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Work of Human Rights Watch

During 1998 Human Rights Watch gathered detailed information on serious abuses against children around the world and developed strategies and advocacy campaigns to end those abuses. We conducted research to bring to the world’s attention the effects on children of the genocidal war in Rwanda; the treatment of abandoned and orphaned children in orphanages and other non-penal institutions in Russia; the incarceration of children in adult lockups in Jamaica in shocking conditions in violation of both Jamaican and international law; conditions for children in Pakistan’s police lockups, prisons, and juvenile institutions; and children tried as adults and detained in adult jails in counties throughout the state of Maryland in the United States. We did extensive follow-up advocacy on our 1997 report on children kidnaped, raped, and often killed in Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army. We also did follow-up advocacy on our earlier reports on children confined in juvenile justice facilities in the United States—in Georgia, Louisiana, and Colorado.

In addition, we gave priority to an international campaign to stop the use of children as soldiers, and to the provisions relevant to children in the draft statute for an International Criminal Court.

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
Human Rights Watch was at the forefront of new international campaign efforts to stop the use of child soldiers. In February 1998, after a U.N. working group failed to reach agreement on an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to raise the minimum age for military recruitment and participation in armed conflict from fifteen to eighteen, Human Rights Watch joined with other international nongovernmental organizations to develop strategies to break the logjam. In May, six international organizations formally established the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and Human Rights Watch was elected as the initial chair of the coalition’s steering committee. Human Rights Watch assisted in the production of briefing material on child soldiers and the work of the new coalition, and was the primary organizer of a June 30 press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York to launch the campaign.

Human Rights Watch’s Brussels office was instrumental in developing a European strategy for the campaign. It met with European leaders, established an extensive contact network (including other nongovernmental organizations and European institutions), and requested official data on national legislation and procedures on military recruitment from over fifty ministries of defense. The office also helped initiate a briefing on child soldiers for members of the European Parliament at its plenary session in Strasbourg, and a resolution on child soldiers at the Asia, Caribbean, and Pacific-European Union joint assembly, both held during September.

Human Rights Watch also took the lead in establishing a U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Bringing together human rights, peace, youth advocacy, and religious organizations, the campaign was formed to push for U.S. support for a “straight-eighteen” international ban, raising the U.S. military enlistment age to eighteen, and eliminating U.S. military aid that facilitates the use of child soldiers by other governments and groups.

Human Rights Watch met on several occasions with representatives of the U.S. Department of Defense, State Department, National Security Council, and other U.S. government officials to advocate stronger international standards prohibiting the use of child soldiers. We enlisted congressional support by organizing briefings on Capitol Hill, assisting in the drafting of congressional resolutions, and initiating a congressional letter to the president on the issue which garnered over sixty signers from the House of Representatives. Working with the Center for Defense Information, Human Rights Watch also secured signatures from over thirty retired military officers for a letter to the president urging his support for the optional protocol.

Following our 1997 report on the situation of abducted Ugandan children, The Scars of Death , Human Rights Watch continued its monitoring and advocacy efforts toward ending LRA abductions, applying continuous pressure on the government of Sudan, the LRA’s chief supporter. New evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch in the spring of 1998 confirmed earlier findings that the government of Sudan played a critical role in enabling the LRA to continue its guerrilla war, and in allowing the abductions of children to continue. In 1998 we highlighted the issue of child abductions directly with representatives of the Sudan government, other African governments, the U.N. special representative to the secretary-general on the impact of armed conflict and children, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. Working Group on Disappearances, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, and with U.S. government representatives, including members of Congress and in a private meeting with First Lady Hillary RodhamClinton immediately before her visit to Uganda with President Clinton. This advocacy led to significant media attention, resolutions deploring the LRA’s abduction of children in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and in both the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress, and a major address focusing on the abductions by Hillary Clinton during her March visit to Uganda.

International Criminal Court
The historic Rome conference to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC) concluded on July 17 with a statute that included several provisions advancing international efforts to end the exploitation and abuse of children in armed conflict. The statute included the recruitment and use of child soldiers under the age of fifteen as part of its definition of war crimes, included special provisions for the protection of children as victims and witnesses, and exempted children under eighteen from prosecution by the court. Human Rights Watch played a leading role in securing these advances through its founding and leadership of the Caucus on Children’s Rights in the ICC.

The court will have jurisdiction over the war crime of conscripting children under the age of fifteen years into national armed forces or armed groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities. Human Rights Watch had pressed for language which would give the court jurisdiction over the forced participation in hostilities of children under the age of eighteen. However, many key states were unwilling to move beyond the framework of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions, which addressed the recruitment and participation in hostilities of children under fifteen only. The ICC statute’s list of war crimes also included intentional attacks on educational institutions and schools, which were frequently targeted for recruitment purposes and to terrorize civilian populations.

In addition, the statute recognized the need for expertise in the court on violence against children. It obligated state parties to take into account the need to include judges with legal expertise on “violence against women and children” and required prosecutors to “appoint advisors with legal expertise on specific issues, including, but not limited to, violence against women and children.”

