UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to Begin Receiving Individual Complaints in April

Portugal’s representative signs the OPCP
Credit: UN Geneva/Violaine Martin

Beginning in April 2014, individuals will have the ability to file complaints with the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) concerning alleged violations of children’s human rights by participating States. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure (OPCP), which establishes the new complaints procedure, received its tenth required ratification, by Costa Rica, on January 14th and will enter into force after a three-month period. [UN News Center

Optional Protocol

The OPCP allows individuals or their representatives, after exhausting domestic remedies, to submit complaints concerning violations of rights protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography by States that have ratified those agreements. See OPCP, arts 5 and 7.  This new international procedure is intended to “reinforce and complement national and regional mechanisms” rather than to replace existing procedures for addressing violations of children’s rights. OPCP, Preamble.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child may only receive complaints concerning States that have ratified the OPCP, which is currently limited to ten countries – Albania, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Gabon, Germany, Montenegro, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, and Slovakia – out of the 193 parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. [OHCHR; UN Treaty Collection] The UN General Assembly approved the OPCP on December 19, 2011 and it opened for signature in February 2012. [CRC] The OPCP required ten State ratifications before it could enter into force (art. 19) and was adopted with the goal of “enhanc[ing] the implementation of the Convention” as well as the other two optional protocols. OPCP, Preamble.

Complaint Procedure

Any complaint submitted to the CRC must name a victim, be in writing, and concern an abuse of a right protected by the Convention or one of the two protocols. OPCP, art. 7(a-c). Additionally, all complaints must be submitted within one year of the exhaustion of domestic remedies unless the authors of the complaint provide acceptable justification for exceeding the time limit. OPCP, art. 7(h).

Upon receipt of a complaint, the CRC may request that States take interim measures to prevent irreparable harm to the victim before making a determination on the merits. OPCP, art. 6.  After the State has had an opportunity to submit information, the CRC will consider the submissions of both parties before reaching a decision. OPCP, art. 10. Following the communication of the decision and any recommendation, the State party then has six months to file a report with the CRC regarding any actions taken to comply with the Committee’s recommendations. OPCP, art 11.

In all proceedings, the “best interest of the child” will inform the CRC’s actions. OPCP, art 2.  In keeping with this standard, the Rules of the Procedure adopted by the CRC include features and practices intended to make the proceedings accessible to, and protective of, children.  For example, Rule 13 provides that the Committee will accept communications from minors “regardless of whether their legal capacity is recognized in the State party” and may request additional information whenever it is concerned that the alleged victim may have given consent to representation through improper pressure or inducement; however, the Committee will accept communications submitted on behalf of alleged victims even without their consent when it is satisfied that the communication is in the best interests of the child. Further, Rule 14 requires the Committee to communicate with complainants “in an appropriate and accessible format for adults and children, alike, adapted to the extent possible, to the age and maturity of the author(s).”  Moreover, the Committee’s hearings concerning communications will be held in private, and its decisions will not identify the children victims by their full names unless express authorization is given. CRC, Rules of Procedure, rules 19, 29.

Committee on the Rights of the Child

The CRC, a body of 18 independent experts, is responsible for monitoring States’ compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as with the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. In addition to the new complaints procedure, the CRC also monitors State compliance through its periodic reporting process. At designated intervals, all parties to the Convention must submit reports to the Committee, which holds three sessions per year to consider States’ records and makes recommendation for improvements in State practice.

The CRC is currently holding its 65th Session through January 31. During this session, the CRC is considering reports from the Congo, Germany, the Holy See, Portugal, the Russian Federation, and Yemen.  For more information on the current session, see IJRC’s previous news post, Committee on the Rights of the Child Begins its 65th Session.

More information on the OPCP can be found in the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children’s brochure, Raising Understanding among Children and Young People on the OPCP and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ video, New measure boosts children’s rights (below).