YEREVAN, Armenia, 23 November 2011 – UNICEF Office in Armenia and the Armenian office of Project Harmony International, under the aegis of a joint EU-UNICEF three-year project convened today a major conference to spur reforms in the juvenile justice system of the country and ensure that children in contact with the law exercise their rights and have access to social services and rehabilitation.
The conference organized is part of a regional programme to further support reforms in the juvenile justice system in eight CIS countries, funded by the European Union through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. It brings together representatives from the state police, general prosecutor’s office, courts, ministries of justice, education, labour and social issues as well as civil society.
“In the last decade Armenia has made good progress in improving its juvenile justice system. The percentage of convicted children serving custodial sentence has gone down as well as the number of children serving sentences in correctional facilities. However, there are still no clearly defined policies and programmes for the rehabilitation of children in contact with the law that will allow those children to reintegrate into their communities and become full-fledged citizens,” UNICEF Representative in Armenia Henriette Ahrens said, addressing the participants of the conference.
Apart from legislative and procedural amendments, the conference participants will discuss alternative sentencing schemes, protection of child victims and witnesses as well as issues pertaining to accessibility of services for children in contact with the law.
“It is very important to involve communities in prevention and rehabilitation of children in contact with the law. The model of Community Justice Centers successfully introduced in Armenia by Project Harmony International needs to be further expanded as an effective mechanism of prevention of future offenses by children and community participation in their rehabilitation and re-integration, “UNICEF Representative emphasized.
In 2006, within its ZANG Legal Socialization program funded by the US State Department, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau, Project Harmony International in close cooperation with the RA Juvenile Police, opened the first Community Justice Center in Armenia. Since then the number of Community Justice Centers has increased up to eight.
Community Justice Centres use restorative justice approach in dealing with children in contact with the law and seek to involve the entire community in rehabilitating offenders and holding them accountable for their behaviour.
By bringing together victims, offenders, families, and other key stakeholders in a variety of settings, specialists working in Community Justice Centres (psychologists, social worker, representatives of law enforcement bodies and community) help offenders understand the implications of their actions and provide an opportunity for them to establish a positive reconnection to the community.
Up to date the centers have offered effective restorative projects to over 480 Armenian juveniles, referred to the centers by the police, schools and community members. Under the EU-funded juvenile justice reform programme UNICEF and partner organisations will help amend existing legislation in the area of juvenile justice, support the functioning of existing eight Community Justice Centers and establishment of new ones, carry out a research into the problem of torture and ill-treatment of juveniles in detention facilities and penitentiary institutions and organise trainings for judges, prosecutors and police officers on juvenile justice administration.
The countries participating in this programme were selected following an in-depth assessments and commitments from the governments and civil society to bring their juvenile justice systems in line with international standards and support reintegration of children in contact with the law into society as law-abiding and full-fledged citizens.