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Defence for Children International/Palestine Section
Legal Review on Palestinian Child Prisoners for the UN Special Rapporteur, June 2003
Submitted at end-June 2002 to the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Introduction: Arrests of Palestinian children remained at high levels in the first half of 2003, as Israeli forces continued their repression and harsh tactics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The announcement of the Road Map to Peace had resulted in few changes on the ground by end-June 2003, and child arrests had actually accelerated through May-June when the Road Map was being discussed in earnest.
By end-June, around 350 children had been arrested compared with 750 over the whole of 2002. Meanwhile, the number of child political prisoners held in Israeli military detention centres and prisons remained at 330-350 individuals, equivalent to the level at end-2002.
A startling factor in child arrests in the first half 2003 was the number of children picked up for offences committed in previous years. In addition, a large number of children were arrested under military order 1500, promulgated during the Israeli invasions of 2002, which allows for detention without charges or trial for 18 days for adults and minors alike. This meant that most children were released after several days in prison, although during this time their basic rights were violated in a comprehensive way, including (in many cases) the denial of legal representation, parental visits or even notification of their whereabouts.
DCI had handled some 185 juvenile cases by end-June 2003, which suggests that this will be another record year, given that the organization dealt with 272 cases over the whole of 2002. This means that DCI consistently handles nearly 2/3 of Palestinian juvenile cases brought before the Israel courts. The overwhelming majority of DCI cases this year involve defending child detainees against charges brought before the Israeli military courts (76%), rather than appeals (3%), transfer to more suitable facilities (4%) or release on bail (2%).
Unfortunately, DCI continued to witness a high number of juvenile administrative detention cases in early 2003, equivalent to the levels set in 2002 when these military orders began to be used against minors on a systematic basis. Administrative detention orders allow for detention of up to 6 months, without trial or specific charges. To date, DCI has handled 15 cases in 2003, compared with 32 over the course of 2002. In 2001, there were just 2 cases of this type, demonstrating the rapid evolution in the use of military orders against children over the last two years of the Intifada.
Meanwhile, the continuing waves of arrests since the Israeli invasion in March-April 2003, have resulted in high numbers of prisoners in nearly all facilities, both adult and children, contributing to overcrowding and appalling squalor in some centres. The worst situation is probably Ketziot military camp in the Negev desert, where there are just two showers for every 120 prisoners and where inmates estimate a rat to human ratio of 5:1.
One particularly worrying development has been the rising number of children being held in temporary military interrogation and detention centres for long periods of time, because of the shortage of space in permanent facilities. In some cases, children have remained in these facilities even after sentencing, even though conditions are totally unsuitable for juvenile detention. In particular, many of the facilities are overpopulated and there are reports of up to 11 children crammed into small cells of around five to six square metres. In addition, there is no special treatment for child prisoners, who are denied family visits, education or adequate recreation. In Bet El military detention centre, just outside Ramallah, prisoners are given a 30 minute break just once a week.
The standard of prisoner treatment remains unacceptable in nearly all detention centres and prisons, with frequent violations of core rights, not least of which are the freedom from arbitrary arrest, from physical abuse and torture and the right to a fair trial. Once sentenced, prisoners are consistently denied access to education and recreational materials, healthcare and for 16-17 year olds, the right to be considered as minors. In addition, because of Israeli breaches to the Geneva Convention (Article 76), children are often detained in Israeli itself, making West Bank family visits nearly impossible due to current travel restrictions. This leaves them short of money, clothing, books and personal belongings as well as the emotional support that family visits would offer.
DCI Activities: The legal department was active in the following ways in the first half 2003.
A. Juvenile Lawsuits: Child detention has remained at the high levels set in 2002, with an estimated 350 arrests in the first half of 2003, compared with 750 arrests over the whole of 2002 and 650 in 2001. Most children were released after 18 days, according to military order 1500 of 27/3/2002.
