Advancing Children’s Rights in Peace Processes: What Role for CommCRC?

The cessation of violent conflict offers crucial opportunities to ensure that children’s rights are respected, protected, and realized in the post-conflict state. Peace processes—which can include peace negotiations, peace agreement(s) and the implementation of peace agreement provisions—can be central to the realization of this objective. In a recent article in the Human Rights Law Review, I examined how the concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CommCRC) might contribute to advancing children’s rights at different stages of a peace process. This post briefly outlines some of these findings.


The Committee on the Rights of the Child and ‘Concluding Observations’

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most widely ratified of international human rights convention, comprising some 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life. The Convention sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all children everywhere and outlines four overarching principles which underpin all rights and obligations set forth in the Convention. These are namely, non-discrimination, best interests of the child or children, the right to survival and development, and the views of the child. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CommCRC) supervises the enforcement of the Convention by assisting states in its implementation, by cooperating with other bodies of the UN and with non-governmental organizations, and by spreading wide information about the rights of the child. Like other treaty bodies, it utilizes various tools to promote compliance with the treaties it oversees, such as hearing individual complaints against a state that is perceived as contravening the CRC.

The primary mandate of the CommCRC is to review the reports submitted periodically by state parties in accordance with the treaty provisions, which are submitted as part of a wider process. In issuing reports, states are required to comment on both progress made and areas that require further implementation. Alongside the state report, this stage of the process also comprises other complementary reports. For instance, the CommCRC encourages specialized UN agencies, such as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and international NGOs (for instance, Save The Children and Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict), to submit reports on the implementation of the CRC in various countries, usually called alternative or supplementary reports. The Committee also draws on other information available to it, such as reports of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, concluding observations of other human rights treaty bodies, and the results of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) conducted by the Human Rights Council (HRC). The next stage of the process is a constructive dialogue between the state under review and the Committee. The Committee also invites NGOs and UN agencies who submitted reports to discuss them in so-called pre-sessional meetings, which take place about 6 months before the meeting with a delegation of the state party concerned. Treaty bodies complete each state assessment by issuing a Concluding Observations document, wherein the Committee acknowledges the progress made via the various legislative measures, policies, and programmes the state party has undertaken and presents concerns on the lack of or insufficient implementation of specific articles of the CRC. The concluding observations end with recommendations to enhance the implementation of human rights.

On the basis of this process, important opportunities emerge for the CommCRC to support the advancement of children’s rights in peace processes. These contributions are best understood alongside a range of existing initiatives that are often working towards similar objectives.


Encouraging the Inclusion of Children’s Issues in Peace Agreements

Given that peace agreements can provide a framework for peacebuilding and the (re)formation of the post-conflict state, the inclusion of children’s issues in peace agreements is of paramount importance. This was recognised in Graça Machel’s seminal report on the ‘Impact of armed conflict on children’. Paragraph 49 of that report recommended, for instance, that ‘[p]eace agreements and related documents should incorporate provisions for the demobilization of children’ noting that ‘without this recognition, there can be no effective planning or programming on a national scale’. More recently, the UN SC Children and Armed Conflict Agenda has been forthright in promoting children in peace agreements: For instance, SC resolution 2143:


[U]rges Member States, United Nations entities and other parties concerned to ensure that child protection provisions, including those relating to the release and reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces or armed groups, are integrated into all peace negotiations and peace agreements.


To further support this objective, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG CAAC) in partnership with the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department of Peace Operations, UNICEF, and other stakeholders, has developed guidelines for mediators to assist them in better integrating children into peace agreements.

The CommCRC can help to support these efforts through recommendations that encourage the inclusion of children in peace agreements. For instance, addressing Burundi, the Committee has previously urged that the protection of child rights and the implementation of programmes to address priority child rights concerns be included in peace agreements. Similarly, recommendations addressed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have implored the state party to, among other things, ‘ensure that the release, recovery and reintegration of children associated with non-State armed forces or armed groups becomes a priority and is addressed in all peace or ceasefire negotiations and agreements with armed groups, in line with UN operational guidelines on addressing children’s issues in peace agreements.’


