JOINT STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
This statement was read to the High Level Segment of the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, a global forum which was held in Salvador, Brazil between 12 and 19 April 2010. It is held every 5 years since 1955 and aims to promote more efficient policies concerning crime prevention and criminal justice all over the world.
Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
Thank you, Mr. President, for giving me the floor. This statement is made on behalf of numerous NGOs and individual experts present at the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and has been prepared through an open consultative process to develop our shared viewpoint.
Civil society has a key role in contributing to the development and implementation of national and international instruments and structures to combat crime and victimization. We challenge abuses, defend human rights, and identify systemic weaknesses. We advocate for, and propose, new initiatives and approaches for just and humane responses to both the victims and the perpetrators of crime. It is in this spirit that we make this statement. Our statement will address victims, juveniles, access to justice and fair treatment, organized crime and research and evaluation.
Every year, all over the world, more than one billion people suffer harm as a result of crime. Millions more are victims of abuse of power and terrorism. Throughout history they have been forgotten and ignored segments of their societies, without a voice or rights. While the rights of offenders have been established, those of victims have been largely overlooked. At best, criminal justice systems have used victims as witnesses to establish their cases.
The Seventh UN Congress adopted the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. For the first time, the international community recognized their plight and acknowledged their rights. This, and all subsequent victim rights instruments and provisions, called on States to promote and fulfil the rights of victims and ensure that their needs are met. We call for the establishment of an expert group to study the implementation of these instruments and to make recommendations.
We are heartened that at least 30 of you emphasized the importance of victims’ rights and care. No member of the international community can speak of any crime without acknowledging its victims and their rights. We call on all States to adopt and implement appropriate legislation, policies, and practices for the protection of, and assistance to, victims of crime, abuse of power and terrorism. Justice would then be realised both for the victims and for society.
A second major concern we address is juveniles.
All Member States should adopt a minimum age of criminal responsibility. We propose that this should be no less than 12 years of age as established under international law. Additionally we recommend that the minimum age of criminal responsibility be increased to 14 as proposed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Children living in the street and / or domestically-abused children should be the concern of the community as a whole. Staff in relevant community-based institutions and organizations should have specialized training to support and assist these children to become viable members of their communities, also to prevent their further victimization and possible criminalization.
Children of prisoners are forgotten victims of crime. Their needs should be taken into account at each stage of the criminal justice process, from arrest to release from prison.
Turning to children who come into conflict with the law, we recommend that young children below the age of criminal responsibility should be dealt with through supportive care rather than punishment, as recommended by international instruments.
Responses to offences committed by minors should have an educational aim and, as far as possible, ensure the young person’s participation in decisions made about them throughout the process. All measures on their behalf should be regularly monitored in order to improve them. They should ensure the protection of those minors deprived of their liberty, in particular their physical and mental integrity and their welfare.
Access to Justice and Fair Treatment
The third concern is how we ensure access to justice and fair treatment.
Civil society and governments have a responsibility to work together to reduce prison populations. Restorative justice is one example of an effective and useful tool in working with offenders while preserving the interests of victims. It is important that the public understand how it works and appreciate its benefits.
The excessive and arbitrary use of pre-trial detention and inadequate access to legal aid for disadvantaged defendants undermine confidence in criminal justice systems. They result in a series of adverse consequences that are almost certainly magnified further down the criminal justice chain. These undermine health, promote corruption and torture and contribute to the social exclusion of pre-trial detainees and their families. Limiting the use of pre-trial detention is critical. The accused person must have access to proper legal assistance as early as possible, including in police custody.
In view of the rapidly increasing use of prison for women who offend, we call on the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to adopt the draft Supplementary Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders this year, as they summarize best practice in working with women who offend.
Given the high proportion of drug users in prison populations in many countries, it is important to utilize fully evidence-based alternatives to conviction, punishment and imprisonment. Where treatment is compulsory, the place of detention for treatment should be subject to inspection in the same way as prisons.
Following from this, we stress that visiting mechanisms for prisons are essential. They ensure that the treatment of inmates complies with UN standards and norms. We strongly urge States that have not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to do so, and those that have ratified it to designate or establish independent and effective national preventive mechanisms.
A binding instrument with an effective monitoring mechanism to cover the Standard Minimum Rules is required. We ask the Commission to establish a working group to consider the preparation of a draft Convention or similar instrument on the rights of persons held in places of compulsory detention,
We call upon the General Assembly, through the Commission, to take note of the document “Basic Principles of Religious Freedom in Prison” that was reviewed by prison managers, representatives of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant Christian and Roman Catholic faiths, and by a number of Member States at this Congress.
Transnational and Organized Crime
At the 4th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), States Parties declared that a victim-centered approach was essential to an effective strategy to protect and assist victims of trafficking. Just as victim-centered approaches are key to the implementation of the Protocol, so are they essential to its effective review. In the year 2000, victims of trafficking placed their hope in an international framework promising to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons. They have now waited 10 long years for this to become reality. Member States must support a victim-centered monitoring mechanism to UNTOC and its protocols without further delay.
Turning to organized crime and corruption, in our view, these are two sides of the same coin. We call for integration of crime prevention and anti-corruption strategies to advance justice, equity and the possibility of achieving sustainable development and for the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
Research and Evaluation
There is a need for more research on effective criminal justice practice, particularly in crime prevention. Greater emphasis should be placed on criminal justice education, taking advantage of new technology and teaching techniques. The Commission should consider the development of a Criminal Justice Education Declaration.
Finally, we thank our Brazilian hosts for this excellent opportunity to exchange ideas. A great deal of reform in criminal justice has occurred in Latin America over the past 25 years pertaining to the Rule of Law. Much can be learned from the region in improving criminal justice throughout the world.
As civil society organizations we are committed to monitoring progress in implementing the Salvador Declaration and the resolutions adopted by the Commission and other UN bodies. We look forward to maintaining our critical partnership in advancing the effectiveness of crime prevention and criminal justice.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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