The DCI Legal Program followed up 185 cases in the first half of 2003 (1H 2003), compared with 272 lawsuits over the whole of 2002. The following table demonstrates the breakdown of cases by type:
Type of Case
Number 2003 % 1H 2002 % All 2002
Lawsuits before the Israeli Military Courts
140 75.7 48.9%
15 8.1 11.8%
Two Thirds Sentence - (Shleish) Lawsuits
1 0.5 4.1%
5 2.7 3.3%
Transfer to Suitable Prisons
7 3.8 8.8%
Follow-on Regarding Detention Conditions
- - 12.1%
Release on Bail
4 2.2 7%
Recovery of Bail
- - 2.2%
13 7.0 1.8%
185 100% 100%
The previous table indicates the following:
1- There has been a rapid increase in the number of cases handled by DCI-PS to 185 cases compared with 272 cases over the whole of 2002. On a pro rata basis this represents an increase of 36% over the first six months of the year.
2- Administrative detention cases, that is arrest and detention without open charges or trial, are on a par with 2002 at 15 cases to date, compared with 32 cases over the whole of 2002 and just 2 in 2001.
The geographical distribution of juvenile detainees represented by DCI over first-half 2003:
Child Cases 2003 - First-half 2003 % - % total 2002
9 5.4% 8.1%
22 13.3% 12.1%
24 14.5% 7.7%
28 16.9% 19.5%
14 8.4% 15.1%
22 13.3% 5.5%
47 28.3% 32%
166 100% 100%
Note; this figure differs from the number of cases because one detainee may have more than one case over the same period of time, e.g. a trial and appeal.
The table indicates the following:
i - In the Northern West Bank, cases from the Tulkarem/Qalqalyia district have nearly doubled in percentage terms to 14.5% of cases, or 24 children, compared with 21 minors over the whole of 2002.
ii- Cases affecting Bethlehem child residents have more than doubled in percentage terms, to 22 individuals, equivalent to the total number of cases from this area in 2002.
Distribution of Cases According to Age:
Child Cases 2003 - First-half 2003 % - % total 2002
16 9.6% 22.1%
76 45.8% 30.1%
17 and less than 18
74 44.6% 47.8%
166 100% 100%
The table indicates the following:
i- After a rise in cases affecting young children in 2002, the figures show a marked decrease in cases involving 13-14 year olds over the first-half 2003.
ii- The biggest increase has been in cases involving 15-16 year olds which have risen by over 50% in percentage terms in the first half 2003.
Distribution of Cases According to Sentencing:
The following table is limited to cases held in the various Israeli military courts; including the first class military courts, military appeal courts, administrative detention courts, and the various detention extension courts. Of these 91 cases have been closed (table below) and 49 are ongoing.
1H 2003 Cases - 1H 2003 % - % total 2002
1 Mo and Below
21 23.0% 10%
1- 6 Mos
37 40.7% 28.9%
6 Mos - 1yr
14 15.4% 30.9%
1- 3 Years
10 11.0% 18.8%
3 years plus
9 9.9% 11.4%
91 100% 100%
The table illustrates the following:
i- The percentage of detainees released after less than a month has more than doubled in percentage terms to 23% of cases in the first half 2003. There has also been a marked increase in the number of sentences of 1-6 months, which has become the most common sentence involving 41% of cases.
ii- There has been a fall in the number of children who are sentenced to between 1-3 years at 11% of cases compared with 19% in 2002.
iii- However, the longest sentences of over three years have retained last year's high levels including 9 children so far in 2003, compared with 17 over the whole of 2002.
B. Improving the Conditions of Child Detainees:
Israeli prison administrations continue repressive measures against Palestinian detainees, in both old and new detention and interrogation centres. In particular DCI Legal Program has been monitoring detention conditions in temporary detention centres in the West Bank, where children are being held for long periods of time because of the shortage of space in longer-term facilities.
" Detention and Interrogation Centres:
There are 10 such centres located in the West Bank and inside the Green Line. Four of these centres are supervised by the General Intelligence Services (Maskobeyya, Jalama, Ashkelon and Petah Teqwa), while the rest are supervised by the Israeli army and police. These centres are supposed to be the first holding point where detainees are interrogated after their arrest. Files are then transferred to the court and the military prosecution, who may issue an order to extend the interrogation period.
