UNICEF issues progress report
[17 October 2013] – On 14 October, UNICEF issued a statement reviewing progress made in implementing the 38 recommendations contained in the organisation’s report on children held in Israeli military detention published in March 2013. The UNICEF report – Children in Israeli Military Detention – found 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.”
After analysing over 400 sworn testimonies, UNICEF concluded, inter alia, that:
- Many children are aggressively detained in the middle of the night;
- Children are painfully tied, blindfolded and frequently endure physical and verbal abuse;
- Children are interrogated without legal advice and without a parent being present;
- Most children plead guilty to reduce the time they will spend in detention; and
- Most children are held in prisons in Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In response to the report, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it would study the conclusions and work to implement its recommendations in cooperation with UNICEF. Seven months on UNICEF has issued a statement claiming that “violations are ongoing” but suggesting that there have been a number of positive developments:
- In its recent statement UNICEF says that in September 2013, the Israeli military authorities agreed to issue summonses in two unspecified locations in the West Bank in lieu of arresting children at night. UNICEF says that this is a “critical development”. However, on 16 October, Haaretz Newspaper reported that: “this policy has yet to be implemented, and the UNICEF announcement was a surprise to officers who are involved. According to military sources, the Central Command and MAG are still drafting the pilot program. The IDF Spokesman’s Office declined to provide details of the change in policy, saying only that the program is being examined by the relevant officials.” Evidence collected by MCW since the publication of the UNICEF report indicates that children continue to be arrested at night.
- In its recent statement UNICEF says that a new Israeli military order (MO 1711) introduced in April 2013, has reduced the time periods in which children must now be brought before a judge following their arrest. UNICEF says that: “This measure is in line with the report’s recommendation that children in detention shall, within 24 hours of their arrest, have prompt and effective access to an independent judicial review of the legality of their arrest and detention. However, under MO 1711 there is no requirement that children aged 14 and above be brought before a judge within 24 hours and the new time periods are still at least twice as long as those applied to Israeli children living in the West Bank – a situation that amounts to unlawful discrimination.
- In its recent statement UNICEF says that: “Since June 2013 the remand hearings for children were held separately from the adults, as the result of a verbal agreement between the prosecution and the judges.” MCW can confirm that genuine attempts are being made to hold separate remand hearings for children but that in approximately 30 percent of cases remand hearings are not held separately. It should be noted that this was not the subject of UNICEF's recommendations, which instead focus on the most egregious shortcomings in the system.
Seven months after the publication of UNICEF’s report, MCW is still unable to confirm that any of the report’s 38 recommendations have been satisfactorily implemented. As a matter of urgency, the following recommendations should be implemented without further delay:
1. All children must be immediately informed of their right to silence upon arrest;
2. All children must be permitted to consult with a lawyer of choice prior to interrogation;
3. All children must be accompanied by a parent throughout their interrogation;
4. All interrogations must be audio-visually recorded; and
5. Any breach of these recommendations should result in the child’s immediate release.