The UNICEF IRC research on transitional justice

©UNICEF/NYHQ2004-0654/Kate Brooks - A former child soldier in Afghanistan, while participating in a demobilization program.


The overall objectives of UNICEF IRC work on children and transitional justice is to provide the evidence base to improve accountability for crimes against children and to protect the rights of children involved in transitional justice processes. By assessing and analyzing the work that has been undertaken and identifying strategies for the engagement of children in truth, justice and reconciliation processes, it will be possible to build consensus on the way forward, to improve accountability and to promote reconciliation in the aftermath of war or where grave violations have occurred.

Several transitional justice mechanisms established in recent years have explicitly addressed child-related issues. Truth commissions in Guatemala, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Timor Leste, as well as mixed tribunals such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, have dealt with crimes against children and involved children as victims and witnesses. Accountability for grave crimes against children is also an important component of the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), including the first trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on charges of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen years. In addition, traditional justice mechanisms have involved children for purposes of accountability and reconciliation. This recent focus on children in transitional justice processes creates opportunities and challenges for legal experts and child rights advocates working together to protect children from the atrocities of war. Linked to the commitment to improve accountability for crimes against children is the urgent need to develop child-friendly procedures to protect the rights of children involved in transitional justice mechanisms. The need is twofold: to assist legal practitioners in facilitating and protecting children's involvement; and to provide guidance for UNICEF and partners in their interactions with and support to those mechanisms.

In September 2002, the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (UNICEF IRC) and No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) published the study International Criminal Justice and Children, which provides an overview of the international legal protection framework and serves as a practical guide for the involvement of children in justice and truth-seeking mechanisms. It is intended to foster a dialogue between child rights advocates and experts in international criminal law, addressing key issues related to accountability for crimes against children.

Building on the 2002 study, UNICEF IRC is currently pursuing research on transitional justice and children to document and analyse emerging good practices and lessons learned on the protection of the rights of child victims and witnesses. A key objective of the work underway, carried out in collaboration with UNICEF Headquarters and Field Offices, and UN and NGO partners, is to ensure that child victims and witnesses are not exposed to further harm by their involvement in transitional justice mechanisms.

In November 2005, with support from the Canadian Human Securities Program, the UNICEF IRC convened an Expert Discussion on Transitional Justice and Children, bringing together a unique group of experts from the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals, truth commissions, national juvenile justice systems, UNICEF Headquarters, Regional and Country Offices, international NGOs and academic institutions, to review experience on children's involvement in truth, justice and reconciliation process. The meeting adopted important recommendations on safeguarding the rights of child victims and witnesses, as well as addressing the issue of accountability of alleged child perpetrators.

More on IRC research