17 April 2006 — It is a sad irony that Palestinian Prisoners’ Day comes this year as massive numbers of Palestinian children are being arrested and detained by Israeli forces. In the first quarter of 2006 alone, some 350 children were arrested — compared to around 700 child arrests in the whole of 2005. The vast increase in arrests is in turn leading to overcrowding in prisons as record numbers of juveniles are being held in unsuitable and unhygienic conditions.
Since the beginning of this intifada in September 2000, Israeli forces have arrested around 4,000 Palestinian children, 400 of whom are still in Israeli prisons and detention centres. The process of arrest and detention of Palestinian children is a process of systematic abuse and mistreatment which flouts international legal standards and denies the basic human rights of detainees first as children and secondly as prisoners.
In affidavits and interviews with DCI/PS lawyers, children have told how they are handcuffed and blindfolded, humiliated and threatened and often beaten and kicked from the moment they are arrested up to and often throughout their interrogation and detention. They are deprived of sleep, food and access to the bathroom until so-called confessions are coerced out of them and only then are most children allowed to see their lawyer. Such interrogation is aimed at extracting quick confessions from children to prosecute them and others before military courts, which themselves strive to provide a legal veneer to the illegitimate practices of the Israeli military.
Even after sentencing, the pattern of violence and abuse does not stop. While it is a widely recognised principle that the deprivation of liberty is itself the penalty for perpetrating certain offences, Israel continues to actively punish Palestinian children during their incarceration. The punishments imposed are disproportionate to the alleged offences and seem intended not to reform or rehabilitate prisoners, but to humiliate and intimidate the children and, on as broader level, break the spirit and resistance of the Palestinian community.
Ultimately these Israeli practices against child prisoners contravene a vast array of human rights instruments including those to which Israel is a state party, such as the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 37 of which requires states parties to ensure that:
(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;
(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
Given the maltreatment of Palestinian child detainees, the institutionalised discrimination against them, and the absence of appropriate legal guarantees, Defence for Children International/Palestine Section urges the UN, the Secretary General and all the UN bodies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the High Contracting parties to the IV Geneva Convention to insist that the Israeli government respects and abides by its commitments and obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.
On the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, DCI/PS also asks all parties to prioritise the issue of child prisoners and put their immediate and unconditional release at the top of the agenda of any future discussions and to insist that Israeli occupation forces cease at once further arrests of Palestinian juveniles in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Defence for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI/PS), established in 1992, is affiliated with the Geneva-based Defence for Children International, a non-governmental organization established in 1979, with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe. Though affiliated with an international network, DCI/PS is an independent, Palestinian non-governmental organization, which develops its programs and acts according to Palestinian children’s needs and Palestinian priorities. DCI/PS is dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - as articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as in other international human rights instruments - and to facilitating the creation of an environment which is aware of and respects children’s rights.