Fear, pain and broken rights: children in IDF custody

March 12, 2013
Sarah Benton

The UN media release about UNICEF’s “Children in Israeli Military Detention” is followed by excerpts from the report. Links to some of the coverage are given at the end.

Israeli soldiers arrest a child during the weekly demonstration in Kfer Qaddum, West Bank, January 25, 2013. This child was later released. Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org

Palestinian children need better protection in Israeli military detention – UNICEF

Media release, UN News Centre
March 06, 2013

Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military are subject to ill-treatment that violates international laws, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, as it issued recommendations to improve the protection of minors.

“Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized,” according to a briefing paper prepared by the agency.

According to figures cited in Children in Israeli military detention: observations and recommendations, approximately 700 Palestinian children each year between the ages of 12 and 17 are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents.

In the past 10 years, some 7,000 children – the majority of them boys – were held, an average of two children each day.

Based on interviews with some of these minors, as well as with Israeli and Palestinian lawyers, and reviews of cases, UNICEF concluded that there appears to be a pattern of ill-treatment during the arrest, transfer and interrogation of child detainees.

The 22-page report cites examples of arrests of children at their homes between midnight and 5:00 am by heavily armed soldiers, as well as physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, and interrogation using physical violence and threats.

The paper also cites “treatment inconsistent with child rights,” including shackling minors during court appearances and incarcerating them in Israel, which isolates them from their families and interrupts their studies.

Earlier this month, an independent UN expert urged Israel to end its “appalling and unlawful treatment of Palestinian detainees” after three men went on hunger strike to protest their conditions.

In today’s report, UNICEF recommends a series of policy changes that prevent breaches of international laws, as well as safeguarding authorities from false allegations of wrongdoing.

Among its recommendations, UNICEF said that “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

The report also noted some improvements already made, such as raising the age of adulthood for Palestinian children from 16 to 18.

Children in Israeli Military Detention

March 2013

EXCERPT. Sections E and F.
E. Treatment of children in the military detention system

This section analyses the treatment of children during four critical phases of the military detention process: the arrest, the transfer to an interrogation site, the interrogation itself and finally the hearing. The findings are based on UNICEF interviews with children.

Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17, the great majority of them boys, are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents. In the past 10 years, an estimated 7,000 children have been detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned within the Israeli military justice system – an average of two children each day.

The analysis of the cases monitored by UNICEF identified examples of practices that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture.

What amounts to ill–treatment depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. However, the common experience of many children is being aggressively wakened  in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear. Few children are informed of their right to legal counsel.

The arrest
Many children are arrested in the middle of the night, awakened at their homes by heavily armed soldiers. Some children are arrested in the streets near their homes, near bypass roads used by Israeli settlers or at army checkpoints inside the West Bank. Many of the children arrested at home wake up to the frightening sound of soldiers banging loudly on their front door and shouting instructions for the family to leave the house.

For some of the children, what follows is a chaotic and frightening scene, in which furniture and windows are sometimes broken, accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members are forced to stand outside in their night clothes as the accused child is forcibly removed from the home and taken away with vague
explanations such as “he is coming with us and we will return him later”, or simply that the child is “wanted”. Few children or parents are informed as to where the child is being taken, why or for how long.

The transfer to the interrogation site
Once a child has been identified, he or she is hand-tied and blindfolded and led to a waiting military vehicle for transfer to an interrogation site. Children are often prevented from saying goodbye to their parents and from putting on appropriate clothing for the journey. When the child is not transferred directly to an interrogation centre, he is often taken to another location, frequently a settlement in the West Bank, where he may wait until after daybreak before continuing the trip to the interrogation centre.

Many children are subjected to ill-treatment during the journey to the interrogation centre. Some endure physical or verbal abuse; some suffer from painful restraints or from being forced to lie on the hard floor of the vehicle. The transfer process can take many hours and often includes intermediate stops at settlements or military bases where further ill-treatment is reported, including in some cases prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of water, food or toilet facilities.

