Positive developments in the treatment of minors by Israeli security forces are overshadowed by partial and half-hearted implementation.
By Gerard Horton
In March 2013, UNICEF recommended that all children detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank must be given written information about their rights, including the right to silence and prompt access to a lawyer, at the time of arrest. This followed a finding by the UN agency that the ill-treatment of children detained in the system was “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” In response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that it would “study [the recommendations] and work to implement them through on-going cooperation with UNICEF.”
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Two years on, Military Court Watch has documented a case in which a minor was actually provided with a written document which included information about his legal rights while in custody. However, when the circumstances of the case are considered in greater detail, this development is less than positive and suggests that the military authorities are either unwilling or unable to implement UNICEF’s recommendations in good faith.
According to a testimony provided by the 15-year-old youth from the al-Arroub refugee camp, the military came for him at 2.30 a.m. on April 7. After waking the family and checking ID cards, the youth was bound, blindfolded and taken away. The youth was not informed of his legal rights at this time as recommended by UNICEF. After being transferred on the floor of a military vehicle and physically assaulted, the youth was interrogated on two occasions at the police station in Etzion settlement.
The first interrogation was conducted at 9.00 a.m. by an unidentified individual in civilian clothes. According to the testimony, this individual did not inform the youth of his rights and proceeded to physically assault and verbally abuse the 15 year old in an attempt to obtain a confession. Following the first interrogation the youth was passed on to a second interrogator.
Prior to questioning, the second interrogator provided the youth with a document written in both Arabic and Hebrew. Before the youth could finish reading the document the interrogator asked him to sign it as proof that he had been informed of his legal rights prior to questioning. The youth recalls that the document referred to his right to consult with a lawyer. It may have included information about other rights but the youth was not given the opportunity to read the document in its entirety before it was taken from him. Further, it appears that the document made no mention of the fact that the youth had previously been interrogated without being informed of his rights. Accordingly, any evidentiary use that might be made from this signed document has the potential to be both misleading and deceptive.
Although the use of double interrogations is not new, the provision of written notification of one’s rights whilst in custody appears to be a recent development. The sequence of events in which this occurs, however, suggests an absence of any genuine intention to inform minors of their legal rights in such a manner so as to enable them to be effectively exercised.
In 2014 the military authorities acknowledged that the detention of children in the West Bank had become “especially sensitive” with the potential to “inflict real harm on the legitimacy of Israel’s actions in the West Bank.” However, recent developments suggest that the military authorities are handling this “sensitive” issue as a public relations problem rather than anything more substantive.
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 eight years and is the author of a number of leading reports on the subject.