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The UNICEF report - Four years on

[6 March 2017]  – Today marks the fourth anniversary since the publication of the UNICEF report - Children in Israeli Military Detention. Following a review of the system, which included analysing over 400 affidavits collected from detained children, the UN agency concluded that: "The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process." UNICEF also made 38 recommendations based on Israel's legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Israeli military and civilian law and accepted international norms relevant to the treatment of children in custody.

Following the release of the report in March 2013, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would "study the conclusions and work to implement them through on-going co-operation with UNICEF". The Ministry delegated the task of implementing the recommendations to the military prosecutor in the West Bank. During the intervening years there have been a number of legal, procedural and administrative developments in the system relevant to the treatment of children including, but not limited to, the following:
  • A new military order reducing the period of time within which a child must be brought before a judge following arrest;
  • The introduction of a form notifying parents of the reason for a child's arrest and place of detention;
  • Re-issuance of the military's standard operating procedures for the arrest of minors to all military units serving in the West Bank including a reminder of the prohibition against physical and verbal abuse and procedures for restraining children;
  • The introduction of a form notifying children of their legal rights in custody including the right to silence and the right to consult with a lawyer; and
  • The introduction of a pilot scheme to use summonses in lieu of arresting children at night.
Since March 2013, UNICEF has published two updates (Bulletin No. 1 (October 2013) and Bulletin No. 2 (February 2015)) highlighting developments and progress made in implementing the report's 38 recommendations. Whilst noting some progress in the most recent Bulletin, UNICEF also observed that: "reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014."
As part of an ongoing monitoring programme, Military Court Watch (MCW) has collected over 450 testimonies from children detained in the system since the publication of the UNICEF report. This evidence has been analysed across 13 issues of concern and presented in a Comparative Graph (2013-2016). The evidence indicates that in 2016:
  • 51% of children continue to report being arrested at night - the same percentage as in 2013;
  • 1% of children report being issued with summonses;
  • 92% of children report being tied upon arrest of which 65% were restrained in a manner contrary to the military's own standard operating procedures;
  • 83% of children continue to report being blindfolded - a practice UNICEF recommended should be prohibited in all circumstances involving children;
  • 60% of children report experiencing some form of physical abuse during arrest, transfer and/or interrogation;
  • 87% of children report not being informed of their right to silence under military law; and
  • 90% of children continue to be denied access to a lawyer prior to interrogation.
Also during the intervening four years child detention rates have increased by 98%; 61% of parents report not being notified of the reasons for arrest or place of detention in cases where children were arrested from home; the practice of detaining children without charge or trial in administrative detention has been re-introduced following a four-year hiatus; 50% of children continue to be unlawfully transferred out of the West Bank to detention facilities inside Israel contrary to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; and the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has not provided updated prison statistics on the number of children held in its facilities in accordance with an outstanding Freedom of Information application since August 2016.
Based on the most recent assessment of the evidence, reports of ill-treatment and the denial of basic legal rights still appear to be "widespread, systematic and institutionalised" four years after the release of the UNICEF report.
The military prosecutor delegated with the task of implementing the UNICEF recommendations by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has now retired from his post. MCW will continue to monitor developments.