Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th
on Palestinian women and children in Israeli imprisonment
Human Rights March, UN Association and Mandela Centre
A panel consisting of six
Danish experts in different legal and cultural domains reviewed the
following questions on the basis of a number of testimonies:
During the tribunal,
testimonies were presented by Palestinian women and children, lawyers
and international observers who work with these cases.
- Do the Israeli authorities
fulfil their obligations as an occupying power in relation to the
Palestinian women and children in Israeli captivity?
- Are the Palestinian women
and children in Israeli prisons exposed to treatment prohibited by
international conventions and the UN Convention against Torture?
- Does Israel comply with
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to the
imprisoned Palestinian children?
During the preparation of the
tribunal, great efforts were made to invite one or more official
Israeli representatives to allow them to present their views on the
legal basis applied by Israel and the facts in relation to the issues
of the tribunal. These efforts included several invitations to the
Israeli embassy in Denmark and through different channels directly to
the Israeli authorities. Unfortunately without any result. The panel
regrets that we have not heard the official Israeli points of view.
At the end of the tribunal,
the panel gave the following answers to the three questions:
Re 1) Do the Israeli
authorities fulfil their obligations as an occupying power in relation
to the Palestinian women and children in Israeli captivity?
The legal basis is the 4th
Geneva Convention of 1949.
According to article 49
individual and mass forcible transfers from occupied territory to the
territory of the occupying power are prohibited, regardless of their
motive. Furthermore according to article 76 persons accused of
offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted
they shall serve their sentence therein.
According to article 71
convictions should only be pronounced by the occupying power’s
competent court of justice after a regular trial. Persons who are
prosecuted by the occupying power shall be promptly informed, in
writing, in a language, which they understand of the charges against
them, and shall be brought to trial as rapidly as possible.
According to article 72
accused persons have the right to present evidence necessary to their
defence and may, in particular, call witnesses. They shall have the
right to be assisted by a qualified counsel of their own choice, who
shall be able to visit them freely and shall enjoy the necessary
facilities for preparing the defence.
According to article 27 women
shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour or
any form of indecent assault. Furthermore, Israel as an occupying
power has an obligation to keep the World Declaration on Human Rights
and universal Human Rights Conventions, which Israel has ratified.
Women have a right to special protection, during pregnancy, delivery
Israel denies that the 4th
Geneva Convention applies to the occupied territories, but the UN
Security Council and the international community as a whole have made
it clear that it does apply. The Israeli Supreme Court has made
several rulings establishing that the humanitarian rules of the
Convention apply to Israel.
Facts and witnesses
According to the UN special
rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied
Palestinian territories, there were more than 10,000 Palestinian
prisoners in Israeli prisons in 2007. Ninety-nine per cent of
the detainees are placed in Israel, which means that they are outside
the occupied territories. Of these, 116 were women and 380 were
children. According to witnesses, 40 per cent of the male Palestinian
population has been in prison once or several times during the last 40
years of occupation.
According to witnesses, cases
related to Palestinians from the occupied territories are handled by
Israeli military courts. When arrested, detainees are often not
informed about the reason for the detention. One of the female
witnesses was detained for 13 months without ever having been informed
about the charges against her.
The judges are military
officials, which raises the issue of impartiality. The prosecutors are
military officials as well. The language used during the court
proceedings is Hebrew, which is rarely understood by the defendant or
in many cases by their defence lawyer. Interpreters are used, but the
witnesses explained that the interpretation was highly inadequate. In
the cases of administrative detention, the documents of the file are
kept secret from both the defendant and the defence lawyer. In the
cases where charges are raised, the defence lawyer gets an opportunity
to copy the file documents, which are all in Hebrew. If the documents
have to be translated, they must pay for the translation themselves.
Witnesses describe the court
proceedings as extremely summary. According to a report made by the
Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, a court examination
related to administrative detention lasted for three to four minutes
The lawyers who testified to
the tribunal explained that, at court proceedings for extension of the
detention, the defendant and his or her defence lawyer were asked to
leave the room while proceedings continued in the presence of only the
judge and the prosecutor.
