This month marks four years since a delegation of prominent British lawyers published a report on the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law. The Foreign Office funded report – Children in Military Custody – found undisputed evidence that the military detention system violated at least six articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and two articles under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The delegation, led by Sir Stephen Sedley, a former Court of Appeal judge and Baroness Scotland QC, a former Attorney General, made 40 recommendations including the following:
- Children should not be arrested at night except in extreme and unusual circumstances;
- Parents should be promptly notified of the reasons for arrest and place of detention;
- Children should never be blindfolded or hooded;
- Single plastic hand ties should never be used;
- Children should not be transported on the floor of vehicles;
- Children should be informed of their right to silence at the time of arrest;
- Children should consult with a lawyer prior to interrogation;
- Children should be accompanied by a parent during interrogation;
- The prohibition on violent, threatening or coercive conduct should be strictly observed; and
- All Palestinian children detained under Israeli military law should be held in facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and not in Israel, which constitutes a breach of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Following a review of developments in the system as well as the testimonies of 388 children detained between 2013 and 2016, the evidence indicates that just one of the UK report’s 40 recommendations – the separation of children from adults while in custody – has been substantially implemented. This represents an implementation rate of 2.5 per cent.
Recent evidence collected by MCW (Briefing Note (June 2016)) indicates that: 47 per cent of children continue to be arrested at night (a pilot study to issue summonses in lieu of night arrests appears to have been discontinued in 2016); 62 per cent of parents of children arrested at home are not provided with reasons for the arrest; 82 per cent of children continue to be blindfolded; 76 per cent of children are tied in a manner not in accordance with the military’s own standard operating procedures; 82 per cent of children are transferred on the metal floor of military vehicles; no children are being informed of their right to silence at the time of arrest and only 14 per cent are informed prior to interrogation; 86 per cent of children do not consult with a lawyer prior to interrogation; no children are currently being accompanied by a parent during interrogation; and 60 per cent of children report being subjected to physical violence.
Further, according to the Israeli Prison Service 48 per cent of Palestinian child detainees and 86 per cent of adults continue to be unlawfully transferred and detained in prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. And in what can only be viewed as a clear and unambiguous challenge to the rule of law the military authorities have now informed UNICEF that this policy will not be changed.
In January 2016, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Tobias Ellwood announced to Parliament that the Foreign Office would be funding a follow-up visit by the delegation in February 2016 to report on further progress. Days before the delegation was due to arrive in the region the Foreign Office was informed that no Israeli official was prepared to meet with the delegation and the visit was accordingly cancelled. The delegation issued a statement regarding this development.
After four years MCW is unable to point to any substantial improvement in the treatment of children under Israeli military law: see Comparative Graph – Issues of Concern (2013-2016).