Dutch Foreign Minister issues statement on child detention
[27 January 2015] – On 15 January 2015, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, provided a written update (Dutch) (English) to the Dutch Parliament on the situation facing Palestinian children prosecuted in Israeli military courts in the West Bank. Concern regarding this issue has increased significantly since UNICEF published a report which 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.” It appears that some of the information included in the Foreign Minister’s update was provided by Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Hirsch, Israel’s chief military prosecutor in the West Bank. The Minister’s update to Parliament included information on the following issues:
1. A pilot scheme to introduce summonses in lieu of night arrests; and
2. The use of social welfare reports in the military courts relating to detention on remand.
Pilot scheme to reduce night arrests
According to the Foreign Minister’s update, in February 2014 a pilot scheme commenced in the Nablus and Hebron districts in the West Bank replacing, where possible, night arrests by written and phoned summons to report to the Israeli military authorities. The scheme has reportedly now been suspended. However, during the short period of time during which the scheme was operational, the Israeli military authorities have now informed the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “no statistics were collected”. This admission by the military authorities casts serious doubts as to the bona fides of the scheme from the very start.
According to MCW’s most recent progress report, there was a five per cent reduction in the number of night arrests during the pilot scheme but in 67 per cent of cases where summonses were issued they were served by the military after midnight during intimidating night incursions into Palestinian homes.
Social welfare reports
The Foreign Minister’s update lists as a positive development that social welfare reports produced by the military court’s probation officer are now taken into consideration on the question of remand. However, it is relevant to note that this development was strenuously opposed by the chief military prosecutor whose objection was overruled by the Military Appeals Court (K.T. v Military Prosecutor (June 2014)). Further, since the retirement of the only probation officer working in the military court system in December 2014, no probation reports have been produced. Although a replacement probation officer has been appointed, she does not speak Arabic and no provision is yet in place to provide translation.
Question of conflict of interest
The Foreign Minister’s update makes a number of references to ongoing discussions between the Ministry and Israel’s chief military prosecutor in the West Bank, as well as between UNICEF and the chief military prosecutor. According to media reports, the chief military prosecutor resides in a West Bank settlement established in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Art. 49 as confirmed by the Security Council) and whose establishment is categorized as a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Art. 8(2)(b)(viii)).
In the circumstances it is submitted that there is a clear conflict of interest and it is not appropriate that issues relating the treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention and the implementation of UNICEF’s recommendations are being considered by a settler. This issue has been brought to the attention of both UNICEF and Dutch diplomatic representatives in the region and raises questions as to the intention of Israeli officials to implement UNICEF’s recommendations in good faith.