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Human Rights Framework to address historic child abuse

Date: 9 February 2010

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has today published a human rights framework for the design and implementation of a Forum for survivors of historic child abuse in Scotland.

The Commission welcomes the steps which Scotland has already taken, including the apology from the then First Minister Jack McConnell in 2004, the Scottish Government’s SurvivorScotland strategy, and the decision to pilot a forum for acknowledging the experiences of survivors of abuse, the “Time to be Heard” forum (you can read more about Time to be Heard in this SurvivorScotland news release).

The Commission believes that in addition to a time to be heard, it is a time to learn lessons. Therefore the pilot should be a step towards a comprehensive human rights approach to securing effective access to justice, remedies and reparation for all Scottish survivors of childhood abuse.

The Commission’s human rights framework sets out a number of key recommendations for the Time to be Heard pilot, including that:

  • Time to be Heard and the Scottish Government should explore what survivors and others need to participate in the process, including psychological support, protection or alternative means of testifying;

  • Time to be Heard could identify what survivors need in order to fulfil their rights to effective access to justice, effective remedies and reparations, making recommendations for next steps in an inclusive and comprehensive process;

  • the independent experts who make up Time to be Heard and the Scottish Government should clarify the relation between the pilot forum and investigations and prosecutions.

The framework outlines a comprehensive approach to ensuring effective access to justice, remedies and reparation for childhood abuse. As part of this the Commission recommends that the Scottish Government:

  • ensures full and effective participation of survivors and others whose rights are affected in all decisions on next steps;

  • ensures accountability for human rights violations including through investigations capable of determining not only what happened but why and how it can be avoided in the future, as well as prosecutions where appropriate;

  • identifies and addresses barriers faced by survivors in effectively accessing justice;

  • develops as effective as possible a reparations package which includes opportunities for restitution, adequate compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition;

  • considers the development of legislation to facilitate apologies by institutions.

The Commission also recommends that survivors should have “full and effective participation” in all decisions surrounding the Time to be Heard pilot and its successor(s).

The Commission has produced the framework impartially and independently with input from survivors, experts in historic child abuse, and international experts with experience of the national Forums which have already taken place in Ireland and Canada.

You can read the Human Rights Framework in large print Word format.

You can read the Human Rights Framework in PDF format.

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Commission, said:

“As Scotland looks to uphold the human dignity of everyone, it is important that we address and learn from the past. As a nation we have already taken significant steps to addressing historic child abuse, but more remains to be done to provide justice, remedies and reparation to those who have survived human rights abuses as children.

“We welcome the Time to be Heard pilot as another step to acknowledging the injustices which were perpetrated in residential institutions for children.

“But as well as a time to be heard, it is a time to learn lessons. So we call on the Scottish Government to ensure accountability as well as acknowledgement, to identify not only what happened but why it happened, and how it can be avoided in the future.

“In implementing the Commission’s recommendations, the Time to be Heard pilot, its successor(s) and the Scottish Government can fulfil human rights obligations, learn from, and contribute to the development of international best practice. In so doing Scotland will be meeting its responsibility towards survivors as well as promoting and protecting the human dignity of those vulnerable individuals in need of care today and tomorrow.”

The Commission will now act as an independent monitor of the progress of the Time to be Heard pilot and the Scottish Government’s steps to deliver effective access to justice, effective remedies and reparation for survivors of childhood abuse.

An independent analysis of international human rights law on acknowledgement and accountability in historic child abuse is also available in PDF format.

An independent research paper based on interview with survivors and focus groups is also available in PDF format.

If you or someone you know needs support or advice about historical child abuse you can contact the In Care helpline and website: www.incaresurvivors.org.uk and call the Free Helpline 0800 121 6027