Human Rights Council Side Event on Counter-Terrorism

By Tania García de Gross


On March 6, 2019, Defence for Children International (DCI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Swiss Mission to the United Nations and the European Union delegation to the United Nations co-hosted a side event on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Children during the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The event was an insightful and vivid discussion on the impact of counter-terrorism measures on children, including their deprivation of liberty. The panel featured Ms. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG), Mr. Leo Ratledge, Legal and Policy Director at Child Rights International Network (CRIN), Ms. Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of the Children’s Rights division at HRW, and Professor Manfred Nowak,  Independent Expert leading the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, with Alex Kamarotos, Executive Director of DCI – International Secretariat as moderator.

Alex Kamarotos opened the event by thanking the European Union delegation and the Swiss mission for co-sponsoring the event. He also welcomed all the participants and underlined that 2019 is a landmark year for the Global Study as it will be delivered to the General Assembly in October.

The panel opened with the intervention of SRSG Gamba who presented her recent report to the UN Human Rights Council, which included a focus on the abduction of children in armed conflict and children of or recruited as foreign fighters. She called on states whose citizens have travelled to join extremist groups to allow them to return following a determination of their best interests and to ensure that no child is left behind nor left stateless. Her message was one of prevention and protection.

Leo Ratledge presented CRIN’s recent report “Caught in the Crossfire” about the effect of counter-terrorism legislation on children. He reminded participants that punitive measures are not necessary and that a human rights approach focused on prevention and rehabilitation is far more effective. He called for an approach focused on safeguarding, not criminalisation, including diversion and non-custodial measures.

A key moment of the event was the presentation of Jo Becker’s new report “Everyone Must Confess:” Abuses against Children Suspected of ISIS Affiliation in Iraq.” After presenting her findings, Becker reinforced the message that rehabilitation is key. Yet too often governments are taking punitive approaches, treating children as criminals, not victims. She concluded with a call to prosecute child recruiters and to help children with rehabilitation and reintegration.

The participation of Professor Manfred Nowak focused on the Study and its preliminary data. He expressed concerns about broad legislation in the area of national security. Prof. Nowak stressed that children should only be tried through juvenile justice systems and that a peaceful reintegration avoiding deprivation of liberty is key. He reminded participants of the legal framework on deprivation of liberty of children and made links to the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly 16.2 – End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.

The panellists were followed by an interactive question and answer session. Questions covered country-specific situations queries around the Global Study and its next steps, and topics such as the criminalisation of online activity. For her part, Jo Becker concluded by highlighting that the Study will give states guidance on how to better approach deprivation of liberty from a child rights perspective. SRSG Gamba stressed the importance on the Study and the support of her office for its development. She noted that the Study will help to address the lack of data and information on deprivation of liberty. Leo Ratledge and Professor Nowak responded to questions concerning criminalisation of children on national security grounds for online activity stating that they had seen cases of this. Nowak concluded the event noting that the Study will include recommendations regarding all the different types of deprivation of liberty of children and non-custodial measures.


NGO Panel delivers a statement at the UN Human Rights Council 40th session

On March 5, 2019, the NGO Panel for the United Nations Global on Children Deprived of Liberty delivered a statement during the Interactive Dialogue with Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children
and Armed Conflict.

The NGO Panel took the opportunity to thank the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Children and Armed Conflict and its focus on the abduction of children in armed conflict and children of or recruited as foreign fighters.

The NGO Panel call on States to continue to contribute to and support the development of the Study and its follow-up, and to implement its recommendations.


Check the full written statement here

crd0716_illo_cmyk- for HRC use only

Save the Date – Human Rights Council Side Event – March 6

The European Union, Switzerland, Defence for Children International, and Human Rights Watch will hold a side event on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Children on March 6 from 13.30 – 15.00 in Room XXIII at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

In many countries, children are increasingly detained for alleged national security offences. In some countries, hundreds – or even thousands – of children are detained at any given time, as countries have adopted increasingly aggressive counter-terrorism measures. Counterterrorism strategies and legislation have introduced new surveillance measures, restrictions on behaviour, powers of detention, and hundreds of new offences carrying heavy sentences.

The recruitment of children into terrorist or violent extremist groups is often unlawful – and sometimes constitutes trafficking—yet these children are often treated as perpetrators rather than victims.

This side event will explore the impact of counter-terrorism measures on children, including their deprivation of liberty. In particular, it will focus on how these issues will be addressed by the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.



Alex Kamarotos, Executive Director of Defence for Children International (DCI)


  • Prof. Manfred Nowak, Independent Expert, UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty
  • Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict
  • Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  • Leo Ratledge, Legal and Policy Director, Child Rights International Network (CRIN)


Please RSVP via email to

Please note that this event is only open to those who currently possess a UN access badge.



