Ramallah, November 14, 2018—On January 10, 2018, 14-year-old Sameeh S.’s morning was interrupted by the sound of car tires pulling up to his home near the northern West Bank city of Jenin. Police officers stepped out of the car and knocked on the door. Sameeh’s mother soon found herself holding an official letter of summons for her son to present himself for questioning.
By that evening, Sameeh would become one of at least 22 Palestinian children in the first half of the year to be detained by bodies within the Palestinian forces that are not authorized to detain juveniles, under Palestinian law.
In the space of his 12-day detention, Sameeh experienced severe rights violations, including ill-treatment, torture, and detention with adults.
Around 7 p.m., Sameeh’s father accompanied him to the police station. Within approximately half an hour, police asked his father to leave.
Sameeh was then transferred to the Criminal Investigation unit in the Jenin police station. There, without any third party presence, three interrogators tied Sameeh’s arm to a plastic chair and accused him of stealing money.
“When I didn’t confess, he [the interrogator] slapped me on my neck and face several times. Another one ripped my jacket off and shouted at me to confess,” Sameeh told Defense for Children International - Palestine.
“They put my foot on another chair, took off my shoe and hit me on my foot twice with a plastic stick for three minutes each time. I was screaming and hurting and begging them to stop, but they would shout at me telling me to confess,” Sameeh said.
After two hours of interrogation, Sameeh said he confessed, “but it was not a real confession.”
During the rest of the rest of his detention in the Jenin police station, Sameeh was physically assaulted during additional interrogation sessions, held in isolation for one night, and detained with adults for three nights.
“I was alone in the cell,” Sameeh said, describing the police station cell where he spent his first night of detention. “It measured 2.5 by 2.5 meters [8.2 by 8.2 feet] and it was very cold. The mattresses were filthy.”
On January 11, 2018, he appeared in the juvenile court. His detention was extended by 15 days. Ten days later, on January 21, Sameeh was released on bail and his trial was postponed.
Under the 2016 Palestinian juvenile protection law, the juvenile prosecutor is the only party authorized to order a child’s detention, per Article 20. Once an arrest is so ordered, the Palestinian juvenile police force is the singular body legally sanctioned to carry out the arrest.
Based on Article 18 of the juvenile protection law, if a child is arrested by any party other than the Palestinian juvenile police while actively committing a crime, the child must immediately be turned over to the juvenile police and brought before the juvenile prosecutor within 24 hours.
Arrests carried out by other bodies in the absence of an active crime — or cases where the child is arrested by other bodies while in the process of committing an offense and the child is not quickly handed over to the juvenile police — deny children access to due process and other safeguards afforded to them by the new law.
Of the 22 cases DCIP documented, 15 were detained by the Criminal Investigation police, two by the National Security forces, two by the Preventative Security forces, two by the Intelligence forces, and one by the Guards’ police.
In addition, DCIP found evidence of other serious violations of children’s rights among the 82 cases documented of Palestinian children arrested by Palestinian authorities in the first six months of the year.
DCIP documented physical violence against 23 children, including in the context of interrogation for the apparent purpose of extracting a confession.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991, absolutely prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The prohibition against torture applies to any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person to obtain information or a confession. This can include intimidation and other forms of threats, and the victim’s age and relative position of inferiority must be taken into consideration when assessing the severity of psychological forms of torture and ill-treatment.
Article 7 of the Palestinian juvenile protection law clearly forbids “physical or mental torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The same article also forbids the use of restraints against juveniles except in cases where a child is physically aggressive or insubordinate, in which case restraints may only be used to the extent necessary. Of the 82 cases DCIP documented, 38 percent reported that their hands were tied at some point during their detention.
In 19 cases, children reported that they were detained or transfer with adults, in violation of Article 21 of the juvenile protection law.
The Palestinian Authority signed into law the first Palestinian juvenile protection law in February 2016. Previously, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank had relied on a Jordanian law that dated back to 1954 and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip applied British law enacted in 1937.
The law created juvenile courts and specialized units among police, prosecutors and judges. The best interest of the child served as the guiding principle of the law, with the deprivation of a child’s liberty used as a measure of last resort.
DCIP was a participant in the national commission that completed the draft law in 2012. DCIP has also closely monitored the implementation of the law after its enactment and provided several training sessions in collaboration with the National Committee for Juvenile Justice.
Yet, within 13 months of the juvenile protection bill being signed into law in early February of 2016, DCIP reported 14 cases of arrests that did not abide by protections and procedures set out in the law, including the use of solitary confinement and torture.
New cases documented by DCIP in July and August this year suggest this pattern will continue.
“I was surprised when one soldier grabbed me from the neck and started hitting me on my body using his hand and a baton he had. He hit me intermittently for about half an hour as he was pulling me towards a shuttle,” said a 16-year-old child from Jenin refugee camp.
The child, A.S., was arrested by Palestinian Special Police forces from a street in Jenin refugee camp in the context of clashes around 9:30 p.m. on August 6.
Along with others, A.S. told DCIP he was bound and physically assaulted by police while being transferred to Jenin police station.
A.S. described the assault as a “severe beating,” causing his abdomen and shoulder to be covered in bruises.
“We were screaming because of the beating, and the police were shouting at us and insulting us. My left shoulder and abdomen were hurting badly,” A.S. told DCIP.
A.S. and the other child detainee were then taken to the juvenile section of the police station. He was interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or parent, as is his right under international law. He spent the night in a cell with five adults.
On August 7, A.S. was brought before the juvenile prosecutor in the presence of his parents. He was transferred to a juvenile cell that day upon his own request. On the third day, A.S. was released on bail.
Between January and September of this year, DCIP submitted 11 official complaints to the Palestinian General Prosecution Office, Ministry of Social Development, Palestinian Police, Intelligence forces, and the High Justice court.
One of the complaints addressed overarching ill-treatment against children in conflict with the law, while the rest addressed seven specific juvenile cases.
In several cases, DCIP complaints resulted in positive outcomes, spurring investigations into children’s cases and supporting the best interests of the child.
One complaint, for instance, led to the release a 17-year-old child from Hebron in the southern West Bank, who had been arrested by the Palestinian Intelligence forces. The child had spent approximately two weeks behind bars when the juvenile court in Hebron ordered his release, but the Intelligence forces did not comply. DCIP’s complaint managed to secure the implementation the court’s decision and the child’s release.
Another complaint concerned four children detained from Tulkarem, in the northern West Bank, who were being detained in a mixed population with adults. DCIP’s complaint was successful in separating the four child detainees from adults and having them transferred to a juvenile section.
In 2014, Palestinian President Abbas signed the CRC and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. In doing so, the State of Palestine has obliged itself to ensure the rights of children deprived of their liberty, as set out by the CRC.
DCIP’s legal work with Palestinian children is funded in part by the European Union in partnership with War Child Holland under a project aimed at preventing and mitigating the harm caused to children who were exposed to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The information and views set out in this feature are those of DCIP and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.