Improving the treatment of child victims during the criminal justice system: some broad issues drawing upon the international and Australian criminal justice systems
Garkawe, SB 2004, 'Improving the treatment of child victims during the criminal justice system: some broad issues drawing upon the international and Australian criminal justice systems', Proceedings of Conference making children's rights work: national and international perspectives, Montreal, Canada, 18-20 November, International Bureau for Children's Rights, Montreal, Canada.
If we are going to do ‘justice’ to child victims and ensure that the rights of children as found in the Rights of the Child Convention (CROC) are realised, there is a strong need to improve both the frequency by which child victims are prepared to provide evidence in criminal proceedings, and the way in which criminal justice systems treat them once they give evidence. In fact, these issues are very much interrelated – the better we treat child victims, the more likely it is that they will be prepared to give evidence; and the more they give evidence, the more we will learn from their experiences and thus improve the way they are treated.
Focusing on the international criminal justice system, despite many advances in helping and encouraging child victims of international crimes to give evidence, including providing special protection measures (see later), the stark truth is that, to the writer’s knowledge, not one child victim has given evidence before any international criminal tribunal. Four examples where many children were personally abused and brutalized, and/or witnessed family members being gang raped, abused or grossly humiliated and mistreated, will be briefly mentioned. In each case an international criminal court of some type has been established in the last decade or so:
1) Bosnia/Kosovo – the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
2) Rwanda - the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
3) East Timor – Special Panels for Serious Crimes (a ‘hybrid Tribunal’ established by the UN) [note also a Indonesian Special Human Rights Court (a domestic court) was established following the 1999 violence]
4) Sierra Leone – the Special Court for Sierra Leone (a hybrid Tribunal established by the UN at the request of Sierra Leone)
What I hope to do in my talk is to first ask what are the primary reasons as why no child victims are testifying in international criminal courts. There are valuable lessons to be learnt here that can be translated to national criminal justice systems. Secondly I will examine briefly the various protective and other measures that have been instituted in international criminal courts in order to help children and other vulnerable victims testify.
Finally I will look at suggestions for the future, including the importance of the Guidelines on Justice for Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime and some other possible fundamental initiatives.