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The UNICEF Report: six months on
[16 September 2013] – In February 2013, UNICEF published a report on the treatment of children prosecuted in the Israeli military courts. The report – Children in Israeli Military Detention – concluded 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.
The findings of the Report were initially shared with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs which issued a statement saying that: “Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through on-going co-operation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect.” The purpose of this statement is to review what progress has been made during the past six months to implement UNICEF’s recommendations.
Essentially there has been one development of note. On 1 April 2013, Military Order 1711 came into effect (an amendment to MO 1685) reducing the time period in which a child must be brought before a military court judge for the first time following arrest. However, it should be noted that this development largely came about as a result of a High Court petition filed by the Israeli organization ACRI prior to the publication of the UNICEF report. This development, and how it compares with the rights afforded to Israeli children, is presented below.
Time limits before being brought before a judge
Palestinian children
Israeli settler children
Previous position
New position[i]
4 days
24 hours
12 hours
4 days
48 hours
24 hours
4 days
4 days[ii]
24 hours
Whilst these changes appear to be a step in the right direction, three concerns remain:
  • The time periods applied to Palestinian children can be doubled in “special circumstances”;
  • Most complaints of abuse relate to the first 24 hours of detention, during the arrest, transfer and interrogation phases. The amendments provide no additional protection during this critical time frame; and
  • The new time periods are still significantly longer than those applied to Israeli children living in settlements in the West Bank. This violates a basic legal principle that no state is permitted to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction on the basis of race or nationality.
Since the publication of the Report, there have been a number of meetings attended by representatives of UNICEF, the General Prosecutor, the Military Advocate General’s office, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lawyers and NGOs for the stated purpose of implementing UNICEF’s recommendations. However, the evidence collected since the publication of the Report indicates that the ill-treatment of children within the system continues to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalized”. Children continue to be arrested at night, painfully tiedblindfolded and physically assaulted, interrogated without first receiving the benefit of legal advice, interrogated in the absence of a parent, and imprisoned inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. There is also evidence that solitary confinement continues to be used in some cases during the interrogation phase. Further, the number of Palestinian children now being detained by the Israeli military authorities is up 12.2 percent from 2012.
Beyond a limited consultation process, six months on, none of UNICEF’s 38 recommendations have been satisfactorily implemented by the military authorities. 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.
To find out more about what UNICEF is doing to implement the recommendations contained in the Report please contact Sarah Crowe (Spokesperson, UNICEF - and Catherine Weibel (Chief of Communication, UNICEF (Jerusalem) -

[i] These time periods can be doubled in “special circumstances”.
[ii] The time periods applicable to Palestinian children aged 16-17 under military law are the same as for adults.