A United Nations (UN) rights body has declared that Israel’s imprisonment of a Palestinian child without charge or trial constitutes arbitrary detention.
The case of 16-year-old Hamza Hammad was included in 21 opinions released yesterday by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, following its session in Geneva in August. The opinions concern 58 individuals in detention in 17 countries, including the DRC, Iran, Egypt and China.
Hammad was detained without charge or trial in February of this year, with his administrative detention renewed by the Israeli military on three occasions. The Israeli government was asked on 16 June by the Working Group to address the case, but never replied.
According to the Working Group, Israel’s “non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial and to liberty and security…in this case is of such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty of the minor an arbitrary character.”
As recounted by the Working Group, on 28 February, Hammad was taken from his home by Israeli occupation forces during a violent night raid of his family home in Silwad. The officer in charge of the operation reportedly told the mother “that her son should be in prison since his father killed a number of soldiers” (Moayyad Hammad received seven life sentences in 2003).
A six-month administrative detention order – no charge or trial – was issued by Israel’s military commander of the West Bank, dated from 28 February until 27 August. The Israeli military claimed Hammad “was active in an illegal organisation and that he participated in activities, including of a military nature, affiliated with the same organisation.”
On 9 March, a military judge confirmed the detention order but reduced it to four months, claiming that the child posed a “threat to the security of the State”. On 24 June, the detention order was extended for a further four months. Hammad’s legal counsel has not been “permitted to see any of the alleged evidence against the minor and had no means of effectively challenging his detention.”
In its deliberations, the Working Group noted that while Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention permits an Occupying Power to subject an individual to internment (administrative detention), such a measure may not be used purely for “interrogation or intelligence gathering”. Nor can it be “used to circumvent the procedural rights of a person suspected in committing a criminal offence.”
The Working Group also affirmed its agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross, in that “the review of lawfulness of internment must be carried out by an independent and impartial body.” Israeli military tribunals, however, “are not independent and impartial”, consisting “of military personnel who are subject to military discipline and dependent on superiors for promotion.”
The opinion also refers to a 2013 UNICEF report, which found that around 700 Palestinian children aged 12-17 are “arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents” per year, an average of “two children each day” for the “past 10 years”.
The UN Working Group has a mandate to “investigate allegations of individuals being deprived of their liberty in an arbitrary way or inconsistently with international human rights standards, and to recommend remedies such as release from detention and compensation, when appropriate.”
The full report on Hammad’s case can be read here.