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Child detention debate in UK Parliament
[11 January 2016]  – On 6 January 2016, an Adjournment Debate was held in the UK Parliament on Child Prisoners and Detainees: Occupied Palestinian Territories (Video/Transcript). The debate was sponsored by Sarah Champion MP (Labour) who in September 2015 visited the region as part of a cross-party delegation organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP).
In her opening speech, Ms. Champion referred to a report prepared by a delegation of leading British lawyers (Children in Military Custody (2012)) which found uncontested evidence that Israel’s treatment of children held in military detention violated at least six articles under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and two articles under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Ms Champion also referred to UNICEF’s 2013 report which found that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process” (Children in Israeli Military Detention (2013)).
After reviewing a number of developments that have occurred during the intervening years following the publication of these reports, Ms. Champion noted that evidence recently presented by UNICEF and Military Court Watch (MCW) indicates that ill-treatment within the system still appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised. Ms. Champion noted that the lack of substantial improvement in the treatment of children in the system could be explained by two factors:
  1. In order to guarantee the protection of nearly 600,000 Israeli civilians living in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli military must employ a strategy of mass intimidation and collective punishment, or risk the eviction of the settlers; and
  2. The Israeli official delegated with the task of implementing the recommendations included in the reports is himself a resident of a West Bank settlement, casting doubt on whether the authorities have any intention of bringing about meaningful change in accordance with Israel’s international legal obligations.
In her speech Ms. Champion also noted that uncontested evidence produced by the Israeli Prison Service indicates that nearly 90 per cent of Palestinian adult detainees and 56 per cent of child detainees are transferred to prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Ms. Champion noted that failing to act when presented with uncontroverted evidence of a war crime of this magnitude and duration has the potential to undermine the integrity of the international legal order and its institutions to the detriment of all.
A number of other MPs who spoke during the debate, including Mr. Bob Stewart (Conservative) and Mr. David Jones (Conservative) raised concerns about the application of dual legal systems by Israel in the West Bank under which different rights and protections are provided depending on whether the accused person is an Israeli settler or a Palestinian in violation of the prohibition against discrimination in criminal proceedings based on race or national identity.
In response to the motion, a number of MPs raised concerns over alleged incitement by the Palestinian Authority of young people to commit acts of violence (Louise Ellman (Labour/Co-op), John Howell (Conservative) and Andrew Percy (Conservative). Without considering the factual basis for this allegation, it is worth noting that these arguments provide no legal defence to a claim of abuse or unlawful transfer of protected persons from occupied territory in violation of both the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
In conclusion, Ms. Champion recommended that in keeping with the UK’s international legal obligations, a watch list of war crimes suspects, whoever they may be, should be established and maintained at all UK ports of entry and that UK officials should continue to lobby their Israeli counterparts for the full and effective implementation of all recommendations included in the UK and UNICEF reports.
In response to the motion, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Tobias Ellwood, stated that he would consider the five recommendations suggested by Ms. Champion and respond in writing. Mr. Ellwood also noted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has approved funding for a follow-up delegation to the region by British lawyers in February 2016.
At the conclusion of the debate, Richard Burden MP (Labour) suggested that following the visit to the region by the UK legal delegation in February 2016, it would be useful to have a further debate on the issue in the full chamber of the House of Commons.