Children and Transitional Justice

Children and Truth Commissions

©UNICEF/2006-2801/Brioni - Children and Transitional Justice cover page


The study, Children and Truth Commissions, co-authored by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), will be published by UNICEF IRC in March 2010. The findings were reviewed and further developed during two expert discussions on children and transitional justice, in 2007 and 2008.

The publication is intended to inform the work of truth commissions, child protection agencies and organizations, legal experts, child rights advocates and other professionals in their efforts to protect the rights of child victims and witnesses, and to engage children as partners in truth, justice and reconciliation processes. The research, documentation and analysis of good practices presented have benefitted from the expertise of practitioners, academics and legal experts. This broad range of experience has, in turn, informed the recommended steps for children's participation in future truth commissions.

The research was carried out in the following manner:
  • Undertaking a desk review of relevant documents and literature on children and international justice, as well as in transitional contexts, to identify key issues and gaps and to outline the scope of the study.
  • Building partnerships between legal experts and practitioners working in the field of transitional justice and child rights, to enable and inform a comprehensive and detailed focus on children.
  • Testing preliminary findings and developing recommendations on the basis of evidence, experience and concrete engagement in countries where the implementation of transitional justice processes and mechanisms have included efforts to support the protection and participation of children in truth commissions, and subsequently gathering additional primary materials on emerging issues.
  • Convening two expert discussions on children and transitional justice to review preliminary drafts in consultation with academics and practitioners, and to further debate and build consensus on priorities for children.
  • Conducting a technical review of findings, data, good practices and strategies for advancing the work on children and transitional justice.
Truth commissions present an important venue for children's voices to be heard and their needs to be addressed. The more challenging questions are specific to each context - which settings are most appropriate, what risks are involved, what do children have to gain and how will the process affect them. Meaningful participation requires access to psychosocial assistance throughout the process as well as provisions for physical safety and long-term community support.

Truth commissions also are important in documenting the magnitude of violations committed against children and contributing to accountability. They can provide an important means of understanding the impact of armed conflict on children, examining the involvement of children in conflict and linking children with other processes that may assist them in reintegration and reconciliation. However, no one mechanism can address all these requirements. Truth commissions must complement other transitional justice processes.

This study reviews a number of challenges posed by children's involvement in transitional justice processes. It does not provide easy answers but seeks instead to generate substantive interest among child protection agencies and child rights advocates, in collaboration with legal experts and truth commission staff. It is hoped that many of the issues raised here will be a source of discussion and debate in future efforts. Further research and documentation of the work of existing and future truth commissions, as well as other transitional justice mechanisms, will help to deepen the knowledge and understanding of the opportunities and challenges presented by children's participation in efforts towards building a more just and peaceful future.

Further research, documentation and analysis will be needed to examine more recent truth-seeking efforts and to assess the short-term and long-term impacts for children, as well as for broader society. There is no easy solution to determine the most appropriate role for children. Rather there is a range of experience to draw on, and analysis to better inform future efforts to protect children's rights to participate in truth-seeking and reconciliation during post-conflict transition.