Giving a Voice to the Children of Prisoners: ‘Incarcerated Connection’

MAASTRICHT: The spotlight was on child rights on 17th November as UNU-MERIT, University College Maastricht and the School of Governance hosted a conference to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Focusing on the children of prisoners, the event was inspired by the child and human rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is currently in prison in Iran.

Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer was awarded the 2011 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award. She has been in Evin prison since September 2010 and is sentenced to six years in jail along with a 10 year ban on practising law. Since her arrest, she has had just a handful of few face-to-face meetings with her children.

Incarcerated Connection was held not only in support of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s children, but for all children of inmates. The meeting was opened with a keynote speech by Maria Herczog, a member of the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child.

There followed two panels, one focusing on the challenges and struggles of children of prisoners and the other on support for projects and lessons learnt. Panel members were drawn from academic and research institutions, civil society organizations, and activists from England, Iran, Northern Ireland, Syria and the USA.

Discussions covered various areas concerning children of political and criminal prisoners. The speakers were united in a belief that there is an urgent need for more academic research to explore the needs and struggles of this group of children.  A further recommendation was to embark on more innovative research to identify the economic and social implications of imprisonment and to investigate effective alternatives to prison.

Sepideh Yousefzadeh, PhD fellow, UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance

UN conference in Morocco: Empowering citizens to fight corruption

‘Corruption is personal, not only to me, but to everyone’Carman Louise Lapointe, Under Secretary General for Internal Oversight Services of the United Nations (UN OIOS)

MARRAKECH: With a personal short story from Canada, Carman Lapointe sparked a lively debate among officials, academics and journalists from over 30 countries on how to engage citizens in the fight against corruption in service delivery, and so ensure more effective and accountable development and governance.

Across six sessions and one working group scheduled over two days, 75 participants debated and exchanged the latest and most innovative approaches, technologies, experiences and insights from research and reality in anti-corruption and accountability.

The aim was to produce a joint list of recommendations for the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption which was running in parallel on the floor above us in a convention hall in Marrakech, Morocco.

What was my role?
I was invited by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an international NGO from Stockholm with whom I work on the issue of democratic accountability for improved service delivery. From this conference we expected an opportunity to meet and exchange views with leading academic experts, NGO representatives, policy makers and implementers in the area of anti-corruption and accountability which would inform and inspire our work. Yet the outcome of the workshop was mixed.

Despite the best intentions of the conference organizers, the format did not really showcase technologies and innovative interactive approaches. The agenda was over full, there were too many presenters in each session and timing was too tight, resulting in hardly any time for real interaction and debate. Individual presentations were mostly interesting but sessions as a whole lacked coherence and reference to their described objectives.

Still, the benefits of this kind of meeting are not always found in the official part of the programme. The real value lies in the moments around the main sessions, the moments waiting in line for registration and security checks, at meals and coffee breaks or shuttling between venues.

Fringe benefits
Here the real learning manifests as we bump into each other and start casual conversations that often end up in fascinating discussions in which views, insights,  research findings, experiences,  contact details and even our annoyances, are exchanged.

It was in these moments that I learned about some new and interesting approaches to analysing anti-corruption and democratic accountability, got some useful references and tips on how to involve citizens in e-governance and learned about what it means to fight corruption in one of West Africa’s most unstable countries. Here then I found what I was looking for, and some of these aspects will definitely inspire future work.

Some days later, another time and place, I find myself in a line again. Behind me is a man making a huge fuss; an officer comes forward and the man is taken aside; then clearly visible to those closest to the scene, he takes out his wallet and hands money to the official. He skips the line and is attended to in a separate office. After a few seconds we see him leave with a smile. One thing comes to mind right now: ‘Corruption is personal, it happens not only to me, but to everyone’.

Renée Speijcken, Researcher, UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance