen progress in the enjoyment of their rights. Yet, that was not a reality for many children across the world who still suffered both at times of war and peace. Speakers underlined that the effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols depended on follow-up and evaluation, as well as on the availability of high-quality data. Stronger political commitment was necessary to ensure that no child was left behind. Too many children were deprived of liberty needlessly. Empowering children through access to quality education was one of the key elements for the good future of the child and society. Children had to be recognized as human rights activists and defenders because achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was impossible without children’s participation, speakers stressed.

Speaking in the discussion were Belgium, Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, European Union, Portugal on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, Qatar on behalf of the Arab Group, Uruguay on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean States, Malta on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children in Armed Conflict in Geneva, Barbados on behalf of the Caribbean Community, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Lithuania on behalf of Nordic and Baltic States, Viet Nam on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Greece, Slovenia, Indonesia, Tunisia, Lesotho, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Ecuador and Angola.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Child Rights Connect, Save the Children International, Plan International Inc., World Vision International, Iuventum e.V., and Aid Organization.

The Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 25 February, at 9 a.m. when it will hold a high-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It will then continue hearing statements by dignitaries in its high-level segment.

Opening Remarks

ELISABETH TICHY-FISSLBERGER, President of the Human Rights Council, commended the 50 States which had answered the call of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to demonstrate their commitment to implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child. During the panel discussion, States would have an opportunity to reflect on how to turn their commitments into tangible actions.

Keynote Statements

TIJJANI MUHAMMAD-BANDE, President of the United Nations General Assembly, reminded that as the most widely ratified human rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols constituted a vital living body of law, providing guidance on upholding the rights of children. Mr. Muhammad-Bande urged all Member States to take action to implement the recommendations of the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, which had been mandated by General Assembly resolution 69/157. That study was the first data-based attempt to comprehend the magnitude of the situation of children deprived of liberty, identifying the root causes, conditions of detention, and the impact on the health and development of children. Mr. Muhammad-Bande further noted that upholding children’s rights was critical in order to address deepening inequalities within and between countries, and to make gains in the Decade of Action and Delivery to Implement the Sustainable Development Goals. To reduce inequalities States must seek to mainstream the right to education throughout social protection policies and the development of infrastructure. That would work towards providing a safe space and safe access for children to learn, ensuring available and accessible education as set out in the Convention. Furthermore, those rights-based development measures must be adequately funded in order to uphold the rights of children.

MICHELLE BACHELET, High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the opportunity to speak on mainstreaming children’s rights. Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, achieving its aims continued to be a challenge. The establishment of the Offices of the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and on Violence against Children gave impetus to issues facing children. The Security Council had included emphasis on child protection in the mandates of all peacekeeping operations since 2001. Monitoring and reporting mechanisms were managed by country-based task forces co-led by the United Nations Children’s Fund and United Nations Resident Coordinators in many countries. The Council integrated children’s rights through resolutions, panels and expert reporting. The shocking report issued on Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Burundi, South Sudan and the occupied Palestinian territory all demonstrated the grave impact that conflict had on children’s rights. This increasing emphasis by United Nations bodies had an important impact on children’s lives – such was the recent decision by Bangladesh to enable Rohingya refugee children to have access to formal education, thanks to efforts of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The panellists were invited to share best practices and highlight challenges they had encountered.

Statements by the Panel Moderator and the Panellists

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Panel Moderator, said that today the discussion would focus on how children’s rights were integrated into the United Nations activities and programmes and how those efforts could be strengthened. It was crucial to reflect on how a comprehensive approach to children’s rights could help to strengthen the coherence of the work of the United Nations. Mr. Mezmur said that mainstreaming required a comprehensive approach from micro to macro level and there was a need for a more comprehensive understanding of children’s wellbeing that went beyond nutrition and health. Member States who were pioneering children’s rights were thanked for their efforts. Mr. Mezmur asked two questions: how did peacebuilding support the mainstreaming of children’s rights at the operational level and how could mainstreaming of children’s rights strengthen the United Nations work on peace and security.

OSCAR FERNANDEZ-TARANCO, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, said that his office was very often inspired by words of wisdom by children. A key component of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture, the Peacebuilding Fund, was supporting interventions that promoted a child rights-based approach to programming at the field level and contributed to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mr. Fernandez-Taranco highlighted four areas which the Peacebuilding Fund had supported. The first one was creating space for the inclusive participation of children in political and peacebuilding processes. Second, the implementation of peace agreements continued to be a high priority for the Fund. At the recent Security Council briefing on children and armed conflict on 12 February 2020, the Secretary-General had underscored the importance of integrating specific measures to integrate children in peace processes in order to achieve concrete results for children and for peace. One way to contribute to that objective was to support the disengagement and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict. Third, the protection of rights was a critical foundation for sustaining peace. Applying a human rights framework to peacebuilding support helped identify and address those left behind. Finally, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco stressed the transformative role of education on promoting a culture of respect for human rights and inclusion.

