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Israel: Children in Military Custody

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the Government of Israel the implementation of the recommendations of the 2012 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report Children in Military Custody and of the 2013 UNICEF report Children in Israeli Military Detention; and, if so, what was the result of those discussions.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons and have made repeated representations to Israel on its treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including child detainees. We have raised both reports in these discussions, and we continue to press for full implementation of their recommendations, in particular on ending the use of single hand ties and on ensuring that Palestinian children are informed of their legal rights.

My Lords, I believe that only one out of 40 of the recommendations of the British report has so far been implemented. Is the noble Baroness aware that the handcuffing and shackling that she mentioned continues even during the questioning of these children? Is she also aware that more than half of them suffer physical abuse of one form or another while in custody? Many are forced to sign declarations in Hebrew which they do not understand. Will the Government, who have a direct interest in the British report, press Israel to implement the six urgent points made in July by Military Court Watch?

I thank the noble Lord for raising an important issue that I know is of universal concern to the entire House. I emphasise that we have pursued a course of active ministerial and diplomatic engagement. The noble Lord may be aware that the UNICEF report was followed by information from UNICEF that some positive steps had been taken towards addressing the recommendations in the 2012 report, including making changes to standard operating procedures on methods of restraint. The Israeli military has also started piloting the use of summons instead of night-time arrest. The noble Lord is right to signal his concerns, which also remain the concerns of the UK Government. I can only reassure him that determined engagement and dialogue are being effected by the United Kingdom Government.

My Lords, in rightly holding Israel to the test of compliance with the highest standards of international and humanitarian law, is it not also right to note that Israel is unique in the Middle East region as a liberal democracy under the rule of law in its openness to such scrutiny? Is it not also right that since those two reports, not only have there been updates from UNICEF, such as in 2015 noting significant positive improvements, but even the UN Human Rights Committee, which is no friend of Israel, has noted such improvement?

I thank the noble Baroness for her contribution. It is the case, as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that some progress has been made. That is not to say that there do not remain profound concerns about areas where there can be, and there is a distinct need for, improvement. We have welcomed the steps taken to date but we have called for further measures, including the mandatory use of the audio-visual recording of interrogations, a reduction in the use of single hand ties and more consistently informing detainees of their legal rights.

My Lords, I appreciate the response that the Minister has given. It is the same response that Mr Tobias Ellwood gave in January, when he undertook in the Westminster Hall debate that he would raise his concerns during his visit in February. From January till now, just what progress has been made on those 40 areas of recommendation? What has happened since January and his visit in February?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his question. He may be aware that the desire of the United Kingdom to send a delegation of UK lawyers to visit in February in order to assess progress was rendered impossible because of the unwillingness on the part of the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs to facilitate that visit. That was disappointing, and on 18 February during a visit to Israel the Minister, Tobias Ellwood, expressed his strong disappointment with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister at the unwillingness to host a follow-up meeting for the British lawyers. The UK has friends in Israel and among the Palestinians, but I need hardly tell this Chamber that these are deeply sensitive issues and we as a third party are doing our best to facilitate support and to encourage compliance with the two reports. We are doing our best to try to ensure that the aspects of the reports that remain unimplemented are addressed in order that the position for these Palestinian child detainees will be improved.

My Lords, how many Palestinian children are being held in Israeli prisons, and how many of them are being held without charge or trial?

The information that I have may not be sufficiently specific to help. The most recent information—and these are figures from Israel—is that as of June this year there are 260 children in military detention in the occupied Palestinian territories, including seven in administrative detention, as well as 114 in East Jerusalem.