Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations – UNICEF report

1. Introduction

Since March 2013, UNICEF has been engaging in a dialogue with the Israeli authorities on children’s rights while in military detention and on specific actions that can be undertaken to improve the protection of these children. In this regard, the Military Advocate General (MAG) appointed the Military Prosecutor for Judea and Samaria (West Bank) as the focal point to lead the substantive dialogue with UNICEF. In the course of the engagement, UNICEF has also met with representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Israeli police, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the Deputy Military Prosecutor for IDF soldiers in breach of the law. A regular dialogue was also maintained with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The dialogue focuses on what a child experiences when arrested and detained for alleged security offences in the West Bank and brought in contact with various Israeli authorities, including the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), the Israeli Police, the Israel Security Agency (ISA) and the Israel Prison Service (IPS). UNICEF uses the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and other international legal instruments reflecting international juvenile justice standards as key reference documents. In line with these, UNICEF advocates for the universal principle that all children in contact with law enforcement and justice institutions (whether juvenile justice systems or military systems) have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at all times and to be afforded special protections.

UNICEF has committed to providing periodic updates on its engagement with the Israeli authorities on children in military detention and to report on actions taken. The first update was released in October 2013. This second update covers the period from March 2013 to November 2014.

2. Major developments and progress made

The Government of Israel has since March 2013, taken a series of initiatives – particularly in terms of military legislation and the reinforcement of standard operating procedures that have addressed issues identified. These initiatives are listed below in chronological order:

April 2013: Military Order 1711 was introduced. This Military Order reduces the time a Palestinian child can be detained prior to appearing before a military court judge for the first time from 96 hours to 24 hours for children aged 12-13 and from 96 to 48 hours for children aged 14-15. These deadlines can be extended by the Israeli Police, for urgent investigation purposes, by an additional 24 and 48 hours respectively. For children aged 16-17, who are accused of security offenses, the maximum time of detention prior to appearing before a judge for the first time remains 96 hours, the same as for adults.

April 2013: The IDF in the West Bank introduced a form, printed in both Hebrew and Arabic, which has to be given to the parents when a child is arrested at home, providing parents with information on the reasons for the arrest and on where the child will be taken.

May 2013: The IDF Legal Advisor for the West Bank issued a letter to the heads of all Brigades, Divisions, Police and Military Police operating in the West Bank reminding all units of existing standard operating procedures and policies in relation to the arrest of children. Existing standard operating procedures stipulate that: blindfolding should only be used when there is a security need; hand-tying should be done at the discretion of the head of forces and always with three plastic ties; the child’s family needs to be notified immediately of reasons for arrest; and the child needs to be immediately transferred to the relevant authorities.

October 2013: Military Order 1726 was issued. This Military Order regulates the duration of remand prior to indictment. It provides that a child’s initial remand can only be extended for 15 days if necessary for the purpose of the investigation. Thereafter it can only be extended by the Military Court, and only for periods of up to ten days each. After a cumulative period of 40 days, the pre-indictment remand can only be extended by the Military Court of Appeals.

October 2013: Military Order 1727 was issued. This consolidates and restates a range of previous orders and existing practices relating to the military detention and prosecution of children in the West Bank, including: the appointment of legal counsel by the court; the presence of the parents in the trial; the establishment of separate detention facilities for children; the creation of juvenile military courts; and the age of majority for children coming before juvenile military courts (increased to 18).

October 2013: The IDF Central Command for the West Bank decided to implement a pilot test in the West Bank replacing, when possible, the practice of night arrests of children suspected of security offences with a summons procedure. The pilot started in February 2014. (Additional information is provided below.)

November 2013: The Military Prosecutor for the West Bank advised UNICEF that IDF medical staff were reminded of prior standard operating procedures on their medical duties related to children under arrest and detained for interrogation, including the obligation to act upon any alleged abuse.

December 2013: The Israeli Police started using a revised Arabic text to notify children arrested for alleged security offenses of their rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel. This revised text requires final endorsement by the Ministry of Justice.

