Israel violating rights of Palestinian minors, rights group says

Israel violating rights of Palestinian minors, rights group says

Israel "flagrantly" violates the rights of Palestinian minors accused of throwing stones, an Israeli human rights group said Monday, DPA reported.

The minors are often arrested by armed soldiers in the middle of the night, interrogated without a parent being present and jailed for months, B'Tselem said.

Between 2005 and 2010, a total of 835 minors were charged with throwing stones against Israeli soldiers or motorists, the rights group said.

Of those, 546 were 17 and 16 years old, 255 were aged 15 and 14, and 34 were aged 13 and 12.

One was acquitted.

Nearly all of those convicted, 93 per cent, were jailed, including 19 children under 14, who under domestic Israeli law cannot be jailed.

Those aged 16 to 18 on average got four months in jail for stone throwing, although the longest sentence served was 20 months.

Those aged 14 to 16 on average spent 2.5 months in jail.

The 32 minors aged 12 and 13 were given lighter sentences. Some 40 per cent were not given a prison sentence, others were jailed for a month or two.

Israeli military law, which applies to the occupied West Bank, offers few protections of minors, B'Tselem said.

It demanded it be amended to conform with Israeli Youth Law.

The rights group said that in 2010, after Israel established a Youth Military Court, the treatment of minors improved, but the changes in the military legislation were "woefully inadequate."

Military law, unlike Israeli Youth Law, still did not define prison only as a last resort, made no reference to the presence of a parent during interrogation, and failed to prohibit the incarceration of minors under 14, it said.

Also, it defines minors aged 16 to 18 as "young adults," meaning they are treated almost as adults.

Israeli law also prohibits questioning minors at night.

B'Tselem spoke with 50 minors who had been arrested between November 2009 and February 2011, of those, 35 were detained, from several days up to ten months.

Of the 50, thirty were arrested at night, with no parent accompanying them. Although they did not resist arrest, they were handcuffed and blindfolded. Most did not get enough sleep before being questioned.

"The removal of minors from their beds in the middle of the night by a large contingent of soldiers who comes to arrest them frightens them greatly," B'Tselem said, calling night arrests of minors whose interrogation was not urgent and who were not suspected of serious offenses, "patently unreasonable."

The infringement of rights continued after the arrest, it said.

The vast majority of cases were being closed with plea bargains and short jail sentences, because Palestinian minors suspected of stone throwing are almost never released on bail, meaning they might spend more time in detention pleading innocent and awaiting trial.

Many also receive no visitors while in jail, because obtaining a permit to visit a jail in Israel takes up to 2.5 months - often longer than the time served. Palestinian families also sometimes misunderstand their visitation rights, B'Tselem said.

Even their release is not carried out in an orderly manner, with relatives being notified to fetch the minors. Instead, they are often dropped off at military checkpoints, from where they have to find their way home on their own, B'Tselem reported.

Many of the minors interviewed by it complained that during long waiting hours, they were not given enough food or drinks.

The B'Tselem report, titled "No Minor Matter," also included three eyewitness accounts of minors who said they were slapped and beaten during their interrogation.

Two of the eyewitnesses were 16-year-olds at the hands of the same interrogator, identified as "Da'ud" at the police station of the Etzion settlement block near Jerusalem. B'Tselem said that an investigation into the allegations was not making progress.

The Israeli military said in a reaction that Israeli judges had in a number of cases released minors whose rights were not upheld, leading to "improved safeguards" and "a change in police practices."

It accused B'Tselem of failing to mention that Palestinian militant groups had in the past used minors for attacks.

It said it had given B'Tselem details of some 160 cases in which minors were involved in acts that killed or wounded civilians or soldiers, "including hurling rocks and explosive devices."

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