Children have so far been almost invisible in the Human Rights Council’s narrative about human rights defenders. The resolutions adopted by the Council and the reports presented by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to the Member States have been historically centred on adult defenders. The 40th session of the Council has been a turning point in the history of the recognition of children as human rights defenders as well as an indicator of the positive impact of the 2018 Day of General Discussion of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
During the negotiations around the 2019 resolution “Recognizing the contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection, and sustainable development” at the UN Human Rights Council, Child Rights Connect successfully advocated for the inclusion of children human rights defenders and the recognition of the special protection they require. We called for the acknowledgement of children human rights defenders in the resolution, on an equal footing with other groups and in particular, we influenced the paragraph: “To provide a safe and empowering context for initiatives organized by youth and children to defend human rights relating to the environment”.
Through an oral statement co-signed by 17 civil society organisations we drew the attention of the Member States to the 2018 DGD and called on them and the UN to listen directly to children to ensure their protection and empowerment in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Fiji and Switzerland championed the topic during the informal negotiations, with the support of Argentina, Uruguay, Georgia, Canada and Norway, the latter being the State leading on the resolution.
In response to the adoption of the resolution, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment issued their first joint press release on children human rights defenders, which shows support for the current child-led initiatives around climate change and children’s contributions to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The press release specifically mentions the 2016 Day of General Discussion on children’s rights and the environment and the 2018 Day of General Discussion on protecting and empowering children as human rights defenders.
“Children are leading the way with their Fridays For Future protests,” said Renate Winter, Chair of the Child Rights Committee. “We salute their courage and are deeply grateful for their actions, which are desperately needed in today’s political climate of lassitude and decision paralysis,” David Boyd and Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteurs, added.
The impact of our network’s advocacy is also visible in the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ latest report on women human rights defenders. The report notes the impact of the 2018 Day of General Discussion and includes a specific section on girls, as the Special Rapporteur committed to do in his closing remarks of the Day. In this particular section, he expresses concerns for girls defenders being forcibly prevented from taking action, being perceived as too young or immature to participate in human rights activism, and lacking access to resources, knowledge and technologies. The resolution, statement and report can be used to raise awareness and understanding of the topic of CHRDs and strengthen advocacy activities on a national level, including with children.