How the Convention Against Torture applies to children and whether CAT should address aspects of it more robustly

During the 63rd session of the Committee Against Torture (CAT), the OMCT organized a thematic briefing on 'How the Convention Against Torture applies to children and whether CAT should address aspects of it more robustly'. The debate was an opportunity to brief the Committee members on different aspects of the vulnerability of children to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and to explore together key elements for an effective protection framework. The OMCT has been the first global anti-torture organization to designate a specific child protection program and has over the past 10 years integrated continuously child rights aspects into its work with the Committee Against Torture. Our experience is that children are frequently targeted because they are children or as way to intimidate families and communities. For most children, the long-term consequences of torture interrupt their normal psychological, emotional, and social development and may have permanent effects. OMCT secretary general, Gerald Staberock, called the participants to “overcome silos” to render the protections under the Convention effective for children, reminding that The Committee Against Torture and the Committee on the Rights of the Child are mutually reinforcing and not in exclusion of each other. The discussion was followed by a psychological analysis of the impact of torture on children. Jorge Barudy, a renowned child psychiatrist and director of the Exil Foundation, briefed the Committee on the scientific evidence that shows that torture can produce irreversible trauma on children. According to Mr. Barudy, by its severity and repetition, torture can exhaust the natural processes that children have to manage their pain and suffering. He affirmed that Torture might have a direct impact on the neurological functioning and health of children’s brain as a result of loss of cerebral matter, after children have undergone a traumatic process. In order to analyze the protection of children under the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Renate Winter, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Professor Manfred Nowak, former Special rapporteur on Torture and Independent expert leading the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, addressed lessons learned in their experiences. Ms. Winter clarified that speaking about torture in the CAT might be different than in the CRC. She mentioned that the Committee on the Rights of the Child does not necessarily discuss the definition of torture, but rather focuses on discussing the consequences of violence against children. The application of torture to children in that Committee may therefore include a broad number of situations that might not be restricted by the definition of torture in Art.1 of the Convention against Torture. Professor Nowak intervened reinforcing that the prohibition of torture is an absolute and non-derogable right applied to all human beings with no exceptions. When mentioning the fact-finding missions he conducted during his mandate as special rapporteur, he named forms of torture specifically applied to children such as: corporal punishment as a judicial sentence or as a disciplinary measure, and children that are often exploited as victims of torture in front of their parents. Professor Nowak also highlighted the effects of deprivation of liberty on children and affirmed that deprivation of liberty has a much stronger impact on the life and well-being of children compared to adults, and therefore reaches earlier the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment. Following Professor Nowak, Carolina Barbara, OMCT Coordinator of the Child Protection Against Torture Program, provided an analysis of the evolution of the concluding observations in the Committee Against Torture regarding children. She explained that historically the CAT has addressed progressively torture of children in different contexts, but not in a systematic way. The OMCT also noticed a direct influence in civil society reporting and its reflection on recommendations - often when the Committee receives information from civil society, recommendations are more comprehensive and specific. The OMCT recommended an improved relationship between the CAT and the CRC. Both committees have the protection of torture in their Conventions and review similar violations of torture of children during State reviews. While the Committees are independent and regulate different conventions, considering the nearly universal ratification of the CRC, referral to its standards could help the Committee against Torture in gaining specificity and more targeted recommendations. The CRC elaborates on basic human rights according to special needs and perspective of the child. However, although the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is codified in the Convention against Torture, ratifying the Convention Against Torture provides positive and negative obligations for States in legislation and practice. Thus, there is a need for complementarity. The OMCT encouraged the CAT to engage in a dialogue and consider setting standards about the application of torture and its impact on children and suggested a joint general comment by CAT and CRC on the matter. To illustrate a good collaboration and impact of CAT concluding observations, Luis Pedernera, child rights expert from the Istituto de Estudios Legales y Sociales de Uruguay, and member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, told the Committee about the impact of the CAT’s follow-up recommendations to Uruguay, that were focused on children deprived of liberty. One year later those recommendations were reinforced by the CRC during Uruguay’s review and 26 officials were indicted in the country for torture of children. The OMCT also encouraged the Committee to consider follow-up recommendations specifically on children, or the integration of specific measures on children in at least one follow-up recommendation. In addition, other recommendations included: * To consider children of torture victims and secondary trauma when issuing recommendations. * To recommend that National Preventive Mechanisms have a child rights dimension with a special protocol to visit juvenile detention centres. * To highlight the importance of civil society access to juvenile detention centres. * To include children in recommendations that aim other groups specifically vulnerable to torture such as LGBTI, women, indigenous peoples and migrants. * To facilitate child participation during State reviews, and consider creating a policy that promotes and facilitates children to be heard and consulted in a child friendly way. Author: Carolina Bárbara, Child Rights Coordinator