On 22 and 23 March 2019 the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe) and Civil Rights Defenders held the Sixth Annual Regional Rule of Law Forum for South East Europe in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The topic of this year’s Forum was children’s rights. 2019 marked 60 years since the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the protection of children is recognised as an integral and essential part of the rule of law.  The Forum was attended by over 170 eminent participants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Attendees included presidents and judges of supreme and constitutional courts, members of judicial councils, directors of judicial academies, institutions and non-government organisations in the region, as well as nine current and former judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

The Vice President, now President, of the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, stated that “The best interests of the child is a key notion in the case law of the European Court of human Rights. It is used in a broad range of cases concerning not only family law (adoption, visiting rights, guardianship, international abduction of children, surrogacy motherhood) but also in relation to other issues like detention of children, retention of migrant children etc. The Court has developed a series of factors to be taken into account in order to better evaluate the best interests of the child on a case by case basis.” 

“All the jurisdictions represented in this room today have the ECHR as part of their legal order, and everyone would agree that the protection of children is an essential and integral part of the rule of law. However, the legal protection of children under the Convention is not, in and of itself, sufficient to meet the obligations imposed by it. Notwithstanding the existence of such protection in the legal systems of the Council of Europe’s member states there have been many violations of the rights of children, who continue to suffer from, amongst other things, domestic violence, human trafficking and discrimination. It is important that the promotion and protection of their rights is practical and effective and does not remain theoretical and illusory. There is still work to be done to secure the full implementation of the rights of the child in practice, and we all have a role to play. This is why we are gathered here today” said AIRE Centre Western Balkans Programme Manager Biljana Braithwaite.

The Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Reed, gave the Forum’s keynote speech, highlighting the importance of the best interests of the child. He also emphasised the cooperative nature of the Convention and the importance of national courts resolving Convention questions before they reach Strasbourg.  

This year the Forum was supported by the UK Government, the Swedish International Development Agency and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The goal of the annual Regional Rule of Law Forum, established in 2014 by Civil Rights Defenders and the AIRE Centre in cooperation with judicial institutions throughout the region, is to promote the national implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights, to encourage regional cooperation in the continued development of human rights, and to facilitate the process of EU integration of the region.