Children and Transitional Justice: Truth-telling, Accountability and Reconciliation

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


Another outcome of the collaboration between the UNICEF IRC and the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School is the book Children and Transitional Justice: Truth-telling, Accountability and Reconciliation, developed from papers in the UNICEF IRC Expert Paper Series on Children and Transitional Justice, which will be publication by Harvard University Press in March 2010. The book explores questions raised when children's issues are prioritized in transitional justice processes. It analyzes practical experience to determine how the range of transitional justice mechanisms can be applied, both to improve accountability for crimes perpetrated against children and to protect the rights of children, involved primarily as victims and witnesses, but also at times as members of armed forces and groups that perpetrate violations.

The chapters in this volume analyze issues from the transitional justice agenda through a child rights lens. On the basis of research conducted, the authors begin to formulate responses to a number of crucial questions and debates: how to end impunity for war crimes against children; what policies and procedures can better protect children and enable them to contribute to reconciliation and reconstruction efforts; what strategies are most effective in supporting children's roles and ensuring their voices are heard in peace-building efforts; how to enable children to reunite and reconcile with their families, peers and communities; and how to build children's skills to become part of a stable economy; how to reaffirm children's self-esteem and agency in the aftermath of armed conflict that has abused and violated their childhood.

Chapter Summary
  • Child Rights and Transitional Justice
    Saudamini Siegrist, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre
    This chapter traces a number of recent efforts that have led to a focus on children in truth and justice-seeking and children's involvement in community reconciliation in the aftermath of armed conflict and political violence. It introduces a child rights approach to participation in transitional justice processes, and considers some of the challenges - and dilemmas - encountered when addressing child protection within a transitional justice framework. An analysis is undertaken of key principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to transitional justice. Questions are considered concerning children's best interests and their participation and protection in post-conflict situations that are often complex and politically charged.
  • Basic Assumptions of Transitional Justice and Children
    Alison Smith, Coordinator, International Criminal Justice Program, No Peace Without Justice
    Until recently, transitional justice processes have given only cursory attention to issues of concern for children. As justice and truth-seeking become increasingly institutionalized and operational, a careful review of the potential for child participation is needed to determine how the best interests of children inform policy and practice. The basic assumptions of transitional justice are examined from a legal and a child rights perspective, to better understand what accountability means for children struggling to rebuild their lives in the real-world conditions in which transitional justice is emerging.
  • International Criminal Justice and the Protection of Children
    Cecile Aptel, Senior Fellow, International Center for Transitional Justice
    The potential for international and hybrid criminal courts to improve accountability for grave crimes against children is assessed. While children's experiences of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are first and foremost as victims, children are also recruited to be active parties to those crimes. Questions have emerged as to whether children associated with armed groups should be held accountable for their actions and what mechanisms of accountability would meet the 'best interests of the child'. Ongoing debates are considered and the treatment of children in national legal systems, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and hybrid tribunals is analyzed to determine best practices and recommendations.
  • Children and South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
    Piers Pigou, Director, South African Archives
    The South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not take statements from children (below age 18), however the Commission did focus on violations against children and held unofficial 'Children's Hearings'. Documentation and analysis of the practices and findings of the South Africa TRC with respect to children are undertaken, providing important new information and assessing the impact of children's role in reconciliation, as well as anticipating strategies for involving children in future truth commissions. The chapter determines that children and young people were among the primary targets of the apartheid regime, and also played a role as active participants in the anti-apartheid movement.
  • Child and Adolescent Participation in the Sierra Leone and Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commissions
    Philip Cook, Executive Director, International Institute for Child Rights and Development, University of Victoria and Theo Sowa, Independent Advisor and Consultant
    The benefits of child and adolescent involvement in transitional justice processes are potentially far-reaching. Through their involvement in truth, justice and reconciliation processes, children can become catalysts for social mobilization and community development, increasing their own awareness and building capacity for citizenship. Yet many questions remain regarding how to best protect the rights of children and facilitate their meaningful participation. Analysis is undertaken of children's participation in the Sierra Leone and Liberian truth commissions to determine specific mechanisms and measures that will support the participation of young people in community reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of conflict, without putting them at risk.
  • Accountability in Northern Uganda
    Prudence Acirokop, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria; Khristopher Carlson, Feinstein International Center, Tufts University
    Traditional methods, such as ritual healing or cleansing ceremonies, can provide opportunities for children's reconciliation and reintegration. This chapter first considers the potential for international prosecutions to deliver a measure of justice and to serve as a catalyst for reconciliation in Northern Uganda, in particular for girls abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army. It then examines the traditional process of mato oput in Northern Uganda, assessing the potential for children's participation in mato oput to support accountability and community reconciliation. Examples and analysis are provided of the risks, vulnerabilities, expectations and opportunities that girls face once they have exited from the fighting forces and returned to their home communities.
  • Disappeared Children, Genetic Tracing and Justice
    Rachel Shigekane, Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, Michele Harvey, University of Alberta
    An examination is undertaken of the use of DNA analysis to identify children who were forcibly disappeared during armed conflict and subsequent efforts to reunite them with their families. Research in Argentina and El Salvador serves as a basis for the review, highlighting the impact of genetic tracing as a means to enable the primary objectives of transitional justice, specifically in facilitating truth seeking and prosecutions, in promoting justice in post-conflict communities, and as a means for restoring the dignity of victims.
  • Truth Commissions and National Curriculum: The Recordandonos Resource in Peru
    Julia Paulson, Oxford University
    This chapter examines the development and implementation of Recordando-nos, a curriculum resource based on Peru's truth commission, Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (CVR). An exploration is undertaken of the political challenges that have been raised by the development of a CVR curriculum component for primary and secondary schools. The chapter assesses the merit of Recordando-nos as a model for future TRC-based educational resources. The potential of education is considered as a vehicle for enabling children and young people to wrestle with their own memories and experiences, and to engage as responsible citizens in their communities.
  • Children and Transitional Justice: Economic opportunities and reform
    Sharan Parmar, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School
    This chapter addresses the violation of the economic rights of children in conflict and post-conflict situations, an area that has been rarely considered in transitional justice contexts. Economic justice is analyzed from a child rights perspective, specifically in the context of post-conflict Sierra Leone where children have been exploited as workers in the diamond mines, noting how the destruction of family and social structures, the disruption of education and the resulting insecurity have impacted children. The author concludes that if children do not have the opportunity to acquire skills and learn a vocation - if their abilities are left to waste - serious limitations are imposed on their future and the future of society.
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