UNICEF: – Clear violation of UN children’s convention
International humanitarian organizations express strong reaction to Australia’s undercover police operation.
An Australian police operation revealed by VG on Saturday is «a clear violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, even though the police’s intention is to prevent new offenses in the long run,» says Ivar Stokkereit, a legal adviser to the United Nations Children’s Fund in Norway (UNICEF).
VG reported that Australian police have secretly operated the world’s largest online child sexual abuse forum for 11 months.
By pretending to be the forum’s original administrators, the Task Force Argos police unit appears to have collected extensive information on abusers and paedophiles in a number of countries.
The police themselves shared images of child abuse on the website as part of their undercover operation. On 13 September they closed the site.
Read more about: The downloaders
– Clear violation of UN convention
UNICEF, the world’s largest children’s support organization, views the tactic employed by Australia’s police as a breach of children’s rights.
– If police operation of the website means that pictures are being spread and new abuse is taking place, it’s a clear violation the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, even though the police’s intention is to prevent new offenses in the long run, says UNICEFs Norwegian legal adviser Ivar Stokkereit.
He noted that the case involves children that the state and the police have a special responsibility to protect.
– We would advise against the police using children as an investigative tool to expose abusers, and we encourage the police to use other methods to expose the perpetrators without having new acts of abuse take place, Stokkereit says.
The UN children’s convention makes it clear that children must not be put at risk of abuse, according to UNICEF’s legal adviser. No exception is provided for actions intended to prevent new offenses in the long term.
– Unacceptable under human rights law
Amnesty International agrees with UNICEF.
– This is a disproportionately large infringement of children’s rights, says Patricia Kaatee, a political adviser for the human rights organization.
Combating paedophile networks is important, commendable work, she says, but police tactics in clandestine operations must not violate international human rights.
– It’s possible to limit the rights of a group if that is necessary to achieve a legitimate goal and does not involve a disproportionately large infringement, Kaatee tells VG.
– In our view, if the police try to expose a paedophile network by actively sharing images of abuse, it would disproportionately impact the rights of children already subjected to serious violations of their basic human rights.
According to Amnesty International, there is a big difference between monitoring a network and actively sharing abuse pictures. It claims the Australian police operation contravened Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 3 of International Labour Organization Convention No. 182.
– It is unacceptable from a human rights perspective to violate a child’s rights on grounds that the violation protects another child. The police therefore should not actively share photos that show children being subjected to sexual abuse, even if the reason is to protect other children from sexual abuse. And nobody knows whether the police’s forwarding of pictures could lead to additional acts of abuse, says Kaatee.
This map shows: 95, 000 downloaders of child abuse pictures
– A good initiative
The international organization ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) sees the matter differently. Its view is that Task Force Argos took a proactive approach to stopping sexual exploitation of children.
– ECPAT welcomes any proactive approaches to ending the terrible crime of the sexual exploitation of children, says Damien Keane, ECPAT’s international communications director.
–Task Force Argos is globally recognized as a leader in this area. Any law enforcement operation of this nature must be victim focused. And the benefit of catching offenders must be carefully considered with the long-term interests of victims.
Keane says commenting on the ethics of the Australian police method is difficult without knowing all the operational details.
– However, the potential benefit of carrying out an operation like this is significant. Every offender caught could mean multiple future victims protected from abuse. The identification of registered users could lead to the capture of more offenders in the future. And the operation will have led to the capture and seizure of multiple series of abuse images – which could contribute to recognizing, locating and hopefully rescuing the unidentified child victims portrayed in the material, Keane says.
ECPAT serves as an adviser to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
VG also sought comment from Save the Children International, but the organization declined to comment.
– Using it for good
Jon Rouse, head of Task Force Argos, has been informed of the reactions from Unicef and Amnesty, but has not given any direct response to these. However, in earlier interviews with VG he has told about their decision to publish child abuse images.
– We are not producing child exploitation material. We are taking it, and under curtain rules, we are using it for good. I can’t fix what happened to the child in that picture, but I can use that fact that the picture has been circulating the globe for the last 10-15 years for some good: To stop the further abuse of a child, Rouse says.
VG has also contacted the police minister in Queensland, Australia. He has not yet responded to VG's request.
Carissa Hessick, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, is among those criticizing the sharing of photos by police. While noting with approval that the police avoid using images never before shared, she said the Australian task force’s use of previously shared images sheds light on the argument that «any and all sharing» of such pictures equates to abuse.
– It sounds like the police tell one story about how damaging the images are when others share them, and another story when the police share them. That’s a kind of hypocrisy I really don’t like.
Inger Marie Sunde, a researcher at the Norwegian Police University College, endorses the view that the operation violated children’s rights.
– You must not use children as a means of catching criminals. Under human rights law, children have a right to avoid publicity. But if the sharing is done in a context where it’s important to revealing the identity of abusers, I think these are defensible violations, Sunde says.
But she emphasizes that the police cannot charge people with downloading the images that Task Force Argos itself shared.
– That would be the same as provocation, which is not permissible.
Read the full story: How VG revealed the undercover operation