In 2006, 9,123 cases were
concluded by the military courts. Only 1.42 per cent of the cases were
concluded following a full trial, including the production of evidence
and the interrogation of witnesses. The rest were concluded by
so-called plea bargains. This is a kind of confession arrangement in
which the person concerned, knowing in advance what the sentence will
be, accepts confessing to a criminal offence. Defence counsel will
often advise his client to accept a plea bargain, as the alternative
is often lengthy proceedings with the ultimate risk of a more severe
sentence. Witnesses point out that plea bargains are even more
questionable in relation to children, as they are more inclined to
confess to something they did not do.
Several witnesses talked
about arbitrariness in relation to the extension of detention, which
is often extended when the detainees believe they will be released.
Being kept in ignorance for long periods regarding the basis of
suspicion and other issues, they experience unpredictability, which is
psychologically damaging in itself.
difficulties apply to detainees with Palestinian defence lawyers with
regard to maintaining proper contact. Detention takes place in prisons
on Israeli territory, which the lawyers concerned are forbidden to
Witnesses explained that
pregnant women are not provided with sufficient nutrition and health
service; furthermore, there have been instances where women were
handcuffed during delivery.
It is the opinion of the
panel that Israel does not fulfil its obligations under the 4th
Geneva Convention. The panel concludes that it is beyond reasonable
doubt that Israel has committed serious infringements of the said
rules of the Convention regarding due process.
Re 2) Are the Palestinian
women and children in Israeli prisons exposed to treatment prohibited
by international conventions and the UN Convention against Torture?
The legal basis is the UN
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, in particular articles 1, 2 and 16, which
have been ratified by Israel.
I. Article 16: “Each State
Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its
jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1,
when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the
consent or acquiescence of a public official ……..”.
Facts relating to article
16, as described by the witnesses
a. Physical conditions:
All the witnesses described
the age and arrangement of the prisons, the size of the cells, heating
and lighting as degrading and inhuman. Furthermore:
b. The regime:
II. Article 1: Defines torture:
- The doctors. The medical
staff are employed by and answer to the prison authorities (military
as well as civilian), and not to medical authorities. The doctors
speak Hebrew, the prisoners Arabic. The quality of the treatment
is described by the witnesses as extremely poor. “No matter what
the complaint, we are treated with an aspirin and a glass of water.”
There are long administrative and practical periods of waiting for
any further examinations or treatment.
- The prison staff treats
the prisoners in an arrogant and degrading manner.
- Disciplinary means are
applied without the detainee having been heard, and sanctions are
often in conflict with international rules like the “UN Standard
Minimum rules for Treatment of Prisoners”.
“ For the purpose of this
convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering,
whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person
for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person
information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third
person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or
intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason
based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is
inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or
acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an
Article 2: Torture is never permitted.
- Each State Party shall
take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other
measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its
- No exceptional
circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of
war, internal political instability or any other public emergency,
may be invoked as a justification of torture.
- An order from a superior
or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a
justification of torture.”
Facts relating to articles
1 and 2, as described by the witnesses:
The witnesses all describe
that torture as defined in article 1 is widespread and systematically
applied in Israel both during the arrest, the administrative
detention, the remand in custody and the imprisonment after the
The witnesses describe
methods of torture. These descriptions are in agreement with the
results of a scientific study carried out on former prisoners referred
to the Rehabilitation Centre in Ramallah. The table indicates figures
from women and children and only some of the methods of torture
harassment and threats of rape
The numbering refers to the
figures of the study. Furthermore, the study shows that men are
tortured more frequently than women, and that torture takes place
before as well as after the Supreme Court ruling of September 1999.
Article 2. Israel maintains
that it is justified to apply torture in certain cases and refers to
the concept of “The Ticking Bomb” and to the possibility of
obtaining information capable of saving a number of persons from death
and disaster at the expense of one person’s sufferings. The response
to this is that torture is always forbidden, and that it is a fact
that the information obtained under torture is not reliable. The
tortured person will quite simply confess to anything. Israel has
moreover invented new and more refined torture methods.
In many countries torture is
used, mostly by the police, in order to obtain information or a
confession. In Israel, however, torture is also very widespread in
prisons, where it can only have the purpose of humiliating and
undermining the prisoner’s personality. This is
successful to a
great extent and it affects not only the tortured individual, but the
whole family. The child whose parents have been tortured very often
experiences that the parents have lost their parenting skills, because
tortured people loose their ability to act with empathy after the
torture. The parents suffer whether they are tortured themselves or
they observe the results of torture on their children. As 40 per cent
of the Palestinian men have been imprisoned – and most of them
tortured – it affects the whole population. Many suffer from PTSD
(post traumatic stress disorder), but, as one of the witnesses
remarked, the prisoners are released from a closed prison into a
society which is an open prison. Thus they suffer not only from PTSD,
but also from CTSD (continuous traumatic stress disorder).
