United Nations standards & norms of reference
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It consists of 30 articles, affirming inter alia the right to life and liberty, equality before the law, freedom of movement, freedom of thought and religion, freedom of opinion, right to social security, right to work, right to rest and leisure, and the right to education. It is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Legally binding instruments
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was the first binding international instrument to establish standards relevant to children's rights in the administration of justice. That instrument prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on children. It also provides for children accused of offences to be separated from adults and brought speedily before a judge, ensures that child offenders are accorded the same rights as other accused individuals in criminal proceedings and requires the provision of criminal procedures that take into account the age and desirability of promoting the rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
This International Covenant adopted on the same day as the one on civil and political rights grants economic, social, and cultural rights to individuals. In particular, it affirms the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right of everyone to education without discrimination. It is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) & its Optional Protocol (2002)
The Convention against Torture is designed to make more effective the struggle against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the world. Its articles commit parties to taking effective measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under their jurisdiction. Parties must promptly investigate wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed, and victims of torture have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation. The Convention has an Optional Protocol which establishes a system of regular visits to places where people are deprived of their liberty.
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) & its 3 Optional Protocols (2000, 2000, 2011)
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most important legal instrument in relation to juvenile justice because it is legally binding on all members of the United Nations, except Somalia and the USA (as they have not yet ratified the Convention). Articles with specific reference to juvenile justice include: article 37 and article 40. The Convention has three Optional Protocols: on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC - 2000); on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC - 2000); and on a communications procedure (OPIC - 2011).
Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006)
The Convention contains a clear definition as well as innovative provisions that provide for better prevention, protection, reparation and prosecution of enforced disappearances. It states that the widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity and stipulates that no one shall be held in secret detention. Other provisions address preventive measures, international cooperation, the recognition of victims and their rights, the measures regarding children, and the adoptions that originated from an enforced disappearance.
Treaty bodies' General comments
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 10 on children's rights in juvenile justice (2007)
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 10 (2007) on "Children's rights in juvenile justice" aims to encourage States to develop and implement a comprehensive juvenile justice policy to prevent and address juvenile delinquency based on, and in compliance with, the CRC, providing guidance and recommendations for the framework of this comprehensive juvenile justice policy.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No 12 on the right of the child to be heard (2009)
This General Comment provides an interpretation of the legal obligations under article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to child's right to be heard in all matters of concern to her or him and for her or his views to be given due consideration. In particular, paragraphs 57-64 of the General Comment provide guidance on the legal obligations relating to the child's right to be heard in penal judicial proceedings, including the rights of the child offender and the rights of the child victim and witness of crimes.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No 13 on the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence (2011)
This General Comment seeks to guide States Parties in understanding their obligations under Article 19 of the Convention to prohibit, prevent and respond to all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation of children, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child, including State actors. It outlines the legislative, judicial, administrative, social and educational measures that States Parties must take.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No 14 on the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration (2013)
This General Comment provides an authoritative interpretation of the relevant articles of the Convention relating to the best interests of the child, as well as guidance to States on how to comply with their obligations under the Convention. It suggests that when assessing and determining the best interests of the child in order to make a decision on a specific measure, the following steps should be followed: (a) First, within the specific factual context of the case, find out what are the relevant elements in a best-interests assessment, give them concrete content, and assign a weight to each in relation to one another; (b) Secondly, to do so, follow a procedure that ensures legal guarantees and proper application of the right.
UN Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice: the 'Beijing Rules' (1985)
The Beijing Rules provide guidance to states on protecting children’s rights and respecting their needs when developing separate and specialised systems of juvenile justice. These rules formed the first international legal instrument which comprehensively regulated the administration of juvenile justice within a child rights and child development approach.
UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency: the ‘Riyadh Guidelines' (1990)
The Riyadh Guidelines represent a comprehensive and proactive approach to prevention and social reintegration, detailing social and economic strategies that involve society at large. Prevention is seen not merely seen as tackling negative situations, but rather as a means to positively promote general social welfare.
UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty: the ‘Havana Rules' (1990)
The Havana Rules (or "JDLs") set out standards applicable when a child is confined to any institution or facility, whether this be penal, correctional, educational or protective and whether the detention be on the grounds of conviction of, or suspicion of, having committed an offence, or simply because the child is deemed 'at risk'.
