22 January 2010
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the initial report of Liechtenstein on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Presenting the report, Norbert Frick, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that Liechtenstein had not had any armed forces since 1868 and that the last military conflict to which the Liechtenstein territory had been subject dated back to the early nineteenth century. Yet, Liechtenstein’s human rights policy attached great importance to strengthening the protection of children in armed conflict on a global scale. That position was also reflected in Liechtenstein’s regular participation in the open debates of the United Nations Security Council on children and armed conflict, as well as in its financial support for the former Special Rapporteur of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and relevant activities of the United Nations Development Programme. Liechtenstein had also been active in the establishment and development of the International Criminal Court, which played an important role in strengthening the protection of children in armed conflict, and had provided regular support to the activities of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross on mine action and victim assistance.
In preliminary concluding observations, Committee Expert Moushira Khattab, who served as Rapporteur for the report of Liechtenstein, said the Committee was very satisfied with the efforts of Liechtenstein to implement the Optional Protocol and the efforts the country was making on the issue of children and armed conflict on the international level. Maybe if Liechtenstein went back and looked at the Constitution, they could see about specifying a minimum age for conscription in case of emergency. Liechtenstein should also expedite ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, as both Optional Protocols were linked.
During the course of the meeting, other Committee Experts raised questions related to, among other things, right-wing groups in the Principality and how they were monitored; whether the Government had any tools to ensure that right wing groups were not recruiting children; whether Liechtenstein had a mechanism in place to identify ex-child soldiers, and what services it provided to such children; and how the Law on Weapons was applied in practice. Raising a possible loophole, an Expert wondered how recruitment of a child into foreign armed groups through indoctrination or fundamentalism would be dealt with under Liechtenstein’s legislation. It would be hard to apply the offence of trafficking per say in such a case; the recruitment of children should be explicitly criminalized in Liechtenstein.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Liechtenstein towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on Friday, 29 January.
The delegation of Liechtenstein also included another representative from the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
When the Committee reconvenes in public at 5 p.m. on Friday, 29 January, it will make public its concluding observations on the reports considered over the past three weeks, before officially closing its fifty-third session.
Report of Liechtenstein
The initial report of Liechtenstein under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/LIE/1) notes that over the last two centuries, Liechtenstein has been fortunate to have escaped armed conflict. The last Liechtenstein military division was disbanded in 1868. Since then, Liechtenstein has maintained no national armed forces, hence it has no legislation governing the minimum age for participation of members of armed forces in hostilities and also no legislation on the recruitment of persons into national armed forces or on participation in hostilities. Moreover, no armed groups are active on its territory. The only possibility – of a rather theoretical nature, however – of a Liechtenstein citizen experiencing any sort of compulsory military service would arise from the Liechtenstein Constitution, pursuant to which every man fit to bear arms is required, until the completion of his sixtieth year, to serve in the defence of the country in the event of an emergency. This article of the Constitution neither specifies a minimum age for this requirement, nor is the term “fit to bear arms” defined. However, the article may be read in conjunction with the Weapons Act, according to which, young people under the age of 18 are prohibited from acquiring, possessing, or carrying weapons. Moreover, since a ratified treaty becomes part of national law in Liechtenstein without the need to enact special legislation, the provisions of the Optional Protocol are directly applicable in Liechtenstein, if they are sufficiently specific. This entails that participation of persons under the age of 18 in the national defence is not permissible.
The offence of soliciting children by armed groups in Liechtenstein would fall within the scope of the Criminal Code, according to which, a person shall be punished with up to three years’ imprisonment who, without authorization, establishes an armed group, or even a group intended to be armed, or who arms an existing group, fulfils a leading function in such a group, solicits or enlists members for such a group, trains them militarily or otherwise for combat, or supplies the group with arms, means of transport, or telecommunication facilities, or supports the group financially or in any other significant manner.
Presentation of the Report
NORBERT FRICK, Permanent Representative of the Principality of Liechtenstein to the United Nations Office at Geneva, began with the observation that Liechtenstein had not had any armed forces since 1868 and that the last military conflict to which the Liechtenstein territory had been subject dated back to the early nineteenth century.
Yet, Liechtenstein’s human rights policy attached great importance to strengthening the protection of children in armed conflict on a global scale, Mr. Frick underscored. That position was also reflected in Liechtenstein’s regular participation in the open debates of the United Nations Security Council on children and armed conflict, as well as in its financial support for the former Special Rapporteur of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and relevant activities of the United Nations Development Programme, among others.
Another area of Liechtenstein’s engagement in this area was the International Criminal Court. Liechtenstein had been active in the establishment and development of that institution, which played an important role in strengthening the protection of children in armed conflict. Mr. Frick highlighted that Liechtenstein was chairing the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, and would endeavour to ensure a successful outcome for the first review conference this year. Further, Liechtenstein provided regular support to the activities of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross on mine action and victim assistance.
Since February 2009, Liechtenstein had a new Children and Youth Act, which made reference to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and had established an independent Ombudsperson for Children, in accordance with the Paris Principles. Mr. Frick here noted that the Ombudsperson had the competence to communicate directly with regional and international monitoring bodies, such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
MOUSHIRA KHATTAB, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Liechtenstein, said that she thought the Committee did not really have a problem when dealing with Liechtenstein, concerning the provisions of the Optional Protocol. She congratulated Liechtenstein on the new Children and Youth Act, as well as on the new Ombudsman for Children.
Ms. Khattab also congratulated Liechtenstein for its international role in this area. She wondered, however, why the head of the delegation had mentioned, in his introductory statement, support for the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. What about support for the current Special Representative?
