Legal Review on Palestinian Child Prisoners submitted at end-June 2003 to the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights
A. Juvenile Lawsuits:
1- DCI-PS handled 185 cases up to June 2003, compared with 272 cases over the whole of 2002. This represents an increase of 36 percent over the first six months of last year.
2- Administrative detention cases (arrest and detention without open charges or trial) are on a par with 2002 at 15 cases to date, compared with just 2 in the whole of 2001.
Data on the geographical distribution of juvenile detainees represented by DCI over the first-half of 2003 indicates the following:
i - In the Northern West Bank, cases from the Tulkarem/Qalqalyia district have nearly doubled in percentage terms to 14.5 percent of cases, or 24 children, compared with 21 minors over the whole of 2002.
ii- Cases affecting Bethlehem children have more than doubled in percentage terms, to 22 individuals, equivalent to the total number of cases from this area in 2002.
Data on the distribution of cases according to age indicates the following:
i- Figures show a marked decrease in cases involving 13-14 year olds over the first-half 2003.
ii- Cases involving 15-16 year olds have risen by over 50 percent in percentage terms in the first half 2003.
The following information is limited to cases held in the various Israeli military courts. Of these 91 cases have been closed and 49 are ongoing.
i- The percentage of detainees released after less than a month more than doubled, to 23 percent of cases in the first half 2003. The most common sentence is one to six months, involving 41 percent of cases.
ii- There has been a fall in the number of children sentenced to between one to three years from 19 percent in 2002 to 11 percent.
iii- So far, nine children have been sentences to over three years, compared with 17 in 2002.
B. Improving the Conditions of Child Detainees:
The DCI Legal Program has been monitoring detention conditions in temporary detention centers 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 Centers:
There are 10 such centers in the West Bank and inside the Green Line. Four of these are supervised by the General Intelligence Services, while the rest are supervised by the Israeli army and police. Detainees are first interrogated in these center after their arrest. Files are then transferred to the court and the military prosecution, who may issue an order to extend the interrogation period. Treatment is often tough. There have been reported cases where soldiers have raided facilities and attacked detainees using teargas, batons and other weapons.
These centers are prepared to function as temporary detention centers where detainees should be held for a maximum of two weeks. In 2003, numerous cases have been reported of children being held for over 3 months in these facilities. Sixteen-year old Mu’tamid Mahmoud Tawfiq Nasasira was held in Atzion detention center from January to June 2003.
These temporary centers have no facilities for sport, education or providing clothing. There are no special provisions for children under 16, and 16-18 year olds are treated as adults. As the centers are located in military camps or settlements, family access is not allowed and lawyers have difficulty reaching prisoners. Despite these obstacles, DCI managed to visit these centers 18 times during first-half 2003.
After legal procedures, juvenile detainees are usually transferred to two kinds of prisons; military prisons or central prisons.
Miltary prisons are supervised by the army and administered by the military police. Until 2002, Megiddo was the only military prison detaining juveniles. After the reoccupation of Palestinian cities in March-April 2002, the military authorities reopened Ofer prison near Ramallah and Ketziot in the Negev. Detainees aged 16 and over are held in these prisons. As of mid-June, there were around 28 child administrative detainees in Ketziot, where conditions are reckoned to be the worst in the Israeli detention system, given the squalor, poor hygiene and the excessive heat of the desert. Medical care and education are not provided as a matter of routine. Megiddo military prison, however, has a health clinic on-site, better food and hygiene, but no formal education. Lack of parental visits is the key concern for the detainees and is a problem for all child detainees held in prisons inside Israel.
These prisons are under the control of the Israeli Interior Security Ministry and are 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, primarily for adult Israeli criminal detainees, has a special department for Palestinian child detainees. By mid-2003, there were around 66 boys aged 14-18 in the facility. There is one teacher in the prison providing short classes every other day in three subjects. The boys are subject to frequent raids and body searches. A system of monetary fines means prisoners are frequently unable to pay for their basic needs, including food from a (paying) canteen. In some cases, the lack of family and external financial support means prisoners are 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, primarily for Israeli female criminal detainees, has 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, with reports of frequent raids and punishments including solitary confinement. There is no formal education for prisoners and medical care is totally inadequate. 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 also short of money to buy food, and lack clothing and personal items.
C. Monitoring and Follow Up of Incidents of Child Torture: Physical and psychological torture remain an all-too-frequent experience for adult and child detainees as Israel continues to flout its commitments under the International Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Children are frequently arrested in the middle of the night by a group of armed soldiers. After being handcuffed and blindfolded, they are transferred in a military jeep to a detention center. During this journey they are frequently exposed to beatings, verbal abuse and threats to the victim or his/her family. At the detention center, prisoners may again be beaten, threatened and sometimes tied in painful positions to extract a confession. Children are often asked to sign a piece of paper written in Hebrew, which they don’t understand. This turns out to be a “confession,” which is then used to convict prisoners.
Israeli troops arrested Bayan Najajira the night of 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 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 taken to Atzion detention center, where he was interrogated without legal representation. Bayan told the DCI lawyer that he was 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 only Arabic), so that he could be released, adding that he was too young to be charged. The document turned out to be a confession to nine minor charges of stone throwing, arson and grafitti.
On March 30, 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 others to two cases of stone throwing and one of arson. The military court sentenced Bayan to three months imprisonment, with a 9-month suspended sentence for 3 years, and an NIS 2000 fine. He was subsequently released without serving his full term because of prison overcrowding.
In a survey of seven affidavits taken from juveniles detained in 2003, all report mistreatment or torture, whether it is beating (6 out of 7), threats to person or family (5 out of 7) toilet deprivation (4), denial of showers (4) or lack of food (7).
Mistreatment of child detainees is apparently a common experience within the Israeli detention system. Numerous court cases, Israeli Supreme Court rulings and international laws and conventions have so far been unable to eradicate theses practices.