Israeli forces detain a Palestinian youth during clashes near Israel's Ofer prison on March 7, 2017, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Photo: AFP / Abbas Momani)
Ramallah, April 17, 2017—Israeli authorities held increasing numbers of Palestinian children in solitary confinement for longer periods in 2016, for interrogation purposes.
Defense for Children International - Palestine collected affidavits from 161 West Bank children detained by Israeli forces and prosecuted under the jurisdiction of Israeli military courts during 2016. Of these children, 25 were held in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes for an average period of 16 days, a 23 percent increase over the previous year. The longest period of isolation for a child that DCIP documented in 2016 was 29 days. In 2015, DCIP documented a total of 15 children held in solitary confinement by Israeli authorities for interrogation purposes.
“Israeli authorities apparently use isolation to create a psychologically compelling situation for the child detainee, and then vulnerability increases when access to legal counsel is denied,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “The practice of using solitary confinement on children, for any duration, is a clear violation of international law, as it amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and in some cases, torture.”
The 25 children were all boys aged between 15 and 17 years old, including 17 children aged 17 years, 5 children aged 16 years, and three children aged 15 years.
In February, in an interview published by The Jerusalem Post, Lt.-Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch, Israel’s former chief military prosecutor in the West Bank, claimed Israeli authorities have no policy of solitary confinement for Palestinian children. Hirsch alleged that in cases where Palestinian children are held in isolation it is due to the fact that no other minors were present at the facility at the time, and the law requires that minors be held separate from adults to ensure their protection.
While globally, children in conflict with the law are often held in solitary confinement either as a disciplinary measure or to separate them from adult populations, the use of isolation by Israeli authorities does not appear to be related to any disciplinary, protective, or medical rationale or justification.
Evidence and documentation collected by DCIP overwhelmingly suggests an apparent policy and practice implemented by Israeli authorities to use isolation for Palestinian child detainees solely for interrogation purposes, particularly to obtain a confession or gather intelligence or information on other individuals.
Between 2012 and 2015, DCIP documented 66 cases involving the solitary confinement of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system. The longest period one child was held in solitary confinement was 45 days, while the average time spent in solitary confinement was 13 days.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year that lack fundamental fair trial rights.
Out of the 161 sworn affidavits collected by DCIP from West Bank children detained by Israeli forces during 2016, a total of 62.7 percent of children endured some form of physical violence following arrest and 52.8 percent were verbally abused, intimidated, or threatened. Israeli authorities denied access to lawyers prior to interrogation in 83.9 percent of cases, and children had no lawyer or family member present in 94.4 percent of cases.
International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obliged itself to implement by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991, demand that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. DCIP considers all persons below the age of 18 to be children in accordance with the CRC.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has explicitly found that solitary confinement, when “used intentionally during pretrial detention as a technique for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession” amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
The practice of using solitary confinement against children in Israeli military detention, whether in pretrial detention for interrogation purposes or as a form of punishment, must be stopped immediately and Israeli authorities must amend military law to ban the use of solitary confinement.