US State Department Human Rights Report (2021)
[26 April 2022] – On 12 April 2022, the US State Department published its annual country report on human rights for 2021 (the Report). The Report is mandated by Congress and documents human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories. Staff in US embassies around the world compile the information contained in the Report. As in previous years the Report highlights human rights violations by multiple actors in the region and considers the treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention.
Occupied territory and annexation - Consistent with international law, the State Department confirmed that the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are "territories that Israel occupied in the June 1967 war" - and accordingly, as the occupying power, Israel is subject to all the duties and obligations contained within the Fourth Geneva Convention. However, the Report also confirms that the Biden Administration has adopted the previous administration's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights - a position that creates a dangerous precedent incompatible with the "rules-based order" with potential implications for Crimea.
Application of two legal systems - The State Department confirmed that Israel continues to apply two legal systems in the West Bank depending on whether a person is Palestinian (military law), or an Israeli settler (civilian law). While military law technically applies to both groups in the West Bank, the practice of applying two separate systems violates the principal that no state is permitted to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction based on race or national identity. The application of two legal systems was one factor relied on by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B'Tselem to support their conclusion that a situation of Apartheid now exists in Israel and Palestine.
Forcible transfer of prisoners - The State Department noted that 80 percent of Palestinians arrested by Israel in the West Bank were detained in prisons inside Israel in 2021. This is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which prohibit the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory. Any suggestion that the West Bank is not occupied is inconsistent with Israel’s own assertions used to justify the prosecution of Palestinians in military courts. It is worth recalling that the US imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 for, inter alia, transferring Ukrainians from Crimea to prisons located in the Russian Federation based on the same legal prohibition.
In relation to child detention, the State Department specifically noted that:
- Night arrests - Most children continue to be arrested in night-time military raids on their homes. In response to a Supreme Court petition seeking the issuance of summonses in lieu of night arrests, Israeli authorities claimed that a new "classified" procedure went into force on 1 August 2021 which would eliminate night arrests in "certain circumstances". However, the evidence indicates that the night arrest of children continues to increase.
- Notification of arrests - The State Department noted that although Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification concerning the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home, the evidence indicates that this policy is disregarded in 53 percent of cases and parents and children are frequently given no information whatsoever about the reasons for arrest, at the time of arrest.
- Blindfolds - In 2019, Israeli authorities clarified that “military orders and regulations forbid the blindfolding of detainees, and action to clarify the rules to the troops acting in the region has been taken and will continue to be taken on a continuous basis.” It was confirmed that blindfolds are only to be used as a rare exception. However recent evidence indicates that 94 percent of children arrested continue to report being blindfolded.
- Physical abuse, threats and confessions - The State Department referred to evidence indicating that 73 percent of Palestinian children detained in the West Bank reported being subjected to various forms of physical abuse during arrest, transfer, or interrogation by Israeli authorities. Further, threats, including the threat to demolish the family home, were used to coerce confessions out of children - confessions that were frequently written in Hebrew.
- Access to lawyers and the right to silence - Under Israeli military law a child has the right to silence and the right to consult with a lawyer prior to interrogation (exceptions apply). However, the State Department referred to evidence indicating that 77 percent of children continue to be denied prompt access to a lawyer and in cases where access is granted, communication occurs over the phone with the interrogator often listening. Most children continue to be denied their right to silence.
- Prosecution in military courts - The State Department noted that Israel has applied military law to Palestinians in the West Bank since 1967 - a practice only permitted under international humanitarian law on a temporary basis. Further, the military courts in the West Bank, reserved exclusively for Palestinians, have dramatically higher conviction rates and impose far longer sentences that the civilian courts used for Israelis.
This year's report published by the US State Department again highlights that while the Israeli/Palestinian conflict may not be the most egregious humanitarian situation in the world today, it does have the potential to establish dangerous precedents and undermine confidence in a genuine "rules-based order". This may ultimately prove to be contrary to Western interests.
Below are links to US State Department Country Reports for Israel/Palestine since 2010. It is worth noting that the Biden Administration has adopted the previous administration's position and removed the words "Occupied Territories" from the title of the report.