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The UNICEF Report - 10 years on

[30 March 2023] – This month marks the 10th anniversary since UNICEF published the report - Children in Israeli Military Detention (2013) (The Report). Following an extensive review of the military system Israel has used to detain Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank since June 1967, UNICEF 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." The Report included 38 recommendations aimed at bringing the system closer into compliance with international law. 

Following the release of the Report, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it would work to implement UNICEF's recommendations through on-going cooperation with the UN agency. 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.
During the intervening 10 years, Military Court Watch (MCW) has collected over 1,000 testimonies from children detained by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. Based on this body of evidence and court observations, it appears that 97 percent of UNICEF's recommendations remain substantially unimplemented and the ill treatment of children who come into contact with the system remains "widespread, systematic and institutionalized" with a deterioration recorded in a majority of key benchmarks. 
While there have been some positive developments during the intervening 10-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:
Night arrests - UNICEF recommended that children should only be arrested during the day. This followed evidence that the majority of children were being arrested at night in terrifying military raids on their homes. Ten years ago, 51 percent of children reported being arrested at night. Night arrests have increased and are currently occurring in 56 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 written notification would be provided in every case where a child was arrested from home. Ten years on, parents of children arrested from home are given no information about the arrest in 54 percent of cases, and in no cases is information about legal rights provided.[1]
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 still used in 96 percent of cases while the use of blindfolds has risen to 84 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, 64 percent of children report experiencing physical violence and 80 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 under 4 percent of cases. Currently, the use of solitary confinement on children as part of the interrogation process has spiked alarmingly and at the time of writing is being utilized in 30 percent of cases (42 percent in 2021). It should be noted that the general consensus is that using solitary confinement on children violates the prohibition against torture.
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, 62 percent of children continue to be denied access to a lawyer prior to interrogation and 96 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 brief phone call.
Unlawful transfer - UNICEF recommended that “in accordance with international law, all Palestinian children detained in Israeli military detention shall be held in the occupied Palestinian territory”. According to official data, 53 percent of Palestinian child detainees were transferred in 2013 - rising to 71 percent in December 2022. It is estimated that over 22,000 Palestinian children have been transferred since June 1967. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Since UNICEF published the Report in 2013, there has been a deterioration in the treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention across most benchmarks. Improvement has been recorded in some areas, most notably, a decline in the number of children held in detention according to quarterly data published by the Israeli Prison Service. However, in the absence of accountability and a general unwillingness to apply standard legal norms to Israel's 55-year military occupation - substantive improvement remains elusive and confidence in a genuine rules-based order continues to ebb away.

[1] In the 46 percent of cases where parents were provided with documentation when a child was arrested from home in 2022, the information was provided in Hebrew in 83 percent of these cases. Generally, the only information provided in these 46 percent of cases was the location of the interrogation centre the child would be taken to. When parents attempted to phone the number provided for the interrogation centre, no one answered the phone.