January 2014: The Military Prosecutor initiated a Government data gathering exercise on the number of children arrested and detained in the West Bank in 2013. The data provided by the Military Prosecutor is presented in Section 3 of this Bulletin.

September 2014: Military Order 1745 came into effect. This requires that interrogations be audio­visually recorded and reaffirms that the interrogation always take place in a language that the child understands. The order includes a clause stipulating that the provisions do not apply to a child suspected of committing a security offense, such as throwing stones. The provisions of this Military Order are the same as those applied in Israeli civilian courts.

3. Key data on detention or children in 2013 and 2014

This Bulletin draws on four sources of information. The data demonstrates the need for further actions to improve the protection of children in military detention, as reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014. These actions should particularly focus on the situation of children in the first 48 hours (including during arrest and transfer by the IDF and interrogation by the Israeli police or the ISA), when they are most vulnerable.

A. Information provided by the Military Prosecutor as part of the dialogue

Information provided by the Military Prosecutor indicates that in 2013, 654 children were arrested by the IDF in the West Bank. One hundred and sixty two (162) of those children were arrested using the practice at the time of pre-planned night-time arrest operations. All 654 children were referred to the Military Advocate General (MAG). Of those:

 98 children were released by the Israeli Police due to insufficient evidence.
 91 children were released on bail pending conclusion of the investigation.
 465 children were indicted.

Of the 465 children indicted, 80 were released on bail pending trial, the others were detained.

In 2013, the MAG received 15 official complaints which related to reports of alleged abuse of Palestinian children arrested by the IDF.

B. Information provided by the Palestinian District Coordination Office

Data provided to UNICEF by the Palestinian District Coordination Office (DCO), show that in 2013, 350 children aged between five and 17 years old were taken into military custody by the IDF and released within a few hours or a day to their families through the Palestinian DCO and the Palestinian Police Family and Juvenile Protection Units.

C. Information provided by the Israel Prison Service

According to the data provided by the IPS (which is a head count of children in IPS detention at the end of each month), in the period covered by this Bulletin, on average 198 children were held in military detention per month, compared to 196 children in 2012. At the end of September 2014, 181 boys and one girl aged 14 to 17 years (including 19 under the age of 16 years) were held in detention for alleged security offences. Out of those 182 children, 125 children including the one girl were in pre-trial detention or on trial and 57 boys were serving a sentence. One girl was in military detention in 2013; and in 2014 one girl was arrested and detained by the military authorities.

D. Information from the Working Group on Grave Violations against Children

In 2013 and up until September 2014, the Working Group on Grave Violations against Children gathered 208 affidavits (sworn testimonies) reporting ill-treatment of children by the IDF, the Israeli Police, the ISA and the IPS, while under military detention in the West Bank. The military prosecutor requested that these testimonies be provided to his office for cross-checking purposes, however, UNICEF is not in a position to share this data. Due to the confidential nature of that data, UNICEF does not provide direct access to case files to protect the safety and security of victims and witnesses. This is in line with the Minimum Standards on Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (Global Child Protection Working Group). 139 children aged 16 and 17 years and 69 children below the age of 16 provided affidavits to the Working Group.

In these affidavits, children report being subjected to multiple violations throughout the arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention phases.

 One hundred and sixty two (162) children reported being blindfolded during transfer from the place of arrest to the police station.

 One hundred and eighty nine (189) children reported being painfully hand-tied upon arrest.

 One hundred and seventy one (171) children reported being subjected to physical violence during arrest, interrogation and/or detention.

 One hundred and forty-four (144) children reported being subjected to verbal abuse and intimidation during arrest, interrogation and/or detention.

 Eighty nine (89) children reported being transferred from the place of arrest to the police station on the floor of the vehicle.

 Seventy nine (79) children reported being arrested at night and 45 children reported being arrested during clashes or demonstrations.

 One hundred and sixty three (163) children reported not being adequately notified of their legal rights, in particular the right to counsel and the right to remain silent.