During these intermediate stops, many children are brought before medical staff and asked a series of general questions about their health. The blindfold is usually removed, but the child’s hands remain tied. Very few children are physically examined. Some children report informing the doctor about their ill-treatment, but
there is little evidence that these medical personnel provide medical attention even when the children have marks on their bodies from beatings or from the plastic ties.

After this medical interview, which lasts about 10 minutes, the blindfold is replaced before the child is taken outside. The children’s journey from the place of arrest to the interrogation site can take anywhere from one hour to an entire day.

Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age.”
Article 37(c), Convention on the Rights of the Child

The interrogation
The most common sites for interrogation of children from the West Bank have been the police stations in the
settlements of Gush Etzion and Ari’el, as well as Ofer Prison and Huwwara Interrogation Centre. In a few cases, the children have been transferred to Al Mascobiyya Interrogation Centre in Jerusalem or Al Jalame Interrogation Centre, near Haifa in Israel. The children are interrogated soon after their arrival. The children are questioned by men dressed in civilian clothes or military uniforms, or sometimes in Israeli police uniforms. No child has been accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation, despite article 37(d) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that: “Every child deprived of his or her liberty
shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance.”

The children are rarely informed of their rights, particularly the right against selfincrimination, despite another requirement in the same article stating that every child deprived of liberty shall have “the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial
authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.” There is no independent oversight of the interrogation process.

The absence of independent oversight of the interrogation process is significant, because third-party scrutiny of the methods of interrogation can be an effective measure to limit the use of ill-treatment and other coercive techniques during questioning. This oversight can be provided by having the child’s lawyer and family
member present during questioning and by making an audio-visual recording of the proceedings. Recording the proceedings, implemented in a number of jurisdictions (including the Israeli civilian legal system in certain circumstances) provides some measure of protection to the detainee against ill-treatment. It also protects the
interrogator against false allegations of wrongdoing.

The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess. Children are restrained during the interrogation, in some cases to the chair they are sitting on. This sometimes continues for extended periods of time, resulting in pain to their hands, back and legs. Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member.

Most children confess at the end of the interrogation. The interrogator prints out some forms and orders the child to sign them, though the child often lacks a proper understanding of their contents. In most cases the forms are in Hebrew, which the overwhelming majority of Palestinian children do not understand.

“In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality … Not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.”
Article 14(3), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Some children have been held in solitary confinement, for a period ranging from two days up to one month before the court hearing as well as after sentencing. (The judge has the authority to extend the initial four-day period to one month, and then to further extend it up to a maximum of 90 days.) The effects of solitary confinement on a detainee were considered by the Special Rapporteur on Torture in a 2008 report to the General Assembly:

The weight of accumulated evidence to date points to the serious and adverse health effects of the use of solitary confinement: from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and mental illness. The key adverse factor of solitary confinement is that socially and psychologically meaningful contact is reduced to the absolute minimum, to a point that is insufficient for most detainees to remain mentally well-functioning. Moreover, the effects of solitary confinement on pre-trial detainees may be worse than for other detainees in isolation, given the perceived uncertainty of the length of detention and the potential for its use to extract information or confessions. Pre-trial detainees in solitary confinement have an increased rate of suicide and self-mutilation within the first two weeks of solitary confinement.

The detrimental impact of solitary confinement on the psychological well-being of a child has prompted the Committee on the Rights of the Child to advise strict prohibition of such treatment, a call echoed by the Special Rapporteur on Torture in a report to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2011.

The hearing and the sentence
After the interrogation children are generally brought before a military court for a hearing. Children enter the courtroom in leg chains and shackles, wearing prison uniforms. This is in contravention of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which stipulate that chains and irons shall never be used, and other forms of restraint should only be used in certain limited circumstances, including “as a precaution against escape during transfer, provided that they shall be removed when the prisoner appears before a judicial or administrative body” and “such instruments must not be applied for any longer time than is strictly necessary.”

