The UNICEF Report: 6-Years On
[6 March 2019] – This month marks 6-years since UNICEF released the report Children in Israeli Military Detention at a press conference held at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. In the report UNICEF concluded that "the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with [Israel’s] military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process”.
Following the release of the report and its 38 recommendations, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs statedthat it would “study the conclusions and work to implement them through on-going cooperation with UNICEF”. In accordance with this commitment the Ministry appointed the then military prosecutor in the West Bank, Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch, as the "focal point for dialogue with UNICEF" and UNICEF undertook to publish periodic updates tracking progress.
In accordance with UNICEF’s undertaking two updates were published by the UN agency in October 2013
and February 2015
. Both updates listed assurances provided by the military authorities to UNICEF relating to improving safeguards for the protection of children and noted a number of positive developments. However, in 2015 UNICEF ultimately concluded that "reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased”.
In 2016, Lt. Col. Hirsch left his post as military prosecutor in the West Bank and took up a consultancy position with NGO Monitor, an organisation with ties to the settler movement. Since 2016, NGO Monitor has conducted a concerted campaign against UNICEF in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the UN agency’s reporting mechanisms.
While UNICEF continues to collect evidence from the field for its database in Jerusalem, no further updates have been published in 4 years. When asked about the absence of updates relating to the ill-treatment of children, UNICEF’s director in Jerusalem, Ms. Genevieve Boutin, stated that UNICEF does not “have any date set to publish a 3rdupdate” in accordance with its earlier undertaking. Although Ms. Boutin has stated that UNICEF continues to report on ill-treatment “through several types of [other] publication[s]”, these contain less than 10 percent of the content of the original updates and lack critical details.
Based on an assessment conducted by MCW, 6-years after the release of the UNICEF report, just one of the UN agency’s 38 recommendations has so far been substantially implemented. Further, the average annual detention rate remains 5 percent higher; the use of blindfolds is up 8 percent; reports of physical violence are up 10 percent; 73 percent of children are denied prompt legal access; and approximately 50 percent of child detainees continue to be forcibly transferred from the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – a practice classified as a war crime under international humanitarian law.
In December 2018, 92 Australian politicians wrote
to Ms. Boutin thanking UNICEF for its important work on the issue of children held in military detention and encouraging the UN agency to resume issuing updates in accordance with its earlier undertaking.