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April 16, 2008

Palestinian Prisoners Day 2008: Challenging Military Courts

[RAMALLAH, 17 April 2008] - On Palestinian Prisoners Day 2008, DCI/PS is announcing a groundbreaking decision to challenge the Israeli Military Court system, and is publishing a report which reveals that over 6,000 Palestinian children have been arrested by Israel since the beginning of the Intifada.

Despite numerous obstacles, lawyers working for Palestinian governmental and non-governmental organisations and representing Palestinians appearing before the Military Courts, in consultation with prisoners* , have adopted a landmark agreement which will radically change the way they engage with the Israeli Military Court system and should result in greater respect for detainees’ civil and political rights.

The most important element of this agreement is that, as of 17 April 2008, no more deals regarding sentencing will be made with military prosecutors and accepted on behalf of Palestinian prisoners. From today onwards, lawyers will resort to regular legal defence procedures.

In addition, as a matter of principle, lawyers will use every legal means available to them to appeal any proposed extension of pre-trial detention, and petition against measures that involve denying prisoners access to legal counsel.

Lengthy pre-trial detention, abuse during interrogation, delayed access to legal counsel and the institutionalised practice of plea-bargaining between the prosecution and defence violate the most basic civil and political rights of Palestinian children. According to the UNCRC, ratified by Israel and endorsed by the Palestinian Authority, “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”. Today’s announced decision is a first step towards instating fair trial rights in Military Courts, and putting an end to the unlawful detention of Palestinians by Israel.

International advocacy can and must play an integral role if this unprecedented action is to succeed. To support it, it will be necessary to closely monitor the impact of this decision on children already in detention or awaiting trial. Any retaliatory action taken by Military judges and prosecutors against children and adults as a result must be immediately brought to the attention of the international community.

In order to ensure that all lawyers abide by this new agreement, committees will be established to monitor its implementation in the courts, and action will be taken against those breaching it. Ending arbitrary detentions will be achieved through unified action by all defence lawyers representing Palestinians in Israeli Military Courts.

DCI/PS’ 2007 Palestinian Child Prisoners report highlights the fact that in 2007, some 700 Palestinian children (under 18) were arrested by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. Of these, around 30 children were held in administrative detention (imprisonment without charge or trial). As in previous years the overwhelming majority of those arrested were boys (98.9%). Three girls were imprisoned during the course of the year.

At any given point during 2007, there were between 310 and 416 Palestinian children held in Israeli prisons and detention centres in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. These figures are similar to those for 2006 (340 to 420). As of December 2007, there were 311 Palestinian children held in Israeli detention, of which:
192 were awaiting trial;
101 were serving their sentences; and
18 were serving administrative detention terms.

The number of children arrested in 2007 and the first three months of 2008 brings the total number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces since the beginning of the second Intifada (September 2000) to over 6,000.

Palestinian child prisoners routinely face violations of their human rights during arrest, interrogation and imprisonment. They are exposed to physical and psychological abuse, amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and sometimes torture. They are denied prompt access to a lawyer and often denied contact with their families and the outside world.

Children in detention routinely face substandard, often inhumane conditions of detention and are frequently denied access to proper medical care and suitable education services.

With a view to putting an end to Israel’s policy of mass arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian children, the report recommends that:

  • Israel should raise the age of adulthood contained in Military Order 132 from 16 to 18 years, as is the case under Israeli domestic legislation; 
  • Israel should end the practice that exists in the Military Courts of determining a child’s sentence according to the child’s age at the time of sentencing, not at the time when the alleged offence was committed; 
  • Israel should immediately ensure its compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and thoroughly investigate all allegations of torture and abuse of Palestinian detainees and bring those found responsible for such abuse to justice; 
  • Israel should ensure that all detained children have prompt access to their families and to a lawyer; 
  • Israel should ensure that all confessions obtained from children under duress should be rejected as evidence in proceedings in the Military Courts; 
  • Israel should end the practice of detaining persons under the age of 18 in administrative detention and promptly charge all child detainees with a recognisable offence and give them a fair trial or it should immediately release them.

DCI/PS’ 2007 Palestinian Child Prisoners report is available on-line and in printed editions.

For further information, contact:
Khaled Quzmar
Head of Legal Unit
Mobile: 0599 469 383

* Prisoner representatives speaking on behalf of all prisoners (the Palestinian prisoner's movement).

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