Most children see their lawyers for the first time when they are brought to the court. Not all lawyers have easy access to the applicable military orders as they are not always made available in Arabic, as is required under international law. Further, some Israeli criminal legislation, which also applies in the military courts, has never been translated into Arabic. This failure to make the applicable laws (as amended) and decisions of the courts readily available in Arabic places Palestinian defence lawyers at a distinct disadvantage and jeopardizes an accused child’s chances of receiving a fair trial.

A military court judge is authorized to extend the initial four-day period of detention for a period not exceeding 30 days. Each time the period of detention expires, the judge can extend it again, up to a maximum of 188 days, with a military judge reviewing the detention every 30 days. These provisions are not in line with the international standard requiring that a child be brought before a judge within the first 24 hours after arrest, with a review every two weeks thereafter.

In most cases bail is denied. This directly contravenes article 37(b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that deprivation of liberty be used “only as a measure of last resort…” The child is then ordered to remain in custody until the end of the legal proceedings. In the majority of cases, the principal evidence against the child is the child’s own confession, in most cases extracted under duress during the interrogation.

Sometimes the child is implicated in a confession given by another child. In some cases the children unknowingly sign a ‘confession’, written in Hebrew (which most Palestinian children do not understand), after being advised that ‘confessing’ is their only way out of the military detention system. Although many children reported providing confessions as a result of ill-treatment, few raise this matter before the court for fear that their complaints would lead to harsher sentences, even though international law prohibits the use of evidence obtained under duress by a court.

Ultimately, almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of their pretrial detention. Pleading guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow children to defend themselves.

Two of the three prisons run by the Israel Prison Service, where the majority of Palestinian children serve their sentences, are located inside Israel.The transfer of Palestinian children to prisons inside Israel contravenes article 76 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (hereinafter
“Fourth Geneva Convention”). It provides that “protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.”

In practical terms, this makes family visits difficult, and in some cases impossible, due to regulations that restrict Palestinians with West Bank ID cards from travelling inside Israel and to the length of time it takes to issue a permit. This contravenes article 37(c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that a child “shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances”. Incarcerating children has lasting harmful effects. By cutting them off from their families, sometimes for months, it causes emotional distress. It also interrupts their access to education, further contravening their rights. For these reasons children in conflict with the law should be granted bail whenever possible. It bears repeating, as noted in article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that detention of a child shall be used only “as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.

F. Conclusions
Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized. This conclusion is based on the repeated allegations about such treatment over the past 10 years and the volume, consistency and persistence of these allegations. The review of cases documented through the monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave child rights violations, as well as interviews conducted by UNICEF with Israeli and Palestinian lawyers and Palestinian children, also support this conclusion.

The pattern of ill-treatment includes the arrests of children at their homes between midnight and 5:00 am by heavily armed soldiers; the practice of blindfolding children and tying their hands with plastic ties; physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, including the use of painful restraints; lack of access to water, food, toilet facilities and medical care; interrogation using physical violence and threats; coerced confessions; and lack of access to lawyers or family members during interrogation.

Treatment inconsistent with child rights continues during court appearances, including shackling of children; denial of bail and imposition of custodial sentences; and transfer of children outside occupied Palestinian territory to serve their sentences inside Israel. The incarceration isolates them from their families and interrupts their studies. These practices are in violation of international law that protects all children against ill-treatment when in contact with law enforcement, military and judicial institutions.

The April 2010 announcement by Israeli military officials of changes to the hand-tying procedure is a positive development. So too is military order 1676 (September 2011), which introduced requirements for the police (though not the army) to notify parents about the arrest of their children and to inform children that they have the right to consult a lawyer. Further measures should be introduced to ensure the protection of children under military detention and compliance of the system with international norms and regulations, as well as to dissipate false allegations of misconduct by the authorities.

Other reports
Reuters:Israel mistreats Palestinian children in custody: UNICEF
Al Jazeera: Israel accused of abusing detained children 
Gideon Levy Ha’aretz: UNICEF isn’t anti-Semitic

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