To see the program please click here.

© 2018 November OMCT Tunisie

Regional Consultation in Tunis, Tunisia

On November 26th – 27th, 2018, a consultation for the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region was held in Tunis, Tunisia. The consultation gathered more than 60 government officials, child rights experts, and civil society representatives from across the region to discuss children deprived of liberty in all the settings addressed in the Study.

Professor Manfred Nowak presented the Study and in-depth workshops were held to identify the ways in which children are deprived of their liberty, particular challenges for children in the MENA region, and non-custodial measures. A workshop on children’s consultations and their views on deprivation of liberty was also held.


The concept note in English can be found here.

The concept note in Arabic can be found here.


#FreeKids video – Encouraging child participation in the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty

#FreeKids video – Encouraging child participation in the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty:

Professor Manfred Nowak has recorded a video to encourage child participation in the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. Professor Nowak places children at the core of the Study and calls on them to share their stories and experiences in order to help others.


Click here to see the video.


Three girls stand in the concrete yard of the women's prison at Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Behind her stands a concrete wall, topped with barbed wire. Laundry lies on the ground at her feet. Arrests of minors are frequently gang-related, with alleged offences ranging from petty crime to gun possession and assault. Children are often forcibly inducted into gangs, where they face violence from older gang members, rival gangs and the authorities. Many girls have been sexually abused, and some are HIV-positive. Once in prison, they can be held indefinitely without being charged or tried. UNICEF provides sanitation kits and educational and art supplies to this prison.  [#3 IN SEQUENCE OF SEVEN]

In December 2005 in Haiti, children face extreme poverty, violence and chronic insecurity. UNICEF's Child Alert Report on Haiti is the second in a series that documents the effect of crisis situations on children. The report, to be released on 22 March 2006, warns that decades-long political instability and weak institutions have created a climate of lawlessness and social disintegration that have exacerbated conditions of poverty. In addition, Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters has deepened the environmental crisis of deforestation and erosion. The consequences for children are devastating. Each year, 20 per cent of children under five die from preventable illnesses, the highest child mortality rate in the Americas. Just 11 per cent of Haitians have running water in their homes, and 40 per cent have no access to safe water at all. Many thousands of children work as domestic servants or live in slums or on the streets, where they are vulnerable to gang violence, kidnapping and sexual exploitation. Only 54 per cent of children attend primary school, and of these, the majority leave school after just four years in order to work or care for younger siblings. More than 200,000 children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Save the date: 26th November, 2018 – Regional Consultation, Tunis

A consultation for the Middle East North Africa region will take place on November 26th – 27th, 2018 in Tunis, Tunisia. The consultation will gather government officials, child rights experts, and civil society representatives from across the region to discuss children deprived of liberty in all the settings addressed in the Study. The Independent Expert, Professor Manfred Nowak is going to present the Global Study before members of the research groups lead discussions in each of their respective areas.

The concept note in English can be found here.

The concept note in Arabic can be found here.


Regional Consultation in Montevideo, Uruguay

On October 25, 2018, a consultation was held in Montevideo, Uruguay to discuss key themes related to the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. Civil society representatives from across the region participated in discussions on children deprived of their liberty in the administration of justice, in institutions, and in the context of migration as well as those detained their parents. Professor Manfred Nowak presented the Study via video message and appointed Professor Mary Beloff, member of the Advisory Board and expert in children’s rights and criminal law, to represent the Study. Panellists and participants held vibrant discussions on the rights of the children deprived of their liberty, particular challenges for children in the Latin American region, and the need for non-custodial measures.

Professor Nowak’s video can be found here.

“There is no prison prepared for human beings. And it’s worse for children. They are treated like adults.” – Nora Laura Calandra, Red de Niñez Encarcelada (Incarcerated Children Network), Argentina


North American Consultation for the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty

On October 10, 2018, a North American Consultation was held in support of the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty in New York City, United States of America. The consultation was hosted by the Justice Lab at Columbia University.

The consultation opened with a presentation by the Independent Expert leading the Global Study, Professor Manfred Nowak, who presented the current status of the Study, underlining the progress that had been made to date, including the more than 80 questionnaires received and the consultations previously held in Asia, Africa, and South Africa.

It then opened up to a panel of experts including Melissa Sickmund, Director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, Candice Jones, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Public Welfare Foundation, former Director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, Hernan Carvente, National Youth Partnership Strategist, James Bell (by video), Founder and President of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, Heather Renwick, Legal Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, Jennifer Nagda, Policy Director, Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago Law School, and Elizabeth Clarke, from Juvenile Justice Iniciative. 

