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Is UNICEF lending its name to a public relations exercise?

[18 May 2015] - The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently issued an invitation to a roundtable in Jerusalem on 19 May 2015 to discuss – Minors in the Military Justice System in the West Bank: Developments and Challenges. UNICEF’s Special Representative in the State of Palestine will be giving opening remarks and according to the invitation the “event is organized in close cooperation with UNICEF”. All of the active participants in the roundtable with the exception of UNICEF are Israeli military and civilian officials, including residents of West Bank settlements.

The issue of children detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank has received significant attention since UNICEF published a report in March 2013 in which it concluded that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized”. Following the publication of the UNICEF report the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that it would “study the [report’s] conclusions and work to implement them through on-going cooperation with UNICEF”.
In February 2015, UNICEF published an update (Bulletin No. 2) reviewing progress made during the intervening two years to implement the report’s 38 recommendations. The 16-page update lists numerous discussions UNICEF has had with Israeli military officials in the West Bank, as well as amendments to the military law and the re-issuance of standard operating procedures by the military. However, on page 2 of the Bulletin, UNICEF notes that “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014”. This conclusion has also recently been confirmed by MCW in a Progress Report, which found that UNICEF’s 2013 conclusion that “ill-treatment appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized” is still valid in 2015.
Whilst it is clearly appropriate that UNICEF should be in dialogue with all relevant parties on this issue, it is far from clear why UNICEF is participating in what appears to be a public relations exercise organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It must also be noted that in its recent Bulletin, UNICEF stated that no progress has been made in ensuring that children are not transferred and imprisoned outside the West Bank in what amounts to a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and further, the UN agency was notified by one of the participants in tomorrow’s roundtable that the authorities have no intention of changing this policy.
No defence lawyers who appear in the military courts were invited to participate in the roundtable.