Méndez: The best interest of the child must be a priority

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Children should never be held in solitary confinement. Any detention should be a measure of last resort, for the shortest possible period of time and only if it is in the best interest of the child. These are some of the recommendations in a new thematic report on juveniles, presented by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In his latest report, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, focuses on children deprived of their liberty. He has examined the current legal framework protecting children from torture and ill-treatment, and identified the particular obligations of States.

Even very short periods of detention can undermine a child’s psychological and physical well-being and compromise cognitive development, concludes the Special Rapporteur. This unique vulnerability requires higher standards and broader safeguards for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. The Special Rapporteur has looked at the laws and practices regarding children in conflict with the law, children in institutions and children in immigration detention. The report includes strong recommendations to States on measures and policy reform needed to prevent torture and ill-treatment of children. The Special Rapporteur recommends all States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

Relevance of National Preventive Mechanisms

The APT welcomes the report and the guidance it provides to better protect children deprived of their liberty. In an oral statement on Tuesday the APT drew the attention of the Human Rights Council to the relevance of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs). Through their unrestricted access to all places where children are deprived of liberty, NPMs are best placed to witness the conditions and treatment of juveniles in detention. NPMs visit places beyond the criminal justice context, including social care homes, immigration centres and psychiatric institutions. They are able to influence both governments and their societies at large and therefore contribute to changes in policies and practices. In Paraguay, for example, following the NPM’s visit and recommendations, a residential care institution for children was closed by the authorities due to violations of children’s rights. Their preventive mandate also goes beyond the facts found in places of detention. NPMs identify root causes of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and gaps in law and practices. They make recommendations to the authorities, including comments on legislation, and establish dialogue and cooperation on the implementation.