The panellists discussed the scale of deprivation of liberty of children in the criminal justice system, including children who are placed in the adult system, in the USA, the harm such detention has on children as well as on their families and communities, and the needs for alternatives. Liz Ryan of Youth First Initiative presented Professor Nowak with data on children deprived of liberty in the administration of justice in the USA on behalf of several non-governmental organisations.

Part of the experience of being incarcerated is I have those memories to this day. Those memories of incarceration never leave me. I continue to remember every day that experience and try to avoid dealing with that. But throughout the course of my time in that facility, I developed several other mental health issues, which to this day, I have been officially diagnosed for with PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and these are things that were exacerbated by the conditions of incarceration and certainly were exacerbated because the different challenges that I experienced while I was there.”

Hernan Carvente, National Youth Partnership Strategist

The full consultation can be found online here.


SEPTEMBER 2018: Deprivation of Liberty at the UN Human Rights Council 39th Session

The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 39th session took place from September 10 to 28, 2018 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Deprivation of liberty was an issue that the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty followed during the session, participating in the plenary sessions and side events, meetings with different stakeholders and conducting advocacy. Deprivation of liberty was discussed on these occasions:


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Opening Session

The newly-appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, addressed the Council for the first time. She highlighted that separating and detaining families offers no long-term solutions to anyone – only more hostility, misery, suffering, and chaos. Several States also showed concern at the increase of migrant children being detained and families being separated.


Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

On September 12, 2018, during the Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Chair of the Group, noted that there was an increasing emergence of deprivation of liberty not only in prisons but also in migration centres and medical institutions, including of children. He presented the Working Group’s report on Consular assistance and diplomatic protection for persons deprived of liberty and the linkages between arbitrary detention and instances of torture and ill-treatment. This report includes, in its annex, the revised deliberation No. 5 on deprivation of liberty of migrants. As stated by Hong, this revision reflects changes in international law and jurisprudence during the last 20 years.

The International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) delivered a statement on behalf of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty thanking the Group for highlighting that the deprivation of liberty of asylum-seeking, refugee, stateless, and migrant children, including unaccompanied or separated children, is prohibited, and for clearly mentioning the need for alternatives to detention. The NGO Panel also called on States to support the Global Study by providing more quality, disaggregated data on children deprived of liberty and examples of alternatives to detention in their countries as well as by participating in the upcoming consultations and contributing with political and financial support.


Side Event with Professor Manfred Nowak

On September 10, during a side event organised by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein and the All Survivors Project on “Hidden Victims: Sexual Violence against Men and Boys in Conflict.” Professor Manfred Nowak noted that boys are also victims of sexual violence when deprived of their liberty. He emphasized that this is an under-reported and taboo topic. According to international law, children should always be separated from adults, but the reality is that they are often detained with adults, and this can exacerbate the of sexual violence between men and boys. As the Independent Expert leading the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, he reminded the audience that the Global Study addresses different settings of deprivation of liberty, including in the context of armed conflict and for migration-related reasons.


Side Event: “Arbitrary detention in the Americas: The Cases of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Mexico”

On September 12, at a side event on arbitrary detention organised by the Mexican Commission of Human Rights, cases of people being arbitrarily detained, mostly journalists, politics and civil society members, was discussed. It was highlighted that this is contradictory to international and human rights law. Human Rights Watch reported that, according to their findings, among the people detained in Nicaragua during the demonstrations, 10 were children.


Side Event: “The Human Rights Situation and Changes of Peace in Yemen”

On September 19, at a side event organised by the Permanent Mission of Yemen on the human rights situation in the country, the Minister of Human Rights of Yemen said that the situation in the country is very concerning, with Yemenis suffering from all forms of human rights violations. Hundreds of people had been detained, most arbitrarily, and some in secret prisons, including children.


Professor Manfred Nowak update on the Global Study at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly Third Committee

On Tuesday, October 9, 2018, during the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly Third Committee panel discussion on the rights of the child, Professor Manfred Nowak, the Independent Expert for the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty did an update on the study’s progress and implementation phase.

The full speech can be found below:

“Thank you very much Mr./Mrs. Chairperson for the opportunity to address the Third Committee of the General Assembly,

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

In 2014, in resolution 69/157, the Assembly invited the Secretary-General to commission an in-depth global study on children deprived of liberty, funded through voluntary contributions and conducted in close cooperation with relevant United Nations agencies and in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including Member States, civil society, academia and children, and to include good practices and recommendations for action to effectively realize all relevant rights of the child,

Following an extension in 2017, I will present a comprehensive Global Study to you one year from now.

