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US State Department's Human Rights Report for 2016

[8 March 2017] - On 3 March 2017, the US State Department released its annual report on human rights for 2016. The report is mandated by Congress and documents human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories. Diplomats posted to US embassies compile the information included in the report. As in previous years the report highlights various human rights violations by multiple actors in Israel/Palestine and includes information on the treatment of children in military detention. In a break with tradition neither the Secretary of State nor a senior State Department official launched this year's report. (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 - Israel and The Occupied Territories). 

In the context of children held in military detention, the State Department referred to UNICEF's 2013 report - Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations - which concluded that "mistreatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized". The State Department then proceeded to refer to recent evidence which suggested that this conclusion was still valid in 2016. The evidence referred to by the State Department included the following reports relating to children detained by the military in the West Bank in 2016:
  • 90% of children reported being tied upon arrest;
  • 84% of children reported being blindfolded (a practice UNICEF recommends should be prohibited for children);
  • 58% of children reported being subjected to physical abuse;
  • 91% of children reported being denied access to a lawyer prior to interrogation; and
  • 72% of children reported being shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew at the conclusion of their interrogation.
The State Department also noted that during 2016 there was an 82% increase in the monthly average number of children (12-17 years) held in Israeli military detention compared with 2015 and that the official prison statistics possibly understate the actual number of children detained by the military each year.
As in previous years the State Department noted that most Palestinian prisoners arrested by Israeli security forces in "the occupied territories were detained extraterritorially in Israel." According to the Israeli Prison Service, the authorities transferred and held at least 7,000 Palestinians detainees, or an average of 84% of all prisoners from the West Bank, in Israeli prisons inside Green Line Israel. It should be noted that transferring prisoners out of occupied territory violates Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is classified as a "grave breach" under the Convention.
Finally, the State Department noted apparent shortcomings in existing domestic complaint mechanisms where detainees alleged misconduct by either the military or Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators. In support of the allegation the State Department noted that despite more than 1,000 complaints filed against ISA interrogators since 2001, no complaint resulted in a criminal investigation, prosecution or conviction. The State Department also noted that out of 154 complaints filed between 2007 and 2015 by one organization regarding alleged violence by soldiers against detainees in the West Bank, just two such complaints resulted in an indictment.