Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Last week, Juan E. Méndez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, released an important thematic report on children deprived of their liberty. The Special Rapporteur concludes in his report that children deprived of their liberty are at a heightened risk of torture and ill-treatment due to their unique vulnerability and needs. He finds that healthy development in children can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body, with damaging long-term effects on learning, behavior and health. Moreover, the report finds that detention of children is inextricably linked—in fact if not in law—with the ill-treatment of children, due to the particularly vulnerable situation in which they have been placed, exposing them to numerous types and situations of risk. The report also provides an overview of the international legal framework and standards protecting children deprived of their liberty from being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.
Some of the Special Rapporteur’s key recommendations and conclusions in his report on children deprived of liberty include:
• Detention of children should be used only for the shortest possible period of time, only if it is in the best interest of the child, and limited to exceptional cases.
• States should adopt alternatives to detention for children whenever possible.
• Minimum age of criminal responsibility should be no lower than 12 years old.
• No life sentences without parole for children (and even lengthy sentences can be grossly disproportionate and amount to ill-treatment).
• No use of restraints for children deprived of their liberty under any circumstance.
• No solitary confinement for children deprived of their liberty.
• No death penalty for children deprived of their liberty.
• No corporal punishment for children deprived of their liberty.
• No immigration detention (detention of children based on migration status is never in the best interests of child, is grossly disproportionate, and constitutes ill-treatment).
• Special attention should be paid to children deprived of their liberty in health- and social-care institutions, including in private settings.
For U.S. juvenile justice and immigration advocates, these may seem like almost revolutionary recommendations—no immigration detention, no criminal responsibility for children 12 years old and lower, no restraints. The report also points out that the “United States of America is the only State in the world that still sentences children to life imprisonment without the opportunity for parole for the crime of homicide.” Yet, many of the conclusions in the report have already been covered by other international bodies and special rapporteurs. This is the first time these recommendations have been put forth in the anti-torture context, however, which makes this report distinctive and important. Unfortunately, the U.S. has so far ignored the Special Rapporteur’s report and recommendations, as was highlighted by the ACLU.
The Special Rapporteur on Torture’s team at the Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) has released a brief video on the report, and initiated a #StopChildTorture social media campaign, including a Thunderclap (join the #StopChildTorture campaign here). The Special Rapporteur also continues to actively work with colleagues and States to figure out the best ways to support implementation of his conclusions and recommendations. His team welcomes suggestions and you can get in touch with the new ATI Assistant Project Director Andra Nicolescu at [email protected].