The Study’s implementation phase was severely delayed due to lack of funding which was to come through voluntary contributions. Indeed, most of 2017 was dedicated to concerted fundraising efforts, to build an initial funding base for the Study to be realized. These efforts proved positive as approximately 1 million USD was raised by means of contributions received by Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Malta, Qatar, the European Union (EU), UNICEF and a private foundation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our friends of the Global Study for truly having saved the Study through their support. The need to continue joint fundraising efforts however remains, since the Global Study is still operating on essentially one fifth of its total budget.

Due to the funding challenges, the Study only commenced its effective implementation phase in early 2018, which included the adoption of a methodological framework to guide and structure the Study process.

Despite our limited resources, our joint activities have been maximized, and the Study has managed to enter its implementation phase with data being collected and good practices identified by means of a specific questionnaire and consultations, as well as thematic chapters being drafted by different research groups. The Global Study Team at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights now coordinates 9 research groups with more than 100 innovative, hard-working and committed researchers and practitioners across all continents. Next to the growing research network, an expanding and vibrant civil society network carries the Global Study. That said, I wish to thank all UN agencies, NGOs and academic institutions for their invaluable input pro bono. This does not go un-noticed and is deeply appreciated. The Global Study will be a truly joint achievement of many different Stakeholders.

In February 2018, a questionnaire to inform the Global Study was circulated to all member States and other stakeholders by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), and a reminder was circulated again in June 2018. To date a total of 86 replies have been received (53 from States and 33 from other relevant actors including UN agencies, National Human Rights Institutions, Ombudspersons, National Preventive Mechanisms and Non-Governmental Organizations). I take the opportunity to thank those who submitted a reply to the questionnaire and I am happy to see that many different actors are actively engaging in this important process, which shall leave a sustainable blueprint for all governments for future data collection on the situation of children deprived of liberty.

A total of six consultations already took place and four others will follow soon: Warsaw, Poland; Brussels, EU; Bangkok, Thailand; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Paris, France; Pretoria, South Africa; New York, United States; and upcoming consultations will take place in Montevideo, Uruguay (at the end of October); Tunis, Tunisia (November) and Montego Bay, Jamaica (December). Furthermore, two expert meetings took place in Venice in 2017 and in Vienna in 2018. I take this opportunity to thank all of those actors who supported the Global Study in providing these vital platforms and their expertise.

Moving forward, in 2019, the Study will enter its final phase, wherein the desk research carried out by the various research groups and the data received through the questionnaires and consultations will be consolidated into different chapters of the Global Study. It is foreseen that an expert meeting takes place in March 2019, to critically review all of the information gathered. This meeting would include members of the Advisory Board, leads of the different research groups and members of the United Nations Interagency Taskforce as well as children as they are experts in their own rights. A Global Study on children cannot happen without the active involvement of children.

Notwithstanding the achievements reached to date, challenges remain. Last year, when I addressed the Third Committee, I hoped not to have to come back to the financial situation; to be able to report that the funding situation was no longer our concern. However, we still require further funding to ensure the Study is completed to the best extent possible and in a professional manner. I call again on member States to step up and support this important process, particularly considering how far we have come with extremely limited resources. Let us not lose this momentum for children’s rights just because of financial shackles.

I am deeply convinced that the Global Study will have a milestone impact on the situation of children deprived of liberty. In the almost thirty years since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the issue of children being deprived of liberty has never been adequately addressed and continues to lag behind compared to other areas of the international treaty. Deprivation of liberty is an extremely serious issue, not only violating basic international human rights obligations but exposing each and every child who is detained, for whatever reason, to further human rights violations. With immigration detention currently on the rise, there seems to be more regression than improvement in the situation.

Dear friends, let me remind you, why it is important that the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty is a success. Deprivation of liberty of children is not merely an issue of international legal obligations not being fulfilled, but it has serious harmful effects on the mental and physical health and development of children and on society at large. Witnessing children behind bars during my time as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture was heart-breaking, as many children are tortured, neglected or isolated and crying for
help. The youngest victim I met was a three-year-old orphan in a terrifying institution that warehoused boys in a variety of situations and employed daily beatings for minor infractions.

The Global Study aims to bridge the data gap on the number of children in such situations and raise awareness about the risks posed to society as a whole. The Study will also develop evidence-based recommendations and compile best practices to help States uphold international obligations and reduce the number of children deprived of liberty – making children’s rights a reality and leaving no child behind.

I thank you for your time and attention and welcome any questions, comments or pledges you may have.”