Panel Discusses United Nations Responsibility in Child Protection

Many Cardozo students are using their ever-developing legal training to help some of the most vulnerable members of society. A number of student-led groups present opportunities to get involved with advocating for the rights of child soldiers and suicide bombers, and attending to the legal needs of victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

One such group is the Cardozo Chapter of the Children’s Rights Institute (CRI), which recently hosted a discussion panel on the role of the United Nations in protecting the world’s children. At the February 8th event, Simon Deng, a Sudanese refugee and former child slave, opened with a heartbreaking account of living in miserable conditions—eating only scraps, sleeping on straw and enduring regular beatings from the age of nine until managing to escape several years later. Deng shared his terrifying entry into slavery: “I was shown a picture of a human being with no arms and no legs. I was told if I run away, they will capture me, cut my legs and my arms and I will look exactly like the picture. As a child of nine years, I was so terrified. After being beaten so badly I believed the threat was real.” From then on he was treated like an animal, forced to do work previously performed by donkeys, such as hauling water from the Nile, while the “master’s” children attended school. Now a U.S. citizen, Deng protests the slavery and genocide in Sudan and articulates the desperate need for Americans to take urgent action. He calls the U.N. the “United do-nothing Nations” for failing to condemn the Sudanese government that allowed the enslavement and genocide of Sudanese Christians by the Muslim minority centered in Khartoum.

Brooke Goldstein, ’05, the founder and director of CRI, moderated the panel, expanding the picture of Islamization in the world and the U.N.’s role in the indoctrination and recruitment of children to radical Islam. Goldstein cited the use of children as human shields by Hamas, and noted that Iraqi insurgents have been known to drug or remotely detonate children to make sure attacks go off without the children getting scared or changing their minds. Goldstein also chided the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has been criticized for running schools in Gaza with Hamas-approved curriculum and for hiring staff off of the Hamas payroll, and for stymieing research for “The Making of a Martyr,” a documentary about child suicide bombers in Palestine filmed by Goldstein for CRI. UNRWA has also not responded to requests to provide English language versions of their textbooks, despite the fact that a great portion of the funding for the U.N. programs comes from the United States. Goldstein charged the agency with, at best, turning the other way while known terrorists seem to be radicalizing Palestinian children in its schools. At worst, UNRWA may be guilty of aiding and abetting the premeditated murder of innocent children.

Several speakers at the event echoed Goldstein’s themes, taking the position that the U.S. should either withdraw funding or demand more accountability from the U.N. and its agencies. Sapna Zaidi, editor in chief of Muslim World Today, pointed out that while the U.N. has passed numerous resolutions against the use of children in armed conflicts, it has rarely directly addressed the use of children as suicide bombers in acts of terrorism. Zaidi says that U.N. silence should not come as a shock given the current makeup of the organization and the heavy influence of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a multinational delegation to the U.N. made up of 57 Muslim member states. Dr. David Scharia, a legal officer at the U.N. Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate, shared some of the panelists’ frustration but pointed out that the “U.N. is an abstract body created by different states. It can’t do more than the will of its component states.”

In spite of the bleak picture painted by the panelists about the fate of children in many parts of the world, the final message was that change can be had through dialogue and the work of organizations such as CRI. Co-founder of the Cardozo Chapter of CRI (and sister of Brooke) Danielle Goldstein, 3L, emphasized that “CRI is important because it focuses on an area where no other group does, the recruitment of a society’s own children to become suicide bombers. CRI takes up the cause of children’s rights when they are being ignored by groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Coalition Against Child Soldiers…There exists no other organization that is dedicated to legally combating and raising awareness about this most egregious form of child murder.”

There are also many ways for students to get involved, from attending events like the recent panel to doing research, writing articles or interning for CRI. Danielle Goldstein added, “Working with CRI is a great opportunity for media-savvy law students who envision themselves pursuing a career in film, journalism, human rights law and/or advocacy. Cardozo students have received credit for their work and have had very positive experiences.” Benjamin Ryberg, 3L, co-founder of CRI at Cardozo, encouraged students to email cardozo.cri.chapter@gmail.com or visit the institute’s website, childrensrightsinstitute.org, to get involved.

Co-sponsor of the panel, the Cardozo Advocates for Kids, helps to implement and develop policy and legislation aimed at assisting victims of childhood sexual abuse. Led by Danielle Moriber and Amol Sinha, 3Ls, the organization’s recent efforts have been focused on increasing the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for sex abuse complaints and signing on to amicus briefs in ongoing child abuse litigation throughout the country. For more information, students should email cardozokids@gmail.com.

Closer to home, students are helping women and children in New York City to separate from violent partners through the Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP). The program is run at Cardozo by Cardozo Advocates for Battered Women (CABW), a student-run club that also hosts other activities benefiting women and children throughout the year, like the recent “Condoms and Candy” fundraiser for organizations that combat sexual assault and/or support reproductive health advocacy.

CAP also provides students with opportunities for courtroom experience, offering training and mentoring for would-be advocates of domestic violence victims. In the words of Margaret Whitehead, 3L, CABW student co-coordinator, CAP serves “the dually-important purposes of helping people who desperately need assistance and allowing students to get the invaluable experience of representing clients in a courtroom setting.” CAP-trained students are eligible to go into court and assist a supervising attorney and other students in representing women seeking protection orders. Participants educate victims about the remedies available, assist them with safety planning, help them draft petitions, and argue on their behalf before judges.

CABW holds trainings once a year, usually in the fall, and in March will be seeking new coordinators from the 2012 class. Interested students should send cardozoabw@gmail.com an e-mail.

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