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Children and Transitional Justice: Truth-Telling, Accountability and Reconciliation

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Author: 
Sharanjeet Parmar, ed.
Mindy Jane Roseman, ed.
Saudamini Siegrist, ed.
Theo Sowa, ed.
Affiliation: 

Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School (Roseman), UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) (Parmar, Saudamini Siegrist), Independent Advisor (Theo Sowa)

Publication Date

March 1, 2010

Presented by the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Innocenti Research Centre, this volume analyses key issues from the transitional justice agenda through a child rights lens. On the basis of research, the authors begin to formulate responses to a number of questions and debates: how to end impunity for crimes against children; what policies and procedures can better protect children and enable them to contribute to reconciliation and reconstruction efforts; what strategies are most effective in supporting children’s roles and ensuring their voices are heard in peace-building efforts; how to enable children to reunite and reconcile with their families, peers, and communities; how to build children’s skills to become part of a stable economy; and how to reaffirm children’s self-esteem and agency in the aftermath of armed conflict that has violated their childhood.

From the Foreword by Graça Machel (Footnotes removed by editor throughout.): "...Strengthening international legal frameworks and standards provides a basis for eliminating impunity and improving accountability for crimes committed against children in times of conflict and political violence. Recent indictments and prosecutions for crimes against children by the International Criminal Court and the Special Court for Sierra Leone demonstrate that accountability is not beyond our reach. Yet we must admit that progress has been uneven, and the involvement of children in these processes is still new and largely untested. This book seeks to evaluate a number of recent efforts and from them recommend next steps..."

As stated here: "During post-conflict reconstruction, a child rights focus should inform the rebuilding of health care, education and other social protection systems, as well as the reform of institutions, including the justice and security sectors. The educational curriculum is particularly important as an expression of society’s priorities and values. Linking educational and curriculum reform to transitional justice has the potential to strengthen the protective environment and to establish a broader understanding of human rights principles. In transitional contexts a human rights-based curriculum can promote social inclusion and active citizenship." Further, where there has been widespread sexual violence and increased domestic abuse due to conflict, "[i]t is important that procedures are in place to protect and enable the involvement of girls and young women in justice- and truthseeking, redress and reparation, and community reconciliation."

In addressing the risks of child involvement in truth commissions and other forms of testifying, the document states: "When truth commissions are in compliance with international human rights standards, they may create opportunities for children to express their views, building capacity for active citizenship and democratic processes. Truth commissions may also be linked to community reconciliation and education activities." Though child participation may be solicited, and children's involvement in transitional justice fulfils their right to be heard, as stated here, special attention must be given to their protection throughout the process. While "[p]articipatory processes that include children are therefore needed to achieve the aims of truth- and justice-seeking, in particular to promote reconciliation and recovery at the community level...", "...the question is how to determine children’s appropriate role in diverse situations and how to ensure that their rights are protected and their best interests safeguarded throughout their involvement."

The document points to other approaches to reconciliation, including public discussions, debate, drama, music, and art. "The energy and idealism of children and young people can help transform transitional justice processes, but those processes must be willing and able to listen to children and to allow their voices to be heard." The document uses the lens of "the best interests of the child" to examine practices in post-conflict areas. It discusses the evolving capacities of children, including possibilities of fostering their agency and their right to participate in decisions affecting them. Witness protection, increased for children, and special consideration of children's criminal responsibility when recruited to commit violence are regarded in the light of considering that all children involved are victims of abuse and exploitation during an armed conflict. Alternative judicial procedures are discussed. "Accountability measures for alleged child perpetrators should be in the best interests of the child and should be conducted in a manner that takes into account their age at the time of the alleged commission of the crime, promotes their sense of dignity and worth, and supports their reintegration and potential to assume a constructive role in society." The document recommends family and community involvement in transitional justice and states that it is important to capacity building and agency that the international community not impose measures without community involvement, including the participation of children.

Source: 

Zunia website on July 9 2010.

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