Palestine Monitor
10 June 2010

Torture Of Palestinian Child Prisoners "Widespread And Institutionalised"

This week a DCI (Defence For Children International) report found that Palestinian children are still routinely tortured under Israeli custody. The document, based on hundreds of sworn, independent affidavits, has been submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture.

Each year around 700 Palestinian children are arrested, interrogated and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. From 100 testimonies, from different age groups and locations, DCI found that 69% were beaten or kicked and 81% made forced confessions during interrogations, which would commonly take place with the prisoner blindfolded and handcuffed. 32% signed confessions in Hebrew.

A senior DCI source called it “the most comprehensive report yet”, making a pattern from previous years hard to discern but added the results were “not a surprise”. Explaining his confidence in the data’s legitimacy, he explained “all the affidavits were taken independently yet all report very similar stories. Many of the details we heard commonly are not what you could imagine a child making up. The details of verbal abuse, the connection of leads from a car battery to body parts. You see a pattern emerging, which corroborates the findings of previous reports”. Last year a coalition of human rights groups, including BT’selem and DCI, submitted a 150 page document to the committee against torture, the conclusion was that torture of children was “widespread and institutionalised into the system”.

DCI also submitted 50 cases of children suffering extreme abuse. These include ’M.S’, 16, who was “arrested at 2am, threatened with rape, beaten with a chair, then signed a confession in Hebrew”. ’Muhammad H.’, also 16, “breaks leg during arrest, hit with helmet and iron rod, nose broken”.

Previous demands of the DCI and UN Committee Against Torture include the establishment of a juvenile court, rather than trying children as effectively adults. Another longstanding concern of both bodies is military order 132, which makes 16 the age of adulthood inside the occupied territories, rather than the international standard, 18, used inside Israel.

The Israeli justification, presented by their ambassador to the UN, is that under Jordanian law in 1967, the year occupation began, 16 was the age of adulthood. He went on to claim that under the international laws regarding occupation, a change to the legal infrastructure would be prohibited. Considering these same set of laws of have been systematically ignored in every aspect from settlements to water annexation, the claim is hard to take seriously.

To date there is no definition of torture in Israeli legislation that complies with article 1 of the Geneva convention. “Israel says there is no need”, the DCI source told us, “most forms of torture can be found in the domestic criminal code. We don’t think that’s enough. We have been extremely worried by the high court decision of 1999, which prohibited torture with the caveat that Israeli interrogators could be protected under section 34, the defence of necessity.” Such a defence is often applied to so-called ‘ticking bomb’ cases, where information must be taken quickly from a suspect, at the expense of their human rights.

A glance at the Committee Against Torture’s report for May 2009 reveals the defence has been extremely effective. Out of “550 examinations of torture allegations initiated by the General Security Services (GSS) inspector between 2002 and 2007, only four resulted in disciplinary measures and none in prosecution”.

One of DCI’s core demands, the establishment of a separate court for minors, has been met only superficially. “There have been very few substantive changes,” the source told us, “previously adults would be mixed in with kids, now they try three kids at a time and we observed a 20 year old in the same hearing. They are still treated as adults. Procedures are still the same, judges are the same and now there’s a preliminary hearing (on adult terms) before children go before the juvenile justice court. In a genuine system you would have specifically trained judges, a less intimidating setting and more consideration given for the defendant‘s age.” He went on to add that in sessions they observed, children were treated noticeably better.

IDF lawyers accept that children are still routinely denied access to lawyers or parents for long periods in detention. A spokesman said under "security legislation" and Israel’s interpretation of international law, such access was not necessary. A Committee Against Torture demand that interrogations be videotaped was met with the excuse that the army could not afford the expense. For one of the best funded, most advanced armies in the world, it is a surprising defence.

Last year an IDF source told Breaking The Silence “we treat them roughly even though know the vast majority are innocent. This is how we are trained to get information”. It is a system that costs lives. The Palestinian Census Department announced yesterday that since 1967, around 200 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli custody as a result of torture and negligence.