As the occupying power of the Palestinian territories, and signatory to the 4th Geneva Convention, Israel is under a number of legal obligations with regards to prisoners. These include:
- Not detaining prisoners outside the territory under occupation
- Not subjecting prisoners to torture or coercion
- Not sentencing prisoners without a proper trial, which includes the right to present evidence, call witnesses and be represented by a lawyer who can visit them freely.
Israel is in violation of many of these obligations, currently holding about 4,500 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Military Detention of Children
Under international human rights law, Israel – as the occupying power – has a responsibility for the safety, welfare and rights of Palestinians living in the oPt. Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children is a long-standing violation of human rights and involves widespread and systematic violations of international law. Israel is the only nation to automatically and systematically prosecute children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental due process guarantees. Around 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are arrested, detained and prosecuted in Israel’s military detention system each year. The majority of children are detained in the middle of the night by Israeli forces and then arrive several hours later at a detention centre alone, sleep deprived and scared. Subsequent interrogations tend to be coercive and have been reported to include a variety of verbal abuse, threats and physical violence.
Testimony from such children has been collected by Military Court Watch. The evidence from those testimonies indicates that children have been subject to: night arrests, hand tying, blindfolding, transfer on the floor of a military vehicle, physical abuse, threats, verbal abuse, strip searching, and solitary confinement. The evidence also suggests that 96% of children were not accompanied by a parent, 81% had no access to lawyer and 77% report being shown or made to sign documentation in Hebrew rather than Arabic.
The Israeli government has been resistant to any change in the way they conduct these arrests and treat Palestinian children. In 2012, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned and published the ‘Children in Military Custody’ Report undertaken by a number of UK lawyers. The report found that Israel was in breach of at least eight articles under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The report made 43 recommendations.
In 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report expressed concerns that recommendations it had made to Israel in 2002 and 2010 had been fully disregarded.
In 2013, UNICEF published a report – Children in Israeli Military Detention – which found that “the ill treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.” This report made 38 recommendations to the Israeli government.
The vast majority of all these recommendations from different bodies remain unfulfilled, including those of the UK Government.
As a bare minimum, the following standards should be followed and adhered to:
- No more night arrests unless in exceptional circumstances.
- Written statements and notices in Arabic for children and families.
- Lawyer and/or family member should be present at all times.
- Audio-visual recording of interrogations.
- Children should not be transferred out of Palestinian territory.
- Children must not be subjected to violence, threats or painful restraint measures.
- All credible allegations of ill-treatment and torture should be thoroughly and impartially investigated.
- Equal treatment of Palestinian and Israeli children.