Night arrests - Developments assessed
[24 February 2014] – On 18 February, the Jerusalem Post reported that Lt.-Col. Maurice Hirsch, Israel’s chief military prosecutor for the West Bank, says he will soon publicly unveil a new pilot programme in which Israel will issue written summonses to Palestinian children wanted for questioning instead of arresting them in the dead of night.
The announcement follows the publication of two reports calling for an end to the Israeli military’s practice of arresting Palestinian children in the West Bank at night published by a group of senior UK lawyers and UNICEF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Following an analysis of over 400 testimonies, the UNICEF report described how many of these arrests occur:
“Many children are arrested in the middle of the night, awakened at their homes by heavily armed soldiers. Some children are arrested in the streets near their homes, near bypass roads used by Israeli settlers or at army checkpoints inside the West Bank. Many of the children arrested at home wake up to the frightening sound of soldiers banging loudly on their front door and shouting instructions for the family to leave the house. For some of the children, what follows is a chaotic and frightening scene, in which furniture and windows are sometimes broken, accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members are forced to stand outside in their night clothes as the accused child is forcibly removed from the home and taken away with vague explanations such as “he is coming with us and we will return him later”, or simply that the child is “wanted”. Few children or parents are informed as to where the child is being taken, why or for how long.”
The extensive use of night raids to arrest children in the West Bank was again in the spotlight in a recent joint investigation conducted by ABC Australia and The Australian newspaper that aired on 10 February 2014: ABC Four Corners: Stone Cold Justice. The investigation described the terrorising effect these night raids have on Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank.
Whilst an end to the night arrest of children would be a highly positive development if it occurred, it is important to note that the main conclusion of the UNICEF report was that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.” Accordingly, if the military authorities genuinely seek a reduction in the level of abuse in the system, the end of night arrests must be part of a larger package of inter-dependent reforms that address the lack of effective protection during the first 24 hours following arrest:
- Children should only be arrested during daylight hours except in rare and exceptional circumstances. In all other cases summonses should be used;
- All children, and their legal guardian, should be provided with a written statement in Arabic informing them of their full legal rights in custody;
- All children must consult with a lawyer of their choice prior to questioning;
- All children must be accompanied by a family member throughout their questioning;
- Every interrogation must be audio-visually recorded and a copy of the tape must be provided to the defence prior to the first hearing; and
- Breach of any of the above recommendations should result in the discontinuation of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release.
Nearly two years after the recommendation to end night arrests was first raised, details about the proposed pilot scheme have yet to be published that would enable independent assessment of its likely success or otherwise. This is of concern given the recent statement made by Israel’s chief military prosecutor to the Jerusalem Post foreshadowing the possibility of the programme’s failure before it has even started.
“If the program works, there will be “tremendous gains in saving people from operational dangers and minimizing future claims of abuse,” he explained. If it does not, “we will have shown conclusively that summonses do not work” and there is no alternative to the policy of night arrests.”