Championing and Facilitating Children’s Participation

The CommCRC can also support the inclusion of children in peace negotiations directly, but more often indirectly through parallel channels and initiatives. If peace agreements serve as foundational roadmaps or moments of transition, the negotiations that produce these outcomes is central to the final contents of any agreement reached. Indeed, this realisation has led to a wealth of literature and policy on the salience of including various, often marginalised groups. Understood from the perspective of advancing children’s rights, not only do children have a right to have their views heard under international law but many identify the important contributions that children can make by offering a child-specific perspective. And yet, as O’Kane et al. note, ‘In most contexts children have been excluded from formal peacebuilding processes and child rights have been marginalised in the development and monitoring of peace agreements and peace accords’. Part of the challenge stems from the fact that peace negotiations tend to involve male, political and military elites, with their own priorities and interests such that the views of children are often subordinated. For this reason, recent developments have sought to prioritise the inclusion of children’s views. The most recent SC Resolution under the aegis of the Children and Armed Conflict Agenda – SC 2427 – encourages State’s to ensure ‘the views of children are taken into account in programming activities throughout the conflict cycle’ (para 23). It also calls on relevant parties to ensure ‘that the protection, rights, well-being and empowerment of children affected by armed conflict are fully incorporated and prioritized in all post-conflict recovery and reconstruction planning, programs and strategies as well as in efforts on peacebuilding and sustaining peace and encourage and facilitate consideration of the views of children in these processes’ (SC 2427).

The Committee can add to these ongoing efforts by advocating for the participation of children in peace negotiations. In Colombia, as an illustration, the Committee has previously encouraged the state to continue ensuring that children’s opinions, interests and needs are considered during the current peace process. More generally, the Committee has encouraged Sierra Leone to ‘promote public awareness of the participatory rights of children and to take effective measures to ensure respect for the views of the child within schools, families, social institutions, and the care and judicial systems’.

Opportunities also emerge through the wider process of reporting and consultation that precedes concluding observations. That is, if the CommCRC is indeed able to exert some influence on the content of peace agreements through recommendations, this process offers an opportunity for children to, albeit indirectly, shape the content of peace accords. Children can make submissions to the Committee, either their own or through NGOs, for the adoption of lists of issues and review of state party reports. Participation can also be achieved by means of oral presentations during the meetings of the pre-sessional working groups, via private meetings with the Committee members during the meetings of the pre-sessional working groups, by participating in videoconferencing, and by participation in plenary sessions of the Committee. In this way, the very process around formulating and subsequently issuing concluding observations and recommendations could provide a useful and accessible forum for children to participate.


Monitoring Peace Agreement Implementation

Despite relatively poor levels of inclusion of children’s issues in peace agreements, there are some examples of good practice. In Uganda, for instance, peace agreements have included provisions addressing children and transitional justice, child soldiers, the reintegration of children and the monitoring of these commitments (see, for example, Uganda, Agreement on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, Juba, Sudan, 29 February 2008). Similarly, in Colombia, agreements have addressed such issues as children and socioeconomic development, education, health, and drugs reform (see, for example, Colombia, Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace, 24 November 2016).

Where peace agreements do include detailed commitments on children, it is imperative that these commitments are translated into action. There are ways in which the CommCRC can provide a monitoring role. For instance, the Committee can commend states for efforts taken to honour commitments on children in peace accords. In Guatemala, the CommCRC has used its concluding observations to welcome the steps taken to secure a durable peace within Guatemala, particularly by enhancing the enjoyment of human rights, including for the indigenous peoples, commitments contained in the Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Agreement on Socio-Economic Aspects and the Agrarian Situation. Conversely, the CommCRC can encourage parties to implement an agreement’s provisions when they have not. For instance, the CommCRC has previously called upon the Central African Republic to:

Strengthen its efforts to end armed conflict by ensuring the effective implementation of the peace agreements already signed with armed groups and by signing peace agreements with the remaining armed groups, ensuring that the protection and promotion of children’s rights are given due consideration in any peace negotiations.

