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US State Department - Human rights report (April 2018)

[24 April 2018] – On 20 April 2018, the US State Department published its annual global report on human rights for 2017 (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. For the first time since the State Department commenced issuing reports in 1999, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are not referred to as “The Occupied Territories” in a departure from international law and US policy. 

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 in detail.
In the Report, the State Department confirmed that since 1967 Israel has applied two separate legal systems in the West Bank depending on whether an individual is a Palestinian or an Israeli settler. While Israeli military law technically applies to everyone in the West Bank, in practice Palestinians are prosecuted in military courts while civilian courts, with greater rights and protections, are reserved for settlers. 
The State Department also referred to UNICEF’s 2013 report – Children in Israeli Military Detention– which concluded that the “Mistreatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized” before referring to a substantial body of evidence (400 testimonies) collected after 2013 which “confirmed UNICEF’s conclusion”. The State Department also referred to specific evidence which indicates that in 2017:
  • 93% of children were hand-tied following arrest;
  • 80% of children were blindfolded (a practice UNICEF recommends should be prohibited);
  • 58% of children were subjected to physical abuse; and
  • 90% denied access to a lawyer prior to questioning.
While noting that Israeli military authorities have amended the military law to mandate the audio-visual recording of interrogations of children in the West Bank, the State Department confirmed that this practical safeguard does not apply to “security offences” and is therefore not applicable in 95% of cases involving children. 
As in previous years the State Department notes that Israeli authorities confirm that the majority of Palestinian prisoners arrested in the West Bank and Gaza were “detained extraterritorially in Israel”. It should be noted that transferring prisoners out of the West Bank and Gaza to prisons inside Israel violates article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is classified as a war crime under international law. Israel ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1951.
In relation to accountability, the State Department noted that out of 1,100 complaints submitted to the Ministry of Justice against Shin Bet interrogators since 2001 for alleged mistreatment of suspects during questioning, no criminal investigations have been opened to date.
The State Department’s Report for 2017 also saw an adverse development in which a different reporting methodology appears to have been applied to Israel/Palestine compared to the reports prepared for the other nearly 200 countries. No explanation has been provided for this discrepancy.