Re 3) Does Israel comply
with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to the
imprisoned Palestinian children?
According to article 1 of the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child means every human
being below the age of eighteen years.
Article 2 states that States
Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present
convention to each child within their jurisdiction without
discrimination of any kind.
According to article 3, the
best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all
actions undertaken by public authorities, including courts of law.
Articles 8 and 9 prescribe
the unity of the family and provide that the child should not be
separated from its family.
Article 24 obliges the state
to ensure the highest attainable standard of health for the child with
access to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation
By article 28, the States
Parties recognise the right of the child to education.
According to article 37, no
child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment. Arrest and imprisonment shall be used only as a
measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of
time. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be
separated from adults and shall have the right to maintain contact
with his or her family through correspondence and visits. Every child
deprived of liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and
other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the
legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or
other competent, independent and impartial authority.
Facts and witnesses
Israeli military authorities
consider Palestinians below the age of 16 as children, while Israelis
are considered children until the age of 18 years. This applies to
children of settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories as well.
In addition to this, witnesses report that even children as young as
12 years old are imprisoned. One of the witnesses was 15 years old
when he was detained.
We have heard numerous
examples of how the best interests of the child are not safeguarded.
Witnesses have reported that Israeli children who are removed from
their families are placed in especially suitable institutions, whereas
Palestinian children are placed together with adults in ordinary
prisons. Children are removed from their families, and imprisoned
children are prevented in every way from maintaining the necessary
contact with their families. Separation is administratively upheld
during long periods.
Offers of physical
examinations and treatment are insufficient and are delayed, and the
physical surroundings induce illnesses and are generally destructive
to health. As examples of illnesses brought on by maltreatment,
witnesses reported skin diseases, infections and anaemia for all
groups of prisoners. In addition, they pointed to the lack of
opportunity for treatment.
One of the witnesses
described that she did not enjoy the right to education during the six
years of her imprisonment. She was imprisoned when she was 15 years
There were repeated
testimonies about even children being subjected to torture and to
other degrading treatment.
The witnesses also reported
about massive detention, without the authorities first having tried
less invasive measures and without any documented justification for
the serious action.
Children have exactly the
same difficulties as detained adults in maintaining contact with their
defence lawyer as stated above under (1).
It is the opinion of the
panel that Israel does not comply with its obligations in relation to
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is clear to the panel
that Israel in no way complies with the Convention on the Rights of
the Child in relation to detention and to imprisonment of Palestinian
of January 2008
Bjørn Elmquist, Lawyer and
Chair of the Danish Legal Policy Association
Birgit Lindsnæs, Director,
International Department, the Danish Institute for Human Rights
Birgitte Rahbek, Cultural
Sociologist, Pedagogic Licentiate, Psychotherapist and author
Bente Rich, Child and Youth
Elna Søndergård, Expert in
International Law, the American University, Cairo
Bent Sørensen, MD,
Professor, IRCT, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture
victims, former member of the UN Committee on Torture.
- Taghreed Jashan, lawyer,
WOFPP (Womens Organisation for Political Prisoners) - Israel,
- Anat Litvin, manager of
prisoners department, Physicians for Human Rights Israel
- Khaled Quzmar, lawyer,
Defence for Children International/ Palestine section
- Mahdi Hreish, 18 years,
previous child prisoner, who was detained 8 months in Israeli
prison, lives in Ramallah.
- Khader Rusrus, psychologist,
Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture,
- Butheina Doqmaq, lawyer,
Mandela Institute – Palestine.
- Birgitta Elfström,
internationally nominated rapporteur by Israeli Military Courts
from ICJ Sweden (International Committee of Jurist)
- Suad Ghazal previous child
prisoner from Sebastia in Nablus district who was arrested when
she was 15 years old and released after six years and three months.
- Doctor Rifqa elJa’abri,
Hebron, who spent 13 months in prison. Now she has her own
practice in Hebron