The centres are administrated by the army and military police which means treatment is often tough. The soldiers used to force juvenile detainees to perform military salutes, or face punishment. Meanwhile, there have been cases where soldiers have raided facilities and attacked detainees using teargas, batons and other weapons.
These centres are prepared to function as temporary detention centres and so, despite the absence of a legal text about the period of interrogation, it shouldn't exceed two weeks. However, in 2003, there have been numerous cases where children have been held for over 3 months in these facilities. In the case of 16-year old Mu'tamid Mahmoud Tawfiq Nasasira, a minor has been held in Atzion detention centre for 5 months to date (arrested 26 January 2003).
Because the centres are meant to be temporary, there are no facilities for sport, reading or even clothing. Moreover, there are no special provisions for children below 16, whilst 16-18 year olds are dealt with as adults. Since the centres are located in military camps and or settlements, family access is not allowed and lawyers have a hard time reaching prisoners. Despite the obstacles, DCI managed to visit these centres 18 times during first-half 2003.
After legal procedures or trial, juvenile detainees are usually transferred to two kinds of prisons; military prisons or central prisons.
" Military Prisons:
These prisons are supervised by the army and administered by the military police. Until 2002, Megiddo was the only military prison where juveniles were detained. However, after the reoccupation of Palestinian cities in March-April 2002 and the corresponding arrest campaigns, the military authorities reopened Ofer prison near Ramallah and Ketziot in the Negev. Detainees aged 16 years and over are held in these prisons, with no recognition of their legal status as children. There are no standards governing the transfer of detainees to these prisons except for Ketziot, where child and adult administrative detainees are held. As of mid-June, there were around 28 child administrative detainees held in Ketziot. These boys live in some of the worst conditions in the Israeli detention system, because of the squalor and poor hygiene and the excessive heat of the Negev desert. In addition, medical care and education are not provided as a matter of routine, which leaves the boys to teach themselves or learn from adult detainees.
Megiddo military prison is considerably better, with a health clinic on-site and better food and hygiene, although there is no formal education. The lack of parental visits is the key concern for the boys. This is a problem for all child detainees held in permanent prisons based in Israel.
" The Central Prisons:
These prisons are under the control of the prison authority, part of the Israeli Interior Security Ministry, and administered by a prison police force. The prisons are located in Israel, and include two prisons for child detainees; Hasharon for boys and Ramle for girls.
Hasharon Prison (Telmond) is primarily for adult Israeli criminal detainees. However, there is a special department for Palestinian child detainees. By mid-2003, there were around 66 boys aged 14-18 held in the facility. Although the boys have access to a teacher, that teacher is insufficient for the number of boys, which means that individuals attend short classes every other day in just three subjects. In addition, the boys are subjected to frequent raids and body searches, and despite several hunger strikes, they have made few inroads in improving the situation.
There is also a system of monetary fines which means that prisoners are frequently unable to pay for their basic needs, including food which is provided in a (paying) canteen. In some cases, the lack of family and outside financial support means that prisoners are going hungry and going short of essential nutrients because of the poor quality of the food on offer. There are also shortages in clothing, personal items and educational materials.
Ramle Prison (Neve Tertze) is primarily for Israeli female criminal detainees, but there are several rooms assigned to Palestinian female child and adult detainees. There are currently around 11 girl detainees in this prison, aged 14-18.
Treatment in this prison is particularly hard on the girls, with reports of frequent raids and punishments including solitary confinement. On one occasion the authorities beat and abused prisoners after requests for hot water to shower in. In addition, there is no formal education for prisoners and medical care is totally inadequate. In one case, a sick child prisoner, Riham Musa, was moved to Ramle, despite recent operations to remove gun-shot wounds, and was only transferred after a considerable worsening in her condition. Another prisoner has given birth in the prison under cruel circumstances, while another prisoner is currently pregnant and receiving very little support.