ZSUZSANNA JAKAB, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization, stressed that the child and adolescent health agenda remained largely unfinished, both from a perspective of public health and human rights. The good news was that eight million more children and adolescents were surviving than there were 30 years ago, and 9 in 10 children born today received appropriate childhood vaccines. However, progress on achieving child-related Sustainable Development Goals had stalled. In 2018, 5.3 million children did not live to see their fifth birthday and over half of those deaths could have been prevented. Around 1.1. million adolescents died in 2016, mostly from preventable diseases. New emerging threats to children included environmental threats to children’s well-being and commercial threats through marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages. One of the recommendations was to develop an Optional Protocol on regulating the marketing of harmful products to children. Children’s rights principles and standards were incorporated in the new World Health Organization standards for high quality maternal, newborn and child health care. The challenges posed by climate change, air pollution, urbanization and environmental degradation had to be confronted together. Moreover, child and adolescent health had to be prioritized to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

AFSHAN KHAN, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia at the United Nations Children’s Fund, acknowledged significant progress in the rights of children in the 30 years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including falling mortality rates, improving education rates, and a decline in the number of child marriages. However despite this, children’s rights continued to be limited by a range of barriers, including climate change, migration and conflicts, from Syria to Yemen to South Sudan. Ms. Khan stated that in all conflicts, the rights of the child were the first to be denied. These rights included education, nutrition and climate change. With regard to nutrition, she recalled UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report, which found that one in three children were not growing well, one in two children suffered from hidden hunger, and two in three children lacked the minimum diverse diet they needed to grow up healthy. She therefore called on governments to invest in large-scale nutrition programmes, and to focus on conflict areas where needs were so great. With regard to climate change, more than 4 million young people had taken to the streets to demand the right to a healthy environment. At current rates, by 2100 global warming would exceed 4 degrees Celsius according to the United Nations, with catastrophic health impacts. She therefore called on countries to treat climate change like the emergency it was.

Discussion

Speakers in the discussion noted that 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, millions of children had seen progress in the enjoyment of their rights. Yet, that was not a reality for many children across the world. Speakers underlined that the effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols depended on follow-up and evaluation, as well as on the availability of high-quality data. Violence against children had nothing to do with childhood; it had no place there. Situations of political instability, warfare, recruitment in armed conflict, and displacement took the highest toll on children. Children could not enjoy their rights in situations of conflict. Some 400 million children in the world lived in conflict areas, facing intersecting forms of violence. Adolescent girls were particularly vulnerable as victims of sexual violence and early marriage. Speakers called on all conflict parties to refrain from any action that could endanger children’s access to education and to refrain from recruiting them into armed forces. They wondered how international and national justice mechanisms could be fully used to hold accountable those that committed crimes against children. Various challenges, including immense differences in the level of economic development among countries, impeded the full enjoyment of rights by children. Speakers thus wondered how the budgetary crisis affecting the United Nations’ human rights pillars had affected the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Some children also suffered at times of peace, such as those with disabilities, especially albinism, and those that suffered from family violence, female genital mutilation, and trafficking. Digital space presented another area in which children faced bullying and violence. Speakers noted that there was a need for creating more space for children’s participation. They stressed the importance of providing free access to education and school books, as well as other measures that promoted the rights of the child, such as prevention of early marriages and child labour, abolition of corporal punishment, and provision of adequate health and nutrition. Finally, speakers recognized the important role of the United Nations system in supporting the creation of national capacities to implement the rights of the child. They stressed the importance of recognizing the best interest of the child, adding that more efforts must be made to ensure that the United Nations system reached children and that children could express themselves on the matters that affected them. To that end it was key to recognize children as human rights activists and defenders. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was impossible without children’s participation. A stronger political commitment was necessary to ensure that no child was left behind. Too many children were deprived of liberty needlessly. Empowering children through access to quality education was one of the key elements for the good future of the child and society.

Concluding Remarks

AFSHAN KHAN, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia of the United Nations Children’s Fund, stated that it was essential that adequate investment was made available to achieve the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to fulfil the rights of children. In order to work with adolescents, and support access to justice and claim their rights, all stakeholders needed to work together. Investment in all parts of the United Nations, but especially in the Committee of the Rights of the Child, was crucial to achieve the goals set out in today’s discussion.

She stressed that if transnational issues were to be addressed, it was imperative to create spaces within multilateral institutions to ensure children’s voices were heard. This also required the children to be trained and guided to enable them to give their voices. When children were asked about the challenges affecting them, the issues were about climate change, mental health as well as digital safety. In order to address these, more resources would be needed.

ZSUZSANA JAKAB, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization, said it was clear that much more had to be done to protect the rights of children. A coherent narrative was needed to guide the work across the sectors. Inter-sectoral work had to be adapted to realities in countries. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provided a solid framework, but political commitment at the national level was needed, a comprehensive action plan at the national level was also necessary, as was placing child welfare in the centre of it. There were many new challenges, such as climate change and commercial impacts on health of marketing.

OSCAR FERNANDEZ-TARANCO, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, said that from the peacebuilding perspective it was important to address root causes of conflict and marginalization. The Secretary-General this morning had launched his Call for Action for Human Rights with seven important guiding principles that could help promote and defend the rights of the child, and signalled a way for more coherent support to Member States. The Secretary General’s Peacebuilding Fund could play a role in providing support. The Universal Periodic Review remained a critical tool for the engagement of the United Nations programmes to address gaps in the protection of children’s rights. On the 2020 review of the peacebuilding architecture, the Peacebuilding Commission was currently holding a series of thematic and regional reviews and this offered an opportunity to build on the good practices and lessons learned to more effectively mainstream children’s rights.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Panel Moderator, concluded by noting that children’s rights were enshrined in the international human rights protocols on the subject. He said that when it came to children’s rights, terminology was important. The human rights of the child and children’s rights were often talked about as separate things, but they were not. It was important to maintain a child-based assessment for every piece of work the Committee did. Directing money towards challenges would not solve all of the problems faced, and therefore adopting the right approach was very important.

For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC20/005E