 One hundred and forty eight (148) children reported being strip-searched at the police station and 76 children reported being strip-searched upon arrival and transfer to IPS detention facilities.

 Twenty eight (28) children reported being held in solitary confinement at the Al Jalame and Petah Tikva detention sites inside Israel, while under interrogation by the ISA.

 Sixty three (63) children reported having had to sign a confession in Hebrew during the interrogation process.

4. Overview of dialogue and related processes

This section provides an overview of the dialogue between the Military Prosecutor, as Government focal point, and UNICEF, and includes updates on the findings of other mechanisms that have reviewed the situation.

(1) June 2013 – Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child

In June 2013, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed “its deepest concern about the reported practice of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested, prosecuted and detained by the military and the police, and about the State party’s failure to end these practices in spite of repeated concerns expressed by treaty bodies, special procedures mandate holders and United Nations agencies.” The Committee recommended that Israel “launch without delay an independent inquiry into all alleged cases of torture and ill- treatment of Palestinian children”, and that “those who have been ordering, condoning or facilitating these practices be brought to justice and be punished with penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes”. The Committee on the Rights of the Child further strongly urged the Government of Israel to “guarantee that juvenile justice standards apply to all children without discrimination and that trials be conducted in a prompt and impartial manner, in accordance with minimum fair trial standards.” The Committee on the Rights of the Child also urged the Government of Israel to “dismantle the institutionalized system of detention and use of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children at all stages of the judicial procedure.”

(2) July 2013 – Experts Consultation: joint review of UNICEF recommendations

In July 2013, UNICEF convened an Experts Consultation which included the Military Prosecutor, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), independent lawyers and Israeli civil society organizations. The purpose of the consultation was to review, from an operational perspective, the 38 recommendations of the UNICEF Paper on Children in Israeli Military Detention — Observations and Recommendations of March 2013.

Key themes emerging from that consultation included:

Standard operating procedures that should ensure protection of children’s rights, including on the use of instruments of restraint, are in place but are allegedly not followed in many cases.

The training of Israeli security forces (IDF, Israeli police, ISA and IPS) does not adequately address the need to apply separate and distinct processes for the arrest, interrogation and detention of children and the principle of the ‘age of criminal responsibility’.

Children, their families and civil society organizations lack trust in the formal complaints mechanisms established to report ill-treatment of children. The volume of reports of ill-treatment of children presented to international, Israeli and Palestinian organizations indicates the limited use of formal complaints mechanisms.

(3) October 2013 – Report by the Universal Periodic Review

Israel underwent the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council on 29 October 2013 during its 14th meeting. In the report adopted, the Council noted the progress made by Israel in relation to Palestinian children in military custody and enquired about measures envisaged to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Council particularly requested Israel to take all necessary steps to end the practice of night-arrests and solitary confinement, as well as for audio-visual recordings to be made of all interviews with child detainees by the Israeli Police as well as other relevant Israeli security forces.

(4) November 2013 – Experts Consultation: critical success factors for pilot of summonses

In November 2013, UNICEF convened a second Experts Consultation with the participation of the Military Prosecutor, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), independent lawyers and Israeli civil society organizations. This second consultation followed the decision by the IDF Central Command for the West Bank in October 2013 to conduct a pilot test of summonses in lieu of night arrests, and focused on critical success factors for consideration by the IDF while designing the pilot test. This second consultation recommended that the following actions be taken:

 Ensure buy-in and prevent misinformation by all stakeholders; establish an inter-agency Government team to design and assess the pilot; map workflow processes; train all actors involved; and document the process and lessons learned transparently.
 Select test sites for the pilot in areas with favourable conditions; notify key actors and promote awareness of the communities, defence lawyers and civil society organizations; introduce additional protection measures such as presence of a parent when summons are delivered and identify alternatives to detention.
 Apply the pilot test to all children in the selected area regardless of age and alleged offense; introduce measures to prevent exposure of children and their families to any additional harm; and assess the outcome based on a realistic appraisal of the situation.

