Palestine Child Prisoners

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In June 2009, Defence for Children International (DCI)/Palestine Section published a report titled, “Palestine Child Prisoners: The systematic and institutionalized ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities.”

DCI/Palestine “is a national section of the international non-government child rights organisation and movement (dedicated) to promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian children,” according to international law principles.

Each year, about 700 West Bank children, under 18, are arrested, detained, interrogated, and prosecuted in Israeli military courts, in total about 6,500 since 2000. DCI lawyers represent 30 – 40% of them. The report focuses on their torture and abuse in custody.

Since the 1967 occupation, an estimated 700,000 Palestinian men, women, and children passed through Israel’s judicial system, over 150,000 tried in military courts from 1990 – 2006, the remainder handled through plea bargains for lighter sentences. On average, over 9,000 Palestinians a year are affected, including 700 children treated the same as adults.

For nearly 43 years, Israeli military justice operated “almost completely devoid of international scrutiny,” giving authorities license to violate human rights and humanitarian law with impunity. As a result, due process and judicial fairness don’t apply under a system denying them.

Yet Article 37(b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states:

“The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child…shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

In fact, Palestinian children are routinely arrested at checkpoints, on streets, going to or coming from school, tending olive groves, at play, and (most commonly) at home in the middle of the night, usually from midnight to 4AM with family members threatened not to intervene, beaten if they try, forced onto streets in their nightclothes, regardless of weather, and given no explanation.

Typically, arrests are lawless and violent. Homes are broken into unannounced, property damaged or stolen, children blindfolded, shackled, and often beaten, then thrust into jeeps, sometimes face down, for transfer to interrogation and detention centers, a procedure that includes beatings, verbal abuse and other degrading and inhumane treatment.

At detention centers, they’re either placed in a cell or interrogated immediately. Usually no lawyer is present for days or weeks until questioning ends with a signed Hebrew confession few can read or understand. Once gotten, they’re used against them in military courts, never mind that torture extracted evidence is inadmissible under international law.

Article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture states:

“Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.”

In custody, children endure:

— blindfolding and painful shackling;
— beatings;
— violent shaking;
— sleep depravation;
— solitary confinement;
— other forms of sensory deprivation;
— no food and water for extended periods;
— poor quality or inedible food when gotten;
— no access to toilets, showers and clean clothes;
— exposure to extreme heat or cold;
— painful stress positions for extended periods;
— sexual abuse;
— threats, insults and cursing; and
— extremely loud noises.

Often their parents and siblings are also arrested, beaten, detained, and their homes sometimes demolished.

After interrogation, detainees are processed for trial, sentencing, and imprisonment by one of two West Bank military courts, both on military bases. Decisions may be appealed in the Military Court of Appeals, but rarely ever will the High Court of Justice hear them.

Judges and prosecutors are military officers, some not certified by the Israeli Bar Association. Dispensing justice is nearly impossible under a system with no accepted standards. Children as young as 12 (and some younger) are prosecuted the same as adults, tribunals calling them adults at age 16, in contrast to Jews at age 18.

Under Military Order 132, six months is the maximum sentence for children aged 12 – 13; 12 months usually from 14 – 15 for offenses with a maximum penalty of less than five years; and unlimited for more serious offenses; under Military Order 378, 20 years for stone-throwing is permitted (the most common offense charged); and children 16 or older are considered adults and treated no differently.

Military courts deny judicial fairness, including:

— the right to counsel until forced confessions are extracted, commonly by torture, pressure, intimidation, and at times trickery;
— the right to prepare a proper defense with enough time, in adequate facilities, in confidence, with court documents in Arabic;
— under Military Order 378, detainees may be denied counsel for up to 90 days;
— under a grossly unjust system, attorneys commonly seek plea bargains to avoid trials and harsher sentences;
— defendants, including young children are presumed guilty, full acquittals gotten in just 0.29% of cases;

— the right to examine witnesses is restricted; few full evidentiary cases are heard; according to Yesh Din (volunteers for human rights), of 9,123 cases in 2006, only 130 (1.42%) got full evidentiary trials because having them is futile and punishments far harsher when convicted;
— unlike in civil courts for Jews, Palestinians have no right to trial without undue delay:

(1) detention until a hearing before a judge – 24 hours for Jews; up to eight days for Palestinians;
(2) total detention period before indictment – 30 days for Jews, and up to 75 on authority of the Attorney General; up to 180 days for Palestinians;
(3) detention from end of investigation to indictment – 5 days for Jews; 10 days for Palestinians;
(4) detention from indictment until arraignment – 30 days for Jews; up to two years for Palestinians;
(5) detention from arraignment to end of proceedings – 9 months for Jews; up to two years for Palestinians; and
(6) judicial approval of detention extensions if proceedings continue – 3 months for Jews (per a Supreme Court judge); six months for Palestinians (per Military Court of Appeals judge).

In addition, defense lawyers rarely know charges until hearing days. Palestinian children are usually denied bail, and respect for their rights under international law is ignored.

Fourth Geneva’s Article 147 requires fair trials, holding those responsible for denying them criminally liable.

Detention Conditions

Children as young as 12, and sometimes younger, endure overcrowding, poor ventilation, little or no access to natural light, poor quality (often inedible) and inadequate amounts of food, isolation, torture and abusive treatment.

Little or no education is provided, and none in interrogation and detention centers where children are often held for three months or longer. Also, with one exception, prisons are inside Israel in breach of Fourth Geneva’s Article 76, stating:

“Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.”

The provision also requires providing proper food, medical care, and spiritual help – women in separate quarters, supervised by women, and minors getting special treatment.

Palestinian detainees get none of the above, including permits for family members to visit imprisoned relatives.

Common Complaints

From January 2001 – December 2008, “over 600 complaints were filed against Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators for alleged ill-treatment and torture.” The Police Investigation Department and Justice Ministry conducted no…

Palestine Child Prisoners –

Palestine Child Prisoners, Defence for Children

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