A UNICEF report that examined the Israeli military court system for holding Palestinian children found evidence of practices it said were “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”
“Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised,” it concluded, outlining 38 recommendations to improve the protection of children inside the Israeli prisons.
Over the past decade, Israeli forces have arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 7,000 Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17, most of them boys, the report said, noting the rate was equivalent to “an average of two children each day.”
“In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” it said.
Although the maximum sentence for children of 12 and 13 is six months, the penalty rises dramatically from the age of 14 when a child can face a maximum penalty of between 10 and 20 years depending on the circumstances, it said.
UNICEF said it found no evidence of any detainees being “accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation” and they were “rarely informed of their rights.”
It also found that “children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member.”
Most children confess at the end of the interrogation, signing forms in Hebrew which they hardly understand.
It also found children had been held in solitary confinement for between two days and a month before being taken to court, or even after sentencing.
During court hearings, children were in leg chains and shackles, and in most cases, “the principal evidence against the child is the child’s own confession, in most cases extracted under duress during the interrogation,” it found.
“Ultimately, almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of their pretrial detention. Pleading guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow children to defend themselves,” UNICEF concluded.
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