DCI report to renew issue of Israel’s torture of children 10Jun10 June 12, 2010

by Kieren Monks  -  Ma’an News Agency -  10 June 2010

Ramallah – Ma’an – Palestinian children are routinely tortured during periods of detention by Israeli forces, a report recently released by Defence For Children International (DCI) found.

The document, based on hundreds of sworn, independent affidavits, was been submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture following its release, and is expected to renew an international challenge to Israeli detention practices.

According to the report, some 700 Palestinian children are arrested, interrogated and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system each year. As of 2010, 328 minors were being held illegally inside Israel.

Out of 100 testimonials from children of different ages and from different geographical locations across Palestine, DCI found that 69% were beaten or kicked during their detention by Israeli forces, and 81% made forced confessions during interrogations, many of which took place with the child blindfolded and handcuffed. Of those who gave testimonials, 32% signed confessions in Hebrew, the report found.

A senior DCI source called the recent release “the most comprehensive report yet.”

Explaining the process of data collection for the report, the source said “all the affidavits were taken independently yet all [of the children interviewed] 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 finding of previous reports”.

In 2009, a coalition of human rights groups, including the Israeli rights group BT’selem and DCI, submitted a 150 page document to the UN committee against torture, the conclusion was that torture of children was “widespread and institutionalized into the [Israeli] system.”

In the latest report, DCI also submitted 50 cases of children suffering extreme abuse. The cases include a 16 year old who was arrested at 2am, threatened with rape, beaten with a chair, then forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, and another 16 year old, who had his legs and nose broken during his detention, where he reported being beaten with a helmet and an iron rod.

Following investigations by DCI and other groups, the UN Committee Against Torture had previously demanded that Israel establish a juvenile court, rather than trying children as effectively adults. The committee has also expressed concern over Israel’s military order 132, which declares 16 the age of majority inside the occupied Palestinian territories, rather than 18, which is used internationally and inside Israel. The law makes those over 16 subject to adult punishments.

The last inquiry into the issue saw former Israeli representative to the UN body Aharon Leshno Yaar address the UN committee against torture’s 42nd session on 5 May 2009, where defended the stance, citing 1967 Jordanian law as setting the age of majority at 16. The ambassador went on to claim that under the international laws regarding occupation, a change to the legal infrastructure would be prohibited.

A second issue raised at the committee, was the fact that to date, Israel has not come up with legislation defining torture that complies with article 1 of the Geneva Convention.

“Israel says there is no need”, the DCI source, “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 defense of necessity.”

According to DCI, the necessity defense has often been applied to so-called ‘ticking bomb’ cases, where information must be taken quickly from a suspect, at the expense of their human rights.

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 DCI official said, “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.

An Israeli military spokesman explained that under “security legislation” and Israel’s interpretation of international law, such children can be routinely denied access to lawyers or parents for long periods in detention, since access is “not necessary.”

A Committee Against Torture demand that interrogations be videotaped was countered with the Israeli explanation that the army could not afford the expense.

In 2009, the Israeli army told the country’s rights group Breaking The Silence, that “we treat [children] them roughly even though know the vast majority are innocent. This is how we are trained to get information.”

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