Ms. Khattab also noted that, upon ratifying the Optional Protocol, Liechtenstein had deposited a declaration saying that the country had no armed forces and consequently no legislation to set the minimum age for the recruitment of children. However, the 1921 Constitution provided the basis for conscription in a time of war or emergency and said that all men, fit to bear arms up to 60, would be required to serve in the defence of the country. Why did the Constitution not set a minimum age? Was there any guarantee that recruitment of a person less than 18 years of age would be protected from recruitment in case of such an emergency?
Turning to right-wing groups, Ms. Khattab wondered how those were being monitored by the Principality. Did the Government have any tools to ensure that such groups were not recruiting children in their training or hostile activities?
Also, how did the State party ensure that no groups were recruiting children into foreign armed groups, Ms. Khattab asked?
While there were few cases of asylum-seekers and refugees in Liechtenstein, Ms. Khattab wondered whether the country had any mechanism in place to identify ex-child soldiers?
Turning to education, Ms. Khattab noted the strong programmes on human rights education in the school curricula in Liechtenstein. What about to peace education and information on the Optional Protocol? Were those part of the curricula?
Ms. Khattab also noted that Liechtenstein had taken steps to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, but that the process would take two more years. Why was this taking so long?
Other Experts then raised a series of questions pertaining to, among other things, details on the Law on Weapons in Liechtenstein, and how it was applied in practice; and what services the Government provided to children that had been involved in armed conflicts. Regarding the Constitutional provision that said in an emergency situation everyone fit to bear arms would be required to defend the country, an Expert wondered whether those were light weapons or heavy weapons? Did the Law on Arms give such specific details?
Concerning the ban on recruitment and the fact that recruitment into foreign armed groups would be considered under Liechtenstein’s legislation as trafficking or forced labour, Experts noted that it posed the problem of what happened in cases of indoctrination and fundamentalism. It would be hard to apply the offence of trafficking per say in such a case. Also, trafficking and forced labour fell under criminal law. Experts said that the recruitment of children should be explicitly criminalized in Liechtenstein.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to questions, the delegation said, on support provided to the former and current Special Representatives of the Secretary-General, that they were speaking of financial support and the reason why they had not mentioned financial support to the current mandate holder was that the mandate had not yet been covered financially by the relevant United Nations resolution.
On the guarantee concerning the non-conscription of minors in case of an emergency, the delegation said that the Constitution defined citizens as those persons who had reached the age of 18. These persons were entitled to all the political rights and obligations included in the Constitution, and thus also indirectly defined 18 as the minimum age for conscription. While the delegation could not confirm whether the Constitutional article that defined the minimum age for citizenry was among those which were non-derogable in cases of emergency, it was highlighted that the Convention itself and the specification of the protection of children had been integrated into the law of Liechtenstein.
The delegation further underscored that there were not even any military arms in Liechtenstein. In a case of emergency, they would first have to obtain such arms before being able to recruit people. There was also no Ministry of Defence and no infrastructure with regard to defence.
On right-wing groups, the delegation said that a “Violence Commission” had been established to monitor their activities. However, young people with right-wing tendencies were not so much organized in Liechtenstein but rather entered into contact with more structured and organized groups abroad.
Continuing on this topic, the delegation noted that under domestic legislation racist acts were clearly criminalized. The recruitment of any young person to participate into hostile racist activities would thus also fall under that legislation. If such a group would additionally carry arms, that would be a criminal offence.
On trafficking of children for recruitment, the delegation said Liechtenstein was extraditing people for such activities to those countries where recruitment of children was criminalized. Cases where a child was forced to work as a soldier were considered as labour exploitation in Liechtenstein’s legislation. For the question of what happened in cases of indoctrination, Liechtenstein would argue that it fell into the same category.
The delegation also highlighted the fact the Liechtenstein Criminal Law had been inspired, to a large extent, by Austrian Criminal Law. Thus, if Liechtenstein changed its Criminal Law, even slightly, it would cause problems as Liechtenstein had not enough cases to look at for jurisprudence. Thus, judges in Liechtenstein would not be able to look at Austrian Criminal Law for jurisprudence, or even research.
Turning to the question on why Liechtenstein had not ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on the worst forms of child labour (which included trafficking), the delegation noted that ratification of that Convention was only open to members of the ILO and Liechtenstein was not a member.
Concerning former child soldiers coming to Liechtenstein, the delegation said that such a case had not come up so far, but acknowledged that it could come up at any time. The basis for handling such cases would be the Liechtenstein Refugee Act. The asylum procedure also included the participation of a national non-governmental organization working in the area of refugees. That was the main contact for asylum-seekers. The organization ran the asylum-seeking centres in the country and accompanied asylum-seekers during the whole asylum procedure.
Liechtenstein had already had cases of minor asylum seekers, the delegation noted. They were accommodated in youth accommodation structures, where they received individualized support and help.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
In preliminary concluding observations, Moushira Khattab said that the Committee was very satisfied with the efforts of Liechtenstein to implement the Optional Protocol and the efforts the country was making on the issue of children and armed conflict on the international level.
The Committee invited Liechtenstein to continue doing what it had been doing until now. Maybe if Liechtenstein went back and looked at the Constitution, it could see about specifying a minimum age for conscription in case of emergency. Liechtenstein should also expedite ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, as both Optional Protocols to the Convention were linked. Ms. Khattab concluded by urging Liechtenstein to continue to disseminate a culture of peace.
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