The UNICEF Report - 9 years on
[31 March 2022] – In 2013 UNICEF published the report - Children in Israeli Military Detention – following a review of Israel's military detention system including over 400 affidavits. After considering the treatment of children from the time of their arrest, transfer to interrogation centres, prosecution in military courts and ultimate incarceration, 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 stated that it would work to implement the recommendations through on-going cooperation with UNICEF. UNICEF undertook to continue monitoring the situation and to publish periodic updates reviewing progress made in implementing the report’s recommendations. In accordance with this undertaking UNICEF published progress reports in October 2013 and February 2015. No further progress reports have been published by UNICEF.
Based on nearly 950 testimonies collected by Military Court Watch since the publication of the report, 97 percent of UNICEF’s recommendations remain substantially unimplemented and ill-treatment still appears to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalized” throughout the process. While there have been some positive developments during the intervening 9-years, these have been insufficient to significantly improve the underlying characteristics of the system observed by UNICEF in 2013.
The following examples are provided by way of illustration (see also Comparative Graph – Issues of Concern (2013-2021)).
Night arrests – UNICEF recommended that children should only be arrested during daytime hours. This followed evidence that the majority of children were being arrested at night in terrifying military raids on their homes. In 2013, 51 percent of children reported being arrested at night. Night arrests have increased and are currently occurring in 55 percent of cases. A pilot scheme to issue summonses in lieu of night arrests is now largely defunct and the military authorities have confirmed that no records were kept to enable an assessment of the scheme.
Notification of arrest – UNICEF recommended that all children be notified of the reasons for arrest, at the time of arrest, and the child’s legal guardian be provided with a written statement in Arabic informing them of their legal rights. In April 2013 the military authorities assured UNICEF that a form would be provided in every case. Currently, 70 percent of children arrested from home are not provided with written reasons for arrest and in no cases are parents being provided with information about their child’s legal rights. In cases where documents are provided, limited information about the arrest is handwritten in Hebrew in 90 percent of cases.
Hand ties and blindfolds – UNICEF recommended that the use of single plastic hand ties and blindfolds should be prohibited in all circumstances involving children. This followed evidence that plastic hand ties were frequently painful and cause injury. In 2013, 96 percent of children reported being restrained with plastic ties and 81 percent blindfolded. Currently hand ties are being used in 95 percent of cases while the use of blindfolds has risen to 87 percent. The military's own regulations for the use of restraints are being ignored in 88 percent of cases.
Physical violence and threats – UNICEF re-stated the prohibition against physical violence and repeated guidance provided by the UN Committee Against Torture of prohibited practices, including: use of painful restraints and hooding; kicking, punching and beating with implements; and the use of threats. In 2013, UNICEF found that 60 percent of children reported physical violence and 47 percent were threatened. Currently, 73 percent of children report experiencing physical violence, including punching and kicking, and 67 percent report being threatened.
Solitary confinement - UNICEF recommended that in no circumstances whatsoever should a child be held in solitary confinement. In 2013, this practice was being used by the military authorities on children in just under 4 percent of cases. Currently, the use of solitary confinement on children as part of the interrogation process has spiked alarmingly and is currently being utilized in 50 percent of cases.[i] It should be noted that the general consensus is that the use of solitary confinement on children violates the prohibition against torture and frequently leads to self-harm and suicide attempts.
Legal rights – UNICEF recommended that children should only be questioned in the presence of a lawyer and family member after being informed of their right to silence. While no child is currently questioned in the presence of a lawyer, 72 percent of children continue to be denied access to a lawyer prior to interrogation and 86 percent report not being informed of their right to silence. No children are currently being questioned in the presence of a parent. In cases where a child does have access to a lawyer, this usually amounts to a 60 second phone call with an interrogator listening in on speaker phone.
Forcible transfer – UNICEF recommended that “in accordance with international law, all Palestinian children detained in the Israeli military detention system shall be held in facilities located in the occupied Palestinian territory”. This recommendation is based on the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to the Israeli Prison Service, 53 percent of Palestinian child detainees were transferred in 2013 rising to 64 percent in 2021. It should be recalled that in 2014 Western Democracies imposed targeted sanctions on Russia for, inter alia, transferring Ukrainian prisoners from Crimea to the Russian Federation based on a violation of the same legal principle.
Since UNICEF ceased publishing periodic progress reports there has been a significant deterioration in the treatment of children held in Israeli military detention based on almost every measurement. Further, while the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has been in possession of evidence relating to these issues since April 2015, a number of Western Democracies, including the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, are actively seeking to block legal accountability and access to the Court. With legal accountability off the table, the situation facing children in military detention is unlikely to improve and faith in a rules-based order will continue to decline.
MCW will continue to monitor developments.
[i] Since MCW issued a report on solitary confinement in December 2021, the use of solitary confinement continues to surge from 20 percent (at the time of the report) to the current rate of 50 percent based on the most recent evidence.