UN Guidelines on the Administration of Juvenile Justice: the ‘Vienna Guidelines' (1997)
The Vienna Guidelines is considered the founding resolution of the IPJJ as it invites the Secretary-General to consider establishing a coordination panel on technical advice and assistance in juvenile justice. The document contains, as an annex, Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System that provide a comprehensive set of measures that need to be implemented in order to establish a well-functioning system of juvenile justice administration, which is consistent with international standards.
Treatment of prisoners
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955) & Procedures for the effective implementation (1984)
The Standard Minimum Rules seek to set out what is generally accepted as being good principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners and the management of institutions. Specific dispositions relate to young prisoners. In 1984, the ECOSOC adopted the Procedures for the effective implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners to the attention of all States whose standards for the protection of all persons subjected to any form of detention or imprisonment fall short of the Standard Minimum Rules.
Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988)
These Principles were adopted in view of contributing to the protection of the human rights of persons deprived of liberty. They consist of 39 principles encompassing issues such as torture in detention, communication with the outside world, assistance of a legal counsel, medical and scientific experimentation, disciplinary offences, confidentiality concerning complaints, death or disappearance in detention.
Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990)
By adopting these Principles, the UN General Assembly recognised the usefulness of drafting a declaration on the human rights of prisoners. They consist of 11 principles encompassing issues such as the respect of the prisoners' religious beliefs, the right to take part in cultural activities and education, the abolition of solitary confinement, access to health services, the principle of no discrimination, and the reintegration of the ex-prisoners.
UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders: the 'Bangkok Rules' (2010)
The Bangkok Rules contain a set of 70 rules addressing the specific needs of women in the criminal justice system and in prisons. These are considered issues that did not receive sufficient attention in the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted in 1955 and the Tokyo Rules, adopted in 1990.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1975)
This Declaration was adopted as a guideline for all States and other entities exercising effective power, nine years prior to the adoption of the Convention against Torture. It emphasises that any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is an offence to human dignity and that no State may permit or tolerate such acts.
Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the Role of Health Personnel in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees against Torture (1982)
These Principles of Medical Ethics state that it is a gross contravention of medical ethics, as well as an offence under applicable international instruments, for health personnel, particularly physicians, to engage, actively or passively, in acts which constitute participation in, complicity in, incitement to or attempts to commit torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There may be no derogation from those principles on any ground whatsoever, including public emergency.
Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2000)
These six principles emphasise the importance of the clarification of the facts and establishment and acknowledgment of individual and State responsibility for victims and their families; the identification of measures needed to prevent recurrence; and the facilitation of prosecution for those indicated by the investigation and demonstration of the need for full reparation and redress from the State, including fair and adequate financial compensation and provision of the means for medical care and rehabilitation.
Death penalty & Extrajudicial executions
Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty (1984)
These Safeguards revolve around nine principles to the attention of the countries which have not abolished the death penalty. They reaffirm that persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime shall not be sentenced to death and that capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.
Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (1989)
These 20 principles address three aspects of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions: prevention, investigation and legal proceedings. They emphasise that such executions shall not be carried out under any circumstances including situations of internal armed conflict and that this prohibition shall prevail over decrees issued by governmental authority. With regard to prevention, this text recommends that Governments shall ensure that persons deprived of their liberty are held in officially recognized places of custody, and that accurate information on their custody and whereabouts, including transfers, is made promptly available to their relatives and lawyer or other persons of confidence.
Alternatives to imprisonment & restorative justice
UN Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures: the 'Tokyo Rules' (1990)
The Tokyo Rules are intended to promote greater community involvement in the management of criminal justice, especially in the treatment of offenders, as well as to promote a sense of responsibility towards society among offenders. The criminal justice system should provide a wide range of non-custodial measures, from pre-trial to post sentencing dispositions.
Basic principles on the use of restorative justice programmes in criminal matters (2002)
This resolution contains the preliminary draft elements of a declaration of basic principles applicable when utilising restorative justice programmes in criminal matters. It stipulates that restorative justice programmes should be generally available at all stages of the criminal justice process and gives details on the operation of restorative justice programmes.
Declaration on Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (1985)
This Declaration does not relate specifically to children; however fundamental principles of justice for all victims are addressed here, including access to justice and fair treatment, restitution, compensation and assistance.
UN Guidelines on Justice in Matters Involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crimes (2005)
These UN Guidelines provide a practical framework to assist in the reviewing and designing of laws, procedures and practices, ensuring full respect for the rights of child victims and witnesses of crime and in support of those professionals working with such children.
Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems (2012)
These Principles and Guidelines were adopted to provide guidance to States on the fundamental principles on which a legal aid system in criminal justice should be based and to outline the specific elements required for an effective and sustainable national legal aid system. In particular, they recommend that States should ensure special measures for children to promote their effective access to justice and to prevent stigmatization and other adverse effects as a result of their being involved in the criminal justice system. They also state that in all legal aid decisions affecting children, the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration.
Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (1979) & Guidelines for its effective implementation (1989)
This Code of conduct consists of 8 articles which set out several important principles and prerequisites for the humane performance of law enforcement functions. In particular, it emphasises that in the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons. They shall also, to the best of their capability, prevent and rigorously oppose any violations of the law and the Code. The Code addresses, inter alia, the issues of the use of force, matters of a confidential nature and corruption. In 1989, the ECOSOC adopted the Guidelines for the effective implementation of the code of conduct for Law enforcement officials.
Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary (1985) & Procedures for their effective implementation (1989)
The Basic Principles were formulated to assist Member States in their task of securing and promoting the independence of the judiciary. They emphasise that the independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State and enshrined in the Constitution or the law of the country. They include specific dispositions on freedom of expression and association of the members of the judiciary; qualifications, selection and training; professional secrecy and immunity; and discipline, suspension and removal. In 1989, the ECOSOC adopted the Procedures for the effective implementation of the Basic principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.
Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990)
These Basic Principles emphasise that the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials should be commensurate with due respect for human rights and invite Governments and law enforcement agencies to keep the ethical issues associated with the use of force and firearms constantly under review. They consist of 26 principles encompassing situations such as policing unlawful assemblies; policing persons in custody or detention; qualifications and training.
Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors (1990)
The Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors were formulated to assist Member States in their tasks of securing and promoting the effectiveness, impartiality and fairness of prosecutors in criminal proceedings. They emphasise that prosecutors, as essential agents of the administration of justice, shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity of their profession. They include specific dispositions on freedom of expression and association of prosecutors; their role in criminal proceedings; and on disciplinary proceedings against prosecutors. Interestingly, they include two dispositions on alternatives to prosecution, in particular for juveniles (article 19).
Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990)
The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers were formulated to assist Member States in their task of promoting and ensuring the proper role of lawyers. They emphasise that lawyers shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity of their profession as essential agents of the administration of justice. They include specific dispositions on access to lawyers and legal services; special safeguards in criminal justice matters; freedom of expression and association of lawyers; and disciplinary proceedings against lawyers.
Guidelines for the prevention of Crime (2002)
The Guidelines for the prevention of Crime were formulated to not only prevent crime and victimization, but also promote community safety and contribute to the sustainable development of countries. They outline the necessary elements for effective crime prevention, including the leadership role of the government, the integration of crime prevention considerations into all relevant social and economic policies and programmes, and the implementation of training and capacity-building programmes.
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950)
This European Convention grants human rights to individuals, including the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, and the right to an effective remedy in the event of violation of these rights. To ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the High Contracting Parties, the Convention provides for the creation of the European Court of Human Rights. The Convention has several protocols, which amend the convention framework: Protocols 6 (1983) and 13 (2002) stipulate that the death penalty shall be abolished and that no one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed.
American Convention on Human Rights (1969)
The Pact of San Jose grants human rights to individuals, including the right to life, the right to humane treatment, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy and the right to compensation in case of a miscarriage of justice. It consists of 82 articles, stipulating inter alia that capital punishment shall not be imposed upon persons who, at the time the crime was committed, were under 18 years of age. Article 19 stipulates that every minor child has the right to the measures of protection required by his condition as a minor on the part of his family, society, and the state.
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990)
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) can be considered as an adaptation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the regional context of Africa. It was drafted by the Organisation of African Unity (now known as the African Union) and it guarantees children's basic rights within the context of African culture. As with the CRC, the ACRWC contains a broad range of socio-economic provisions that can be referred to holistically, as well as the specific juvenile justice provisions of Article 17.
Guidelines on Child-Friendly Justice (2010)
The guidelines deal with the issue of the place and role, as well as the views, rights and needs of the child in judicial proceedings as well as in alternatives to such proceedings. They are new rules that help Governments make sure that children are treated properly by and in the justice system. They are based on a number of important rules, such as participation; best interests of the child; care and respect; equal treatment; and rule of law.