For child victims or witnesses, the statute provided for in camera proceedings or presentation of evidence “by electronic or other special means.” The court might order otherwise, but only after taking into account “all the circumstances, particularly the views of the victim or witness.” The statute also mandated the establishment of a Victims and Witness Protection Unit, which would provide “protective measures and security arrangements, counseling and other appropriate assistance” and would include staff with “expertise in trauma.”

Finally, a major breakthrough at the Rome conference was states’ agreement that children under the age of eighteen would not appear before the court as defendants. Many states had previously supported setting an age of criminal responsibility below eighteen, or allowing the court discretion to try minors based on subjective criteria such as the defendant’s maturity. Human Rights Watch successfully argued that while children may at times become the perpetrators of acts of extreme violence, consideration must still be given to their unique status as children, and that they be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards. The extraordinary nature and punitive function of the ICC, we said, was incompatible with the rehabilitative goals of international juvenile justice standards.

Juvenile Justice
Following up on our 1994 report on the illegal confinement of children in inhumane conditions in Jamaica’s adult lockups (jails), a Human Rights Watch researcher led a team of law students from Yale University on a two-week fact-finding mission in August and September 1998. The 1994 investigation had found that children were confined in police lockups in inhumane conditions and routinely held in close proximity to adult prisoners for lengthy periods of time, in violation of the Jamaican Juveniles Act and international law.

Another Human Rights Watch researcher visited Pakistan in May to study the country’s administration of juvenile justice, including conditions in police custody and prisons, due process issues, and proposals for law reform. The researcher visited two prisons and the sole juvenile detention facility in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province. He also observed proceedings in the country’s sole juvenile court, interviewed senior federal and provincial officials, and met with activists from a range of nongovernmental organizations.

In the spring of 1998, Human Rights Watch sent a team of researchers to investigate the treatment of thousands of Rwandan children in detention, who were accused of participating in the 1994 genocide. Researchers also examined the protection of children’s property rights in Rwanda in the wake of the genocide. A report on their findings was forthcoming.

After the release of the United States Department of Justice’s report on Georgia’s juvenile detention facilities in February 1998, Human Rights Watch was instrumental in bringing together an ad hoc committee of child advocates and civil rights attorneys to advocate for a substantive state response to the serious violations documented. Subsequently known as the Juvenile Justice Coalition, the group included a broad range of service providers, mental health professionals, youth workers, lawyers, and advocates. The coalition monitored the implementation of the settlement between the DOJ and the State of Georgia, conducted public education around juvenile justice issues, and worked for appropriate public policy and legislation.

In April 1998, Human Rights Watch submitted a detailed critique of the settlement to Georgia’s Governor Zell Miller, providing recommendations for the settlement plan’s development and enforcement phase. Although Human Rights Watch sought to meet with the governor’s office and the commissioner for Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice to discuss our recommendations, these officials denied our requests for a meeting.

Human Rights Watch continued to investigate the conditions of detention in the United States, visiting five Maryland county jails from July to October 1998. The investigation examined the pre-trial detention of juveniles charged as adults, evaluating detainedchildren’s access to counsel, the extent to which detained juveniles are separated from adults, the use of isolation or restraints as punitive measures, the adequacy of education and special education, and the existence of alternatives to confinement.

Unaccompanied Children Detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
In 1997, Human Rights Watch published the results of its investigation of children held by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Arizona and California. We visited a third INS facility in Pennsylvania in 1998. Both in our 1997 report and our 1998 follow-up investigation, we found that nearly all children received little or no information about their right to be represented by an attorney in their immigration proceeding, in violation of international standards and in breach of a court-monitored consent decree which binds the INS. Many were confined for lengthy periods before release to family members or appropriate guardians. Rarely understanding what was happening to them or why, children were often denied information about their detention, or education, in a language they understood. In some cases, children were confined for months at a time without direct access to a single person with whom they could converse in their native language. Further, we found that unaccompanied minors were in some cases housed with juvenile offenders, locked up, deprived of personal possessions, and subjected to a rigid and punitive environment, even though they were held for administrative reasons only. We submitted testimony based on our findings to the Subcommittee on Immigration of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 1998, and issued a follow-up report in November urging the INS to enforce regulations that would bring it into compliance with international norms.

Child Labor
We have begun research into conditions of child domestic labor that may constitute a form of servitude. As a part of this research, we sent a fact-finding team to Sri Lanka in October to look into the use of children, largely girls, as domestics.

Orphans and Abandoned Children
In January we sent a month-long fact-finding mission to Russia to look into the conditions in which orphans and abandoned children are kept. Our investigator visited institutions for infants and for older children and talked with many children and staff, as well as children’s rights activists, nongovernmental organizations, doctors, psychiatrists, government officials, and others. A report detailing our finding was in preparation, with a view to working with government officials, doctors, psychiatrists, and nongovernmental organizations to try to help these children. In addition, we will try to engage the international community in assisting Russian authorities to change significantly the policies and practices that so affect the country’s children.

Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:
Belarus: Turning Back the Clock , 7/98
Sowing Terror: Atrocities Against Civilians in Sierra Leone , 7/98
War Without Quarter: Colombia and International Humanitarian Law , 9/98



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