(5) December 2013 – Visit by UNICEF Deputy Executive Director

During her visit in December 2013, the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, the MAG, the Deputy Attorney General, the Deputy Military Advocate General and the Military Prosecutor to follow up on the ongoing dialogue and progress made on the issue of children in military detention. The meeting reflected the commitment of both sides to maintain this dialogue and promote change for the protection of children. While acknowledging measures taken by the Government of Israel to improve law enforcement regarding children in the West Bank, the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director stressed the need to bridge the gap between policy and practice.

(6) December 2013 – Hearing at the Knesset Public Petitions Committee

Following requests by B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Knesset Public Petitions Committee conducted a hearing on 31 December 2013 on the “conditions of arrest and imprisonment of Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (West Bank)”. The Ministry of Justice, the IPS, the Public Defender’s Office and Israeli civil society organizations participated in the hearing. The Committee raised the issue of lack of Government data to answer the panel’s questions about the frequency and scope of arrests, detention and practices such as night-arrests. The panel members also raised questions about the extent to which the Israeli military detention and court system is in line with international juvenile justice standards. The next Knesset hearing on this issue was planned for mid-2014 but postponed. At the time of writing no new date for the hearing had been set.

(7) February to July 2014 — Monitoring of the pilot on the use of summons in lieu of night arrests

As noted above, the IDF Central Command for the West Bank decided to implement a pilot test in the West Bank replacing the practice of night arrests of children suspected of security offences with a summons procedure. The pilot started in February 2014. Twenty-four (24) instances of summoning of children were documented since the beginning of the pilot in Jenin and Hebron, Nablus, and Ramallah governorates. The summons pilot is an important operational measure to halt the practice of night arrests and tackle some of the protection concerns which occur during the first 48 hours of arrest, transfer and detention of children.

For the summons procedure to be effective and eventually develop into a longer-term system across the West Bank, operational practices need to be strengthened in terms of the protection of children. Challenges in the implementation have been observed as some children have received summonses at night, and violations continued to be reported during the subsequent interrogation process at the military detention centre or police station.

In the more immediate term, the following measures are recommended:

1. Always provide the parents with written summons in a language they understand, specifying the time, location and reasons for the summons, as well as the legal rights of the child allowing enough time to contact a lawyer.
2. Allow for a parent to be present during the interrogation upon appearance before the Israeli authorities and consider releasing children that have responded to the summons and pose no risk of flight, using pre-trial detention as a measure of last resort.
3. Refrain from delivering summonses at night as part of a military operation, instead requesting the parents by phone to come and pick up a written summons at the Israeli DCO, at the same time alerting the Palestinian DCO of any summonses.

(8) May 2014 — Visit by UNICEF MENA Regional Director

During her visit in May 2014, the UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel to discuss and review the ongoing dialogue with the Israeli authorities, as well as actions taken and under way to strengthen protections for children in military detention. The meeting reflected the importance of dialogue as a tool for introducing further reforms in the best interests of children, and resulted in an agreement to continue engaging with all relevant Israeli authorities which have a role in the protection of children.

(9) November 2014 – Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee

In November 2014, the Human Rights Committee noted the “positive developments in the administration of juvenile military justice, including the increase in the age of majority in the military courts from 16 to 18 years and the adoption of a number of military orders providing for guarantees and safeguards for children” and expressed “concerns that such reforms appear not to be effectively implemented in practice and that Palestinian children are still exposed to arbitrary arrest and detention and often do not enjoy full procedural rights (arts. 2, 7, 9, 10, 14 and 24)”. The Human Rights Committee recommended that “the State party should ensure that any arrest and detention of a child is in conformity with article 9 of the Covenant. It should further ensure that children are: (a) Only detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time; (b) Treated at all times with respect and dignity and in accordance with their age, specific needs and vulnerability; (c) Provided with safe and child-friendly complaint mechanisms, including during trials, regarding treatment at the time of arrest, interrogation and detention, and that proceedings are audio-visually recorded; (d) Afforded, in practice, all fair trial guarantees in line with article 14 of the Covenant”.


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