Lawyers' report indicts Israel over treatment of child prisoners

June 27, 2012
Sarah Benton

Palestinians march in Jerusaalem carrying pictures of their children imprisoned in Israeli jails. Demotix.

UK ready to take on Israel over fate of children clapped in irons

Report funded by Foreign Office details claims of routine abuse for Palestinian youths

Terri Judd, The Independent
June 27, 2012

The Foreign Office revealed last night that it would be challenging the Israelis over their treatment of Palestinian children after a report by a delegation of senior British lawyers revealed unconscionable practices, such as hooding and the use of leg irons.

In the first investigation of its kind, a team of nine senior legal figures examined how Palestinians as young as 12 were treated when arrested. Their shocking report Children in Military Custody details claims that youngsters are dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, have their wrists bound behind their backs, and are blindfolded and made to kneel or lie face down in military vehicles.

Children from the West Bank are held in conditions that could amount to torture, such as solitary confinement, with little or no access to their parents. They can be forced to stay awake before being verbally as well as physically abused and coerced into signing confessions they cannot read.

The team – led by Sir Stephen Sedley, a former Court of Appeal judge – heard that “every Palestinian child is treated like a potential terrorist”. In a damning conclusion, the report points out repeated breaches of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“We were sitting in court and saw a section of a preliminary hearing when a very young looking child, a boy, was brought in wearing a brown uniform with leg irons on. We were shocked by that. This was a situation where we had been invited into the military courts for briefings from senior judges,” explained one of the report’s authors, human rights barrister Greg Davies. “To hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture,” the report said. Last night the Foreign Office, which backed the report, said it would be taking up the claims with the Israeli authorities:

“The UK government has had long-standing concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, and as a result decided to fund this independent report. While recognising that some positive recent steps have been made by the Israeli authorities, we share many of the report’s concerns, and will continue to lobby for further improvements.”

While the legal team said it was in no position to prove the truth of the claims of cruelty made repeatedly by Palestinian children, but denied by the Israeli authorities – which offered unprecedented access to the delegation – it pointed to the disparity in the law.

Israeli children must have access to a lawyer within 48 hours and cannot be imprisoned under the age of 14. But Palestinian children as young as 12 are jailed and can be kept for three months without legal representation. Between 500 and 700 are jailed each year.

“The other shocking thing is they are incarcerated in breach of many conventions. The practical effect is parents can’t get there because they can’t get permits,” said Marianna Hildyard QC.

While the investigating team welcomed improvements introduced by the Israeli authorities, both Palestinian and Israeli lawyers on the ground insisted much of it was “rhetoric ra ther than real change”.

Last night, Israeli Embassy spokesperson Amir Ofek said the country appreciated the efforts of the delegation but blamed Palestinians who “glorify terrorism”. He said: “As a result [children] are frequently involved in lethal acts. With the Palestinian Authority unable or unwilling to meet its obligation to investigate and prosecute these offences, Israel has no choice but to do so itself.

“Israel notes the detailed recommendations in the report and will study them closely as part of its ongoing efforts to find the most appropriate balance between preventing violence and treating perpetrators with humanity.”

The report details claims children are dragged from their beds, bound and blindfolded [sic, abrupt ending]

Children in Military Custody

A report written by a delegation of British lawyers on the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law
Executive Summary
June 2012

Terms of Reference
1. The delegation’s terms of reference were to undertake an evaluative analysis of Israeli military law and practice as they affect Palestinian children in the West Bank by reference to the standards of international law and international children’s rights. The terms of reference did not include the legality of the occupation. Nor did the terms of reference include the impact of the occupation on the welfare and rights of children outside the legal process.

2. The questions which concern us are what are the differences in the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children in law or in practice and is there any justification for such differences.

Guiding Principles
3. First, Israel, as the Occupying Power in the West Bank, carries its international human rights obligations with it.

4. Secondly, the Israeli domestic juvenile justice system in our view conforms substantially to the standards required by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and adopted in most of the so-called ‘developed world’.

5. Thirdly, under international law, no state is entitled to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction on the basis of their race or nationality. Unequal or differential justice is not justice.

Conflicting Accounts
6. Although we received radically conflicting accounts, which we have recorded in detail, of how Palestinian children are treated by Israeli forces, we have not found it necessary to choose between them. This is because the legal differentials between Palestinian and Israeli children, which we are concerned with, are a matter of record. We do, however, touch on the legal implications if some of the allegations made against Israel were to be true.

7. On the basis solely of legal differentials, we have concluded that Israel is in breach of articles 2 (discrimination), 3 (child’s best interests), 37(b) (premature resort to detention), (c) (non-separation from adults), (d) (prompt access to lawyers), and 40 (use of shackles) of the UNCRC. Transportation of child prisoners into Israel is in breach of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Failure to translate Military Order 1676 from Hebrew is a violation of article 65 of the same convention.

8. If the manner of arrest and detention is to any significant extent that which was described to us by the UN, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian children, Israel will also be in breach of the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in article 37(a) of the UNCRC. With regard to what is set out in paragraph 101 of our report, we record our view that to hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture in breach not only of article 37(a) but also of other well-known international instruments.

9. Forty specific recommendations are set out in the report. They cover areas of potential improvement in relation to arrest, interrogation, bail hearings, plea bargains, trial, sentencing, detention, complaints and monitoring.

10. Of our general recommendations, we would highlight these:

11. International law, international humanitarian law and the UNCRC apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and therefore should be fully and effectively implemented.

12. The international legal principle of the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by the military, police, public or private welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies.

13. Israel should not discriminate between those children over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction. Military law and public administration should deal with Palestinian children on an equal footing with Israeli children.

Greg Davies
Jayne Harrill
Marianna Hildyard QC
Judy Khan QC
Jude Lanchin
Marc Mason
Frances Oldham QC
The Rt Hon the Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal QC
The Rt Hon Sir Stephen Sedley

For the full report, click here
For a report from Defence for Children International, Palestine Section, on the illegal transfer of Palestinian children to prisons inside Israeli, click here

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