The future of thematic children's rights institutions in a national human rights institution world: the Paris principles and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Author:Reif, Linda C.
Position:I. Introduction through II. Independent Human Rights Institutions for Children and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC
 
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  1. Introduction II. Independent Human Rights Institutions for Children and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) A. Typology of Independent Children's Rights Institutions (ICRIs) B. Geography of Independent Children's Rights Institutions C. Threats to Thematic Children's Rights Institutions: Closure, Merger with an NHRI or Rejection of Model D. Thematic Human Rights Institutions for Children Versus NHRIs: Countervailing Forces and Views E. UN Paris Principles, the ICC and the Committee on the Rights of the Child: NHRIs with a Children's Rights Focus Versus Thematic Children's Rights Institutions III. Conclusion I. Introduction

    Independent thematic human rights institutions have been established by some states to focus on the protection and promotion of one category of human rights or the rights of a vulnerable group. (1) Children are a vulnerable population and, in response, thematic children's rights institutions have been established at the national and sub-national levels of government, albeit in a relatively small number of states. (2) Leaders of these institutions are given titles such as ombudsperson for children, ombudsman for children, commissioner for children or defender of children. The first of its kind, Norway's Ombudsman for Children, was established in 1981. (3)

    By the early 1990s, however, the international community began to place greater importance on the establishment and strengthening of broad-based national human rights institutions ("NHRIs"). The minimum standards for NHRIs were enshrined in the Paris Principles, which were drafted in 1991 and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993. (4) The Paris Principles have been interpreted in more depth by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights ("ICC") through its General Observations and accreditation process. (5) In the ensuing years, NHRIs--primarily national level human rights commissions and national level human rights ombudsman institutions--have multiplied. Some of these NHRIs have a legislative responsibility to focus on children's rights while other NHRIs prioritize children's rights through their operating practices.

    Today, independent human rights institutions that pay special attention to children's rights are commonly understood to comprise thematic children's rights institutions at all levels of governance, broad-based NHRIs that pay special attention to children's rights, and sub-national human rights institutions with a focus on children. (6) Terms such as "independent human rights institutions for children" or "independent children's rights institutions" ("ICRIs") are used to describe this institutional mixture. (7) Regardless of their structure, a core function of most ICRIs is to facilitate the domestic implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ("CRC") and its Protocols. (8)

    Since great importance has been placed on the establishment of NHRIs that are fully compliant with the Paris Principles, the existence and role of thematic human rights institutions, including thematic children's rights institutions, are being reevaluated. In recent years, some countries have collapsed thematic children's rights institutions into broad-based NHRIs while others have established only one comprehensive NHRI. Countervailing factors and forces influence the choice of institutional structure made by governments when deciding whether or not to establish or retain a thematic children's rights institution. These include economic factors, efficiency concerns, political attitudes to children's rights and domestic and regional legal systems. There are also competing functional considerations that influence the decision whether to have a thematic children's rights institution as opposed to integrating the children's rights mandate into a broad-based NHRI (or equivalent sub-national human rights institution). The burgeoning international standards on NHRIs and thematic human rights institutions also play a role in influencing the decisions of national governments on the composition of their ICRI(s). This Article focuses on the interplay between the UN Paris Principles as interpreted by the ICC and the practice of the CRC's treaty committee, the Committee on the Rights of the Child ("CtRC").

    Thematic human rights institutions at all levels of governance (including thematic children's rights institutions) and sub-national human rights institutions are not considered to be NHRIs pursuant to the Paris Principles as interpreted by the ICC. (9) Based on ICC practice, it is impossible for thematic human rights/children's rights institutions to be deemed by the ICC to be fully compliant with the Paris Principles, which has material implications for these institutions in the UN and regional human rights systems. Only broad-based NHRIs have the capacity to be fully compliant with the Paris Principles. As a result, this Article argues that the application of the Paris Principles by the ICC exerts pressure on states to have one comprehensive NHRI that includes a children's rights focus and subtly discourages states from establishing or retaining a separate national level thematic children's rights institution. This Article further argues that while the CtRC originally had a stronger inclination to encourage CRC states to establish thematic children's rights institutions, this attitude has changed as the Paris Principles have become dominant in the international human rights community. Moreover, the CtRC has exerted almost no pressure on CRC states to establish a national level thematic children's rights institution as long as they have an NHRI with a focus on children's rights. While extant thematic children's rights institutions are supported by the CtRC, they are almost never affirmatively recommended. Thus, the CtRC's practice exerts no appreciable pressure on CRC states to establish thematic children's rights institutions at the national level, thereby underscoring the influence of the one-NHRI movement set in motion by the Paris Principles.

    However, since the Paris Principles do not apply to sub-national human rights institutions, sub-national governments with plenary jurisdiction over children's rights will probably not be influenced by the UN human rights standards and pressures, at least to the same degree, in their decision-making on thematic children's rights institutions.

  2. Independent Human Rights Institutions for Children and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

    The CRC contains numerous civil, political, economic, social, cultural and protective rights for children. Its substantive protocols protect children involved in armed conflict and prohibit the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. (10) Four general principles of the CRC are...

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