Similarly, in Sierra Leone, the Lomé Accord of 1999 included a range of provisions on child soldiers and their disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Through concluding observations in 2000, the Committee urged the state party to take every feasible measure to have all child abductees and combatants released and demobilized and to rehabilitate and reintegrate them in society. The most frequent approach to encouraging implementation is one that directly aligns with the Committee’s mandate — promoting compliance with international human rights law. Peace agreements will often include commitments to either ratify or adhere with international human rights law; for instance, in places like Bosnia Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Philippines and Sierra Leone with respect to the CRC. The Committee often targets such commitments and recommends further measures to ensure that promises made in peace agreements are kept.

Importantly, the monitoring functions of the CommCRC can lend support to those bodies and mechanisms formally tasked with implementation. Indeed, as Bramble and Paffenholz note, ‘[i]nternational guarantors and signatories depend on reliable information to ensure that an agreement is being adhered to and to identify obstacles that may derail the peace process’. Thus, the Committee, through the reporting process, can help to accumulate necessary information regarding the implementation of peace agreement provisions, particularly those that directly target children. If, as suggested above, the implementation of these commitments is important for children’s rights post-conflict, monitoring can be an important contribution.


Accountability for Ongoing Rights Violations

Of course, CommCRC has an essential role to play through its primary function of monitoring compliance with human rights. Indeed, there is rarely a linear line between peace and conflict. Rather, transitions to peace are often a process of fits and starts where ongoing human rights violations continue despite and – in some cases – because of a peace agreement. The oversight function of the Committee ensures that it can play a useful role in monitoring ongoing violations of children’s rights during transitions. For instance, the CommCRC frequently highlights breaches of international humanitarian law — the body of rules governing periods of conflict — by drawing attention to such issues as child abduction, killings and the torture of children, and the involvement of child-soldiers. Documenting ongoing breaches can help with supporting transitional justice efforts. With respect to Afghanistan, for instance, the Committee has previously urged the state party to ensure that allegations of violations against children perpetrated by any party to the conflict are investigated in a transparent, timely and independent manner, ensuring that perpetrators of violations are brought to justice.

In monitoring and documenting violations against children, the CommCRC can also complement the work of other actors and initiatives also tasked with monitoring violations. These include, as examples, the Special Representative of the SG CAAC in 1996; the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict on 25 May 2000 (came into force on 12 February 2002); the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, which exists to report on the six grave violations; and the formation of the SC Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, both of which were established by Council resolution 1612. The Committee process also provides an outlet for those engaged in monitoring compliance with the CRC. It is, in other words, ‘an additional channel for expressing concerns (sound box) and advocating changes’.


Final Thoughts

While conflict has a profound impact on children and their rights, peace ushers in the hope of a better existence, one where rights are respected, protected, and realized. Yet, capturing this opportunity is replete with challenges, not least elevating issues pertaining to children to the same level as other considerations being championed by those capable of destabilizing the peace. For this reason, it is necessary to think creatively about existing mechanisms and actors that can help to advance children’s rights in these settings. As the primary guarantor of the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, the CommCRC is well placed to contribute to this objective.

My article suggests that through concluding observations, which stem from the mandatory reporting requirements of states, the Committee can make important contributions to advancing children’s rights. These contributions include promoting children’s issues in peace agreements and championing the integration of children’s views during peace negotiations. There are also opportunities to monitor the implementation of agreements and child-specific provisions, in addition to continuing to hold states accountable for violations of children’s rights. Given the multiplicity of actors and initiatives that are often present in transitioning societies, the strength of these contributions is best understood in conjunction with other ongoing initiatives that are pursuing similar ends.



Access Dr Molloy’s article on the topic (Human Rights Law Review, September 2022)

Dr Sean Molly is a NUAcT Fellow in Law at Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University. His research focuses on children’s rights, peace processes and transitional justice. 

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