U.N. convention on children criticized

January 07, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau

LONDON -- The 4-year-old United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has failed to protect many children from widespread human rights abuses that include kidnapping, torture, rape and murder, Amnesty International said today.

Children are targeted for terrifying cruelty in many of the 149 countries that signed the 1989 U.N. convention, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 1993, Amnesty International recorded violations in every region of the world. "Disappearances," torture or extra-judicial executions of children were reported in 35 countries.

Children are abused because they are disabled, as victims of neglect, cruelty and exploitation -- "sometimes even in the hands of their own guardians."

"Youth offers no protection from the death squads, state rapists and assassins, torturers and executioners," the Amnesty report said.

"During 1993 we issued more than 50 urgent appeals on behalf of children or young people at risk from state forces which should have been there to protect them."

Amnesty cited street children murdered in Colombia and Brazil by killers identified as members of security forces.

Children are slaughtered simply because they are regarded as a nuisance. Death notices inviting children on the street to their own funerals were posted in Bogota, Colombia, last summer, reportedly drawn up by local industrialists, businessmen and shopkeepers.

"The message was by no means an empty threat," said Amnesty. "Death squads are in operation in Colombia, their mission to rid streets of 'socially undesirable children.' "

Evidence exists that connects the police to the death squads, according to the human rights organization. In 1991, 2,800 children were murdered in Colombia, Amnesty said.

Sometimes children are threatened because of the activities of their parents. Amnesty recorded the case of a 6-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister who "disappeared" in the Philippines.

Relatives quoted by Amnesty said the military wanted their parents to give themselves up. They were allegedly members of an armed opposition group.

"These children were among the 'lucky ones,' " the report said. They were released after three weeks. "The vast majority of those who "disappear" -- in whichever region of the world -- are rarely found alive."

Sometimes, children are singled out for violence simply because they belong to the wrong ethnic group or they live in the wrong place.

Hundreds of Kurdish children in Iraq have "disappeared," been imprisoned without any kind of trial, held as hostages, tortured or executed.

Highlighted in Amnesty's current campaign against political killings and disappearances is a teen-age Bosnian girl named Mirsada who was detained with her sister and another girl by Serbian paramilitaries. They were all held in a "hotel" and all raped. Mirsada's sister and the other girl were released. Mirsada is still missing.

Amnesty criticized the United States for executing people for crimes committed when they were still juveniles.

In the last 10 years only seven countries have been known to impose this "ultimate form of cruel and inhuman punishment on children."

"The largest confirmed number of such executions have been carried out in the United States," Amnesty said.

"Three juvenile offenders were executed in the U.S. in 1993, in violation of international standards which prohibit the execution of people aged under 18 at the time of the crime."

At least 29 juvenile offenders remain under sentence of death in the United States, according to Amnesty.

In most cases they have been convicted of particularly heinous murders. At the same time, though, evidence usually reveals severe abuse in their backgrounds as children.

Despite its findings, Amnesty International remained optimistic about the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which it sees as "an inspiration and a hope."

"The convention is not simply legal in character," it said. "It does formulate a visionary perspective . . . the principles in the convention do make sense. They define what the rights of a child are about."

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