Palestinian children detained by Israeli authorities face systematic abuse that violates international law, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has said in a report.
UNICEF estimated that 700 Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17 were arrested by Israeli security forces every year in the occupied West Bank.
The world organisation said it had identified some examples of practices that “amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture”.
According to the report, which was released on Wednesday, most of the youths are taken into custody for throwing stones at Israeli security forces. Tel Aviv says it takes such incidents seriously, noting that rock-throwing has caused Israeli deaths.
Ill-treatment of Palestinian minors typically begins with the arrest itself, often carried out in the middle of the night by heavily armed soldiers, and continues all the way through prosecution and sentencing, according to the report.
“The pattern of ill-treatment includes … the practice of blindfolding children and tying their hands with plastic ties, physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, including the use of painful restraints,” the report said.
It said minors suffered physical violence and threats during their interrogation, were coerced into confession and not given immediate access to a lawyer or family during questioning.
“Treatment inconsistent with child rights continues during court appearances, including shackling of children, denial of bail and imposition of custodial sentences and transfer of children outside occupied Palestinian territory to serve their sentences inside Israel,” the report said.
Such practice “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised”, it added.
UNICEF based its findings on more than 400 cases documented since 2009 as well as legal papers, reports by governmental and non-governmental groups and interviews with Palestinian minors and with Israeli and Palestinian officials and lawyers.
Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club which looks after inmates and their families, praised the report and called for Israel to be held accountable.
A spokeswoman for Israel’s Prison Service said there were currently 307 Palestinian minors in Israeli custody, 108 of whom are serving a prison sentence. Most of them are between the ages of 16 to 18 and the rest are under 16.
UNICEF said Israel had made some “positive changes” in recent years in its treatment of Palestinian minors, including new hand-tying procedures meant to prevent pain and injury.
It also noted a 2010 military order that requires Israeli police to notify parents about the arrest of their children and to inform minors they have the right to consult a lawyer.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said officials from the ministry and the Israeli military had cooperated with UNICEF in its work on the report, with the goal of improving the treatment of Palestinian minors in custody.
“Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect,” he said.