Double interrogations continue
[6 May 2014] – Last year, MCW issued a statement regarding the practice of using double interrogations when investigating Palestinian children in the West Bank as a way of circumventing minimum legal safeguards. Under existing Israeli military law applied to Palestinians living in the West Bank, a suspect is supposed to be informed that he or she has the right to silence and can consult with a lawyer before being questioned. These minimum safeguards are designed to ensure that an accused person has some awareness of their basic legal rights whilst under investigation.
It is apparent from a number of cases documented by MCW that in order to circumvent these requirements and to gain an improper advantage, Israeli military and police authorities are sometimes conducting two or more interrogations – the first in which the suspect is not informed of their legal rights, followed by a second interrogation where they are informed of their rights and which is also sometimes audio or audio-visually recorded.
The purpose of conducting two interrogations is to improve the chances of obtaining a confession from a suspect whilst they are ignorant of their rights, whilst later being able to deflect any questions regarding the probity of the investigation by stating that the suspect was provided their full legal rights whilst in custody.
In a recent case documented by MCW, a 16-year-old boy was detained by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank as he walked home from school. The boy alleges that he was painfully hand tied, blindfolded and beaten before being taken to a settlement for interrogation. The boy was then interrogated whilst still tied and blindfolded. He was accused of throwing stones at a road used by the military and settlers – something he denies. The boy was interrogated three times during which he says he was threatened. At no time was the boy informed that he had the right to silence or could consult with a lawyer. Approximately seven hours later the boy was transferred to Binyamin police station in the West Bank where he was again interrogated whilst this time being informed of his rights. In the subsequent interrogation the boy was also permitted to briefly speak with his father by telephone.
Although there is no legal requirement under Israeli military law to electronically record interrogations, some are audio or audio-visually recorded, largely to overcome the language barrier between the investigative authorities (Hebrew) and the suspects (Arabic). According to the Israeli military authorities, out of the 1,004 children detained in 2013, 343 had at least part of their interrogations audio-visually recorded. These figures cannot be independently verified but cases documented by MCW indicate that when electronic recording does take place, it frequently does not cover the entire interrogation process, thereby rendering its use as an independent record of the investigation ineffectual.
In its previous statement on this issue MCW highlighted how the military courts used to prosecute children in the West Bank continue to admit evidence obtained during the investigative phase that fails to meet requirements under Israeli military law or basic international norms. By admitting improperly obtained evidence the military courts provide no incentive to the investigative authorities to employ appropriate investigative procedures.
The extent of this problem in the West Bank appears to be both widespread and systematic. In October 2013, UNICEF reported that in none of the cases it recently documented were children informed of their right to consult with a lawyer. Based on a larger sample of cases, MCW recently reported that in only 8 percent of cases were children being informed of their right to silence and in only 5 percent of cases were they able to consult with a lawyer before questioning. In order to overcome these deficiencies a number of simple measures need to be effectively implemented as a matter of urgency.
- All children, and their legal guardian, should be provided on arrest with a written statement in Arabic informing them of their full legal rights in custody;
- All children must be permitted to consult with a lawyer of choice prior to interrogation;
- All children must be accompanied by a parent throughout their interrogation;
- All interrogations must be audio-visually recorded and a copy of the tape must be provided to the defence prior to the first hearing; and
- Any breach of these recommendations, including any unexplained gaps in the recording, should result in the discontinuation of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release.