Children in Military Custody – new report by leading UK lawyers
On 26 June a new report on children held in Israeli military detention was published in London. The report – Children in military custody – was produced by a delegation of UK lawyers following their visit to the region. The delegation of nine lawyers, including Sir Stephen Sedley (formerly Lord Justice Sedley) and Baroness Scotland QC (former Shadow Attorney General and Attorney General of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) travelled to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in September 2011 to assess the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law.
According to the delegation’s website, the “objective of the group was to produce an independent report founded on the principles of the rule of law and children’s rights. A substantial and balanced body of relevant information was collated. The delegation met with a number of key parties, including Israeli Government departments and the military, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, UN agencies, former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian children. They also visited the military courts at Ofer prison outside Jerusalem and observed proceedings involving children.”
The delegation’s terms of reference were “to undertake an evaluative analysis of Israeli military law and practice as they affect Palestinian children in the West Bank by reference to the standards of international law and international children’s rights. The terms of reference did not include the legality of the occupation. Nor did the terms of reference include the impact of the occupation on the welfare and rights of children outside the legal process.” The question which concerned the delegation was “whether there is any justification for treating Israeli and Palestinian children differently in law or in practice”.
The key findings of the report, based solely on legal differentials, include the following:
- Israel is in breach of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits the transfer of Palestinian prisoners out of occupied territory.
- Israel is in breach of article 65 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for failing to translate relevant military orders into Arabic.
- Israel is in breach of articles 2 (discrimination), 3 (child’s best interests), 37(b) (premature resort to detention), 37(c) (non-separation from adults), 37(d) (prompt access to lawyers, and 40 (use of shackles) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- “If the manner of arrest and detention is to any significant extent that which was described to us by the UN, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs and Palestinian children, Israel will be in breach of the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
- “We record our view that to hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture in breach not only of article 37(a) but also of other well-known international instruments.”
The report concludes by making 40 specific recommendations, including:
- Arrests of children should not be carried out at night save for in extreme and unusual circumstances.
- At the time of their arrest, all children should be informed, in their own language, of the reasons for their arrest, and their right to silence.
- Children should never be blindfolded or hooded.
- Methods of restraint should not be used unless strictly necessary. Single plastic ties should never be used.
- Children should not be transferred on the floor of vehicles. They should be properly seated and treated with dignity at all times.
- The prohibition on violent, threatening or coercive conduct towards children should be strictly observed throughout all stages.
- Children should have a parent or guardian present prior to and during their interrogation.
- Interrogations should be audio-visually recorded and the tapes should be made available to the child’s lawyer.
- Children should not be required to sign confessions and statements written in a language other than their own.
- All Palestinian children detained under Israeli military law should be held in facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and not in Israel, which constitutes a breach of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
It is relevant to note in regards to breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that the UK Government has specific legal duties and obligations under article 1 of the Convention “to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.”
The full report is available on line.
• The Independent – UK ready to take on Israel over fate of children clapped in irons
• The Independent – Nothing resonates like the mistreatment of minors
• The Guardian – Israel subjecting Palestinian children to ‘spiral of injustice’
• Channel 4 News report – Israel ‘breaches rights of Palestinian children’
• The Jewish Chronicle – Israel ‘in breach of international law’ over child detainees
• DCI-Palestine – Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted
• B’Tselem – No Minor Matter
• Breaking the Silence – Video testimonies: Everything was filmed