A United Nations Children’s Fund report on the plight of Palestinian children detained by Israeli security forces found that procedures are woefully inadequate and contravene basic international children’s rights.
The report, published on Wednesday, concluded that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
One of the report’s primary criticisms is the inadequacy of the Israeli miiltary court system for processing Palestinian juvenile detainees in an appropriate manner for their age.
“It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” the report summarized.
UNICEF estimated that 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 — an average of two children each day.
The organization noted that treatment inconsistent with child rights includes shackling of children, denial of bail and imposition of custodial sentences, and transfer of children outside Palestinian-administered territory to serve their sentences inside Israel.
“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,” UNICEF said.
“The pattern of ill-treatment includes the arrests of children at their homes between midnight and 5:00 am by heavily armed soldiers,” the report said. “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.”
UNICEF said the report was based on over 400 cases of detention and ill-treatment that have been documented since 2009.
“All children prosecuted for offences they allegedly committed should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which provide them with special protection,” UNICEF wrote. “Most of these protections are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
The paper listed 38 recommendations that Israeli authorities should embrace to improve the handling of juvenile cases. Among the recommendations were finding alternatives to detention, ensuring that the best interests of the child are the primary consideration, and that under no circumstances should a child be held in solitary confinement.
However, the report conceded that an April 2010 announcement by Israeli military officials of changes to hand-tying procedures is “a positive development.” Likewise, the introduction of a military order that requires police to notify parents when their children have been arrested and to inform children of their right to consult a lawyer was considered a constructive step.
The Foreign Ministry responded to the UNICEF report shortly after its publication, saying “it is important to note that UNICEF has welcomed improvements over the years in the treatment of Palestinian minors, both in detention and in the legal proceedings in the Israeli military judicial system.”
“Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect.”
The Foreign Ministry said Israel participated in processing the material that served to draft the paper and worked in collaboration with the UNICEF team.
“Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IDF held working sessions with UNICEF, with the common goal of improving issues related to the subject matter of the report,” the ministry said, and noted that this year Israel has joined the UNICEF board.