A UNICEF report indicates a measurable deterioration in the treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention in the months since the UN organization recommended serious changes.
By Gerard Horton
In March 2013, UNICEF published a report – Children in Israeli Military Detention. The report’s main finding was that the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process.
In response to these findings, the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated it would study the conclusions and work to implement the 38 recommendations through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF.
Since the publication of the report in March, UNICEF has continued to monitor the treatment of children through the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Grave Child Rights Violations. Pursuant to this mechanism, UNICEF has collected 19 affidavits from children detained between April and June 2013. Following an analysis of these affidavits, UNICEF found that in 100 percent of cases boys reported being painfully tied and 84 percent said they were blindfolded. Without exception, every boy reported being subjected to physical violence, including beatings to the head and face or being hit with metal objects.
According to UNICEF, in no case were boys informed that they had a right to consult with a lawyer before being interrogated and no child was accompanied by a parent during questioning – rights generally afforded to Israeli children living in the settlements – a situation that amounts to unlawful discrimination. UNICEF’s findings also accords with evidence collected by Military Court Watch which suggests that very few children are being informed of their right to silence prior to interrogation.
Although based on a relatively small sample, the data released by UNICEF indicates a measurable deterioration in the treatment of children held in Israeli military detention in the three months following the release of the report. This point was made in a public statement issued by Military Court Watch (UNICEF data indicates deteriorating situation for child detainees) and is confirmed by testimonies collected during the same period, including one case in which a 15-year-old boy alleges that he was tasered while being interrogated in the police station in the Kiryat Arba settlement. In a further sign that little progress of any substance has been made since the publication of the UNICEF report, the Israeli Prison Service continues to report that an average of over 50 percent of Palestinian children are being transferred and held in prisons inside Israel, in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
While every effort should be made to ensure the implementation of all 38 UNICEF recommendations, including the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, six core recommendations would have an immediate transformative effect and should be implemented as a matter of urgency:
1. Children should only be arrested during daylight hours except in rare and exceptional circumstances.
2. All children and their legal guardian should be provided with a written statement in Arabic informing them of their full legal rights in custody. This statement must be provided at the time of arrest, or as soon as is feasibly possible, but prior to questioning.
3. All children must be given the opportunity to consult with a lawyer of their choice prior to questioning.
4. All children must be accompanied by a family member throughout their questioning.
5. Every interrogation must be audio-visually recorded and a copy of the tape must be provided to the defense prior to the first hearing.
6. Breach of any of the above recommendations should result in the discontinuation of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release.
Gerard Horton is a lawyer and co-founder of Military Court Watch. Gerard has worked on the issue of children prosecuted in the Israeli military courts for the past six years and is the author of a number of leading reports on the subject.
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