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ID: 2

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Research

Topics: Children, Young People and Drug Use; Punitive Laws and Law Enforcement

Presenting author: Damon Barrett

Presenting author biography:

No biography entered.

What if human rights are part of the problem? A critical analysis of the work of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child 1993-2016

Damon Barrett


Children have the right to protection from illicit drugs through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 33). However, unlike many other areas of child rights, article 33 exists in a legal and policy environment that is characterised by considerable human rights violations.

Human rights law is increasingly used as a ‘normative counterweight’ to the UN drugs conventions, which are seen to generate human rights abuses. But it is recognised that no one mandate has responsibility for drug policies.

However, the CRC is connected explicitly to the drugs conventions, raising questions about its ‘counterweight’ potential. And largely missed by drug policy researchers is that the Committee on the Rights of the Child has been reviewing State action with regard to drug control for decades. The question is whether this process has challenged drug laws and polices, or reaffirmed the punitive status quo.


Adopting a critical legal perspective this paper presents a thematic analysis of the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child from 1993-2016. 453 State reports and 453 Concluding Observations for 194 States parties were studied, in addition to more than 200 records of meetings between the Committee and States.


While now consistent on the need for prevention, treatment and harm reduction for minors who use drugs, the Committee also displays a consistent passivity towards State actions affecting others in the name of protecting children. There is a concurrent lack of awareness of the policy environment in which its recommendations are made. The result is a lost potential for critical review through a unique human rights mechanism and the provision of a child rights seal of approval for existing structures.

Recommendations are made for improving the work of the Committee, including the increased involvement of harm reduction and reform NGOs.