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"Child and Justice" Newsletter #1

23 April 2024

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Dear Readers, DCI Members and Friends,

We are delighted to share with you the first edition of our brand-new "Child and Justice" newsletter. In this issue, we focus on death penalty and the age of criminal majority while keeping you up to date with the latest activities of the International Secretariat. Enjoy the reading!

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Latest news from the International Secretariat

Establishment of an Advisory Committee:  We are proud to announce the creation of the DCI Advisory Committee.  Five experts were officially appointed for an initial term of two years: Ms Akila Aggoune, Mr Nigel Cantwell, Ms Christine Cornwell, Mr Jaap Doek & Ms Moushira Khattab. Read more

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Annual Report 2014:  Get a grasp of DCI's activities around the globe in 2014.

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Girls' rights at the heart of our 2 side-events at #HRC29:  Read the reports of our events on  "Girls in Detention" and "Girls' right to education - a West-African perspective".

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DCI in action: Ebola, healing and reconciliation in Sierra Leone

The outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone has affected the lives of over 12,000 individuals, families and communities. Beyond its infection and killing rate, the EVD has created severe economic and social problems. The peaceful coexistence of people in communities has been undermined, with blame games and resentment often resulting in increasing tensions.

The story of Mammy Fatu and the Rosanda Community in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone provides a great example of the negative side-effects that the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak has created. Read more.

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FOCUS

Death Penalty

Death penalty continues to be a matter of global concern as at least 22 countries around the globe performed executions in 2014, as Amnesty International recalled.

While article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) specifies that ‘sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age’, Defence for Children International (DCI) remains deeply concerned and voices criticism against countries that continue to send children and adolescents to death row. In this regard, DCI has been actively advocating against cases of juveniles sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

On 7 July 2015, DCI, together with European-SaudiOrganisation for Human rights, Child Rights International Network, International Association of Youth and Family Judges and Magistrates, International Juvenile Justice ObservatoryandTerre des Hommes International Federation, sent a letter to urge the Minister of Justice of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Waleed Mohammad Al Samaani, to immediately halt the execution proceedings against Ali Mohammed al-Nimmer and Dawood Hussain al-Marhoon. Both young men were sentenced to death in May and October 2014 for crimes they had carried out while being under the age of eighteen. Moreover, according to several credible reports both Ali and Dawood received severe beatings while detained at a juvenile observation home. The cases of these two young men are of particular concern to DCI, especially since Saudi Arabia, which is currently seeking to head the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2016, is in violation of its legal obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified in 1996), which expressly bans the use of death penalty for any offence committed while under the age of 18

DCI has also recently been involved in the case of Shafqat Hussain in Pakistan, who was due to be hanged on 9 June. On 7 June, DCI along Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, REDRESS, Reprieve and Child Rights International Network, addressed a letter to Mr Mamnoon Hussain, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, requesting him to grant mercy to Shafqat Hussain. Shafqat was arrested on suspicion of having kidnapped another local child in 2004 and was later sentenced to death. In the custody of the police, he was brutally beaten, electrocuted and burnt with cigarettes, among other physical and psychological aggressions. Shafqat was later forced to record a confessional statement and no investigation was opened in this respect. While his execution was scheduled on 9 June 2015, a last minute cancellation order by the Ministry of Justice postponed the execution for a fourth time since his conviction. While his execution was scheduled on 9 June 2015, a last minute cancellation order by the Ministry of Justice postponed the execution for a fourth time since his conviction. However, no details were given on where or under what conditions Shafqat was being kept in detention. Sadl,y and despite numerous appeals, Pakistan authorities confirmed on Tuesday 4 August 2015 that Shafqat had been executed in the early morning. This situation is particularly alarming since Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, the ICCPR in 2008 and the UN Convention Against Torture in 2010. DCI therefore strongly condemns the execution of Shafqat and raises serious concerns over Pakistan’s dramatic rise in executions in recent times

Deploring that the death sentence persists in many countries, DCI will continue to lobby states to eradicate this inhuman practice and work to protect the human rights of children involved with the justice system.

Age and Criminal Responsibility in Brazil

Brazil has long been a pioneer country with regard to children’s rights in Latin America and considered exemplary in setting the age of criminal majority at 18 (art. 228 of the Brazilian Constitution).  The age of criminal majority – also known as the age of adult criminal responsibility – refers to the age at which people in conflict with the law are sent to the ordinary court system and tried as adults.

In Brazil, youths aged 12 through 17 can be held responsible for their actions but are charged under and subject to the special procedures of juvenile justice law according to the national Statute of the Child and the Adolescent. In March this year, however, a draft bill proposal aiming to lower the age of criminal majority from 18 to 16 years of age was submitted to the Congress.  DCI reacted promptly by addressing a letter to the government of Brazil to express its concern on such regression. On 3 June, DCI reiterated its concern, together with Child Rights International Network, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Organization against Torture, Penal Reform International, Terre des Hommes, International Catholic Child Bureau and World Vision, and called on the government of Brazil to refrain from adopting the draft constitutional reform bill.  Despite all the efforts, the amendment was unfortunately accepted on 2 July by the lower house of the Congress and, if enacted by the Senate, will allow 16 and 17 year olds to be tried as adults for certain offences.

Such action clearly represents a step backwards for the government of Brazil with regard to the protection of children’s rights and demonstrates an explicit failure to consider the best interests of the child as a priority. The amendment puts Brazil at odds with articles 37 and 40 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as it encourages punishment and retribution over rehabilitation and reintegration measures. By failing to consider the root causes of juvenile criminality in Brazil, trying 16 year olds as adults will only exacerbate an already complex issue. Moreover, as Thomas Hammarberg acknowledges, criminalizing and depriving children of liberty, may have the reverse effect of turning children into adult criminals, something to bear in mind given the already violent and overcrowded prison system in Brazil.

Overall, DCI deplores that the constitutional amendment will serve neither the best interests of children involved with the criminal justice system or that of the society as a whole, and will continue to lobby the Brazilian government and the Senate to renounce enacting this bill. 

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Latest publications

 

 DCI-Palestine documents the impact of Israel's 2014 military offensive on Gaza and publishes the report "Operation Protective Edge: a war waged on Gaza's children"

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“Children’s rights behind bars. Human rights of children deprived of liberty: improving monitoring mechanisms” report released by DCI-Belgium, leading partner of the Children's Rights Behind Bars Project, with contributions from DCI sections in France, the Netherlands and Italy.

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"A mountain to climb. Gender-based violence and girls’ right to education in Sierra Leone", report by Barbara Robinson, in collaboration with DCI-Sierra Leone

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Upcoming events

55th session of the Committee Against Torture (27 July - 14 August 2015)
73rd session of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (31 August - 04 September 2015)
3rd edition of "The Caravan of Children's Rights" (9-16 September 2015)
70th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (14 September - 02 October 2015)
30th session of the Human Rights Council (14 September - 02 October 2015)

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