There is no formal education for the girls, and they lack materials and books to study from. In addition, the girls are also charged monetary fines for various 'offences' which means that they are desperately short of money to buy food, and lack clothing and personal items.
The following table gives details of our visits to various prisons and interrogation centres over first-half 2003.
First-half 2003 visits - 2002 Visits
Ketziot (Ansar 3)
Note *no children held there currently
There were other cases when DCI lawyers tried to visit prisons or detention centres, but were prevented by the authorities. Harassment and delays are common to all facilities, although visits have also been cancelled on the grounds of "emergency situations," lawyer prevention orders and unannounced detainee transfers.
C. Monitoring and Following up Incidents of Child Torture: In 2003, the use of physical and psychological torture remains an all-to-frequent experience for adult and child detainees alike as Israel continues to flout its commitments under the International Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A frequent experience is for children to be arrested from their beds in the middle of the night by a group of armed soldiers. After being handcuffed and blindfolded, prisoners are transferred in a military jeep to the initial detention centre. This journey is usually an occasion for beatings, verbal abuse and threats to the victim or his/her family. At the detention centre, prisoners may be beaten again, threatened and sometimes tied in painful positions (shabeh) in order to extract a confession. Children are often asked to sign a piece of paper written in Hebrew, which they don't understand. This later turns out to be a 'confession' which is then used to convict prisoners in a military court. Fourteen year-old Bayan Najajira's experience is typical of many Palestinian child detainees.
Israeli troops came to arrest Bayan Najajira in the middle of the night on 24 March 2003, the day after his 14th birthday. In his affidavit, he described the experience.
"I was arrested at the family home at 2 a.m. The family - including the children - was forced to stand outside in the rain as they searched our home. I was forced into a jeep and beaten on the head, back and legs with rifle butts. The IDF soldiers threatened to demolish our home and sexually assault me."
He was then taken to Atzion detention center, where he was immediately interrogated, without any legal representation. Bayan told the DCI lawyer that he was very frightened during the interrogation and when the interrogators accused him of something, he confessed. When they had finished, they asked him to sign a document in Hebrew (Bayan speaks Arabic), so that he could be released, adding that he was too young to be charged. He signed the document, which turned out to be a confession to the following 9 charges:
In October 2002, he had set light to a telegraph pole
In December 2002, he threw stones at Israeli cars near Nahalin
In 2003, he threw stones, 3 times, at Israeli military vehicles
In January 2003, he set fire to a telegraph pole
On 13 March 2003, he set fire to a telegraph pole
On 13 March 2003, he cut through a fence to reach the telegraph pole
In March 2003, he wrote slogans for Islamic Jihad and Hamas
On March 18 2003, he threw stones, 10 times, at Israeli cars and military vehicles
In March 19 2003, he set fire to a telegraph pole
On 30 March 2003, the prosecutor asked the court to extend Bayan's arrest on the basis of these charges. After negotiations with the DCI lawyer, the prosecutor agreed to drop the first seven charges, and reduce the March 18-19th charges to throwing stones twice and setting fire to a telegraph pole. The military court sentenced Bayan to three months imprisonment, with a 9-month suspended sentence for 3 years, and a 2000 shekel fine ($1=NIS4.4). He was subsequently released prior to serving his full term because of the overcrowding.
In a survey of seven affidavits taken from juveniles who have been detained in 2003 , all of them report some kind of mistreatment or torture, whether it is beating (6 out of 7 of our sample), threats to person or family (5 out of 7) or mistreatment in the form of toilet deprivation (4), denial of showers (4) or lack of food (7). The table below gives details from those affidavits.
Mistreatment and Torture
Shabeh - Positional Torture
Threats of Beatings
Shouting, Cursing and Abuse
Put in extreme temperatures
Lack of Medical treatment
It is clear from the sample that the use of torture on child detainees is a common experience, and almost a matter of policy, within the Israeli detention system. The many cases followed up in the courts have not changed anything and neither the Israeli Supreme Court ruling or international laws and conventions have been able to eradicate this practice under the Israeli occupation.
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