Evidence update: blindfolds
[3 November 2020] – In 2013 UNICEF issued a report on the treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention and concluded that their ill-treatment was “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” One issue included in the report was the regular use of blindfolds leading UNICEF to recommend that “the practice of blindfolding or hooding children should be prohibited in all circumstances.”
Following the release of UNICEF’s report, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it would […] work to implement the [report’s] recommendations through on-going co-operation with UNICEF. The task of implementing the recommendations was then delegated to the military prosecutor in the West Bank. Subsequently, the military prosecutor informed UNICEF that:
- In May 2013, a letter was issued to the heads of all Brigades, Divisions and Police in the West Bank reminding all units of existing standard operating procedures and policies in relation to the arrest of children. Existing standard operating procedures stipulate that: blindfolding should only be used when there is a security need; and
- In February 2015, UNICEF again reported that it was informed by the Military Prosecutor “that operational procedures are in place which restrict the use of blindfolding during transfer, unless there are specific security requirements.”
The standard operating procedures for the use of blindfolds stipulate that: “In every case, one has to consider whether there is a security need in covering the eyes of a detainee, and do so only if the commander of the force believes that this is necessary for the protection of the accompanying forces or to prevent the detainee from escaping.” There are no specific procedures relating to children.
Notwithstanding this dialogue, UNICEF reported in 2015 that it was in possession of 208 affidavits collected from children detained in 2013 and 2014, of which 78 percent continued to be blindfolded. UNICEF concluded by stating that: “The data demonstrates the need for further actions to improve the protection of children in military detention, as reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”
Evidence collected by Military Court Watch (MCW) indicates that the use of blindfolds on children is now more prevalent than it was in 2013. So far in 2020, 96 percent of children detained report being blindfolded. It is unclear from the evidence how blindfolding these children, who are already handcuffed and securely held in the back of a military vehicles or in military bases, enhances the protection of armed soldiers or reduces the likelihood of escape. However, the evidence does suggest that blindfolding children effectively “softens them up” for interrogation making it easier to obtain a confession.
This year children continue to describe their blindfolding in the following terms:
- “The jeep drove to Huwwara military base where I was searched in my underwear before being taken into a room where I was blindfolded;” (S.T.F.S. – 17 yrs)
- “Five soldiers approached me and one of them hit me on my head. Then another soldier blindfolded me and tied my hands to the back with three plastic ties. He tightened them hard and they caused me a lot of pain. He also shackled my feet with metal shackles and took me to the back of a military jeep where I sat on a seat;” (I.M.M.B. – 16 yrs)
- “A soldier tied my hands to the front with three plastic ties. The ties were tight and painful. I was also blindfolded. Then a soldier tied the hands of my father and blindfolded him and the two of us were taken outside. We were both taken to the back of a jeep and they made us sit on the metal floor.” (A.M.F.B. – 13 yrs)
- “Once outside my hands were tied behind my back with a single plastic tie which was very tight and painful. Then they walked me towards the gate of the nearby settlement. They made me sit on the ground by the gate and blindfolded me.A soldier started to ask me questions. He yelled at me and accused me of throwing stones at the soldiers.” (I.A.M.A. – 13 yrs)
In August 2019, Israeli media reported that lawyers for the military authorities informed Israel’s Supreme Court “that military orders and regulations forbid blindfolding of detainees, and action to clarify the rules has been taken and will continue to be taken on a continuous basis.” A medical opinion before the court noted that:
“blindfolding and similar measures that cause sensory deprivation are typically likely to cause fear, anxiety and high levels of stress … Beyond being a restrictive measure similar to binding, blindfolding creates a significant feeling of helplessness … and undermines the ability of the individual to give accurate and reliable testimony regarding what he has been through.”
Since the military authorities provided these assurances to the Supreme Court, over 90 percent of child detainees continue to be blindfolded.