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- Københavnertribunalet 2008
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 webmaster: Ruth Jensen

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Panel Conclusions Final Document 
 
 Tribunal Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th January 2008

Israel and International Law
With focus on Palestinian women and children in Israeli imprisonment
 

Organizers: 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: 

  1. Do the Israeli authorities fulfil their obligations as an occupying power in relation to the Palestinian women and children in Israeli captivity?
  2. Are the Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons exposed to treatment prohibited by international conventions and the UN Convention against Torture?
  3. Does Israel comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to the imprisoned Palestinian children?
During the tribunal, testimonies were presented by Palestinian women and children, lawyers and international observers who work with these cases. 

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 and motherhood.  

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 on average. 

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. 
Several practical 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 enter. 
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. 

Conclusion 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The prison staff treats the prisoners in an arrogant and degrading manner.
  3. 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”.
 II. Article 1: Defines torture:

“ 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 official capacity.……” 

Article 2: Torture is never permitted.

  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 sentencing. 

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 mentioned: 

    Torture methods Children under 18 Women
    1. physical beating 74% 44%
    2. “shaking”1 36% 15%
    3. suspension 70% 48%
    5. segregation 71% 73%
    14. enforced nakedness 59% 47%
    15. sexual harassment and threats of rape 17% 36%

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. 

Comments:
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.

Conclusion  
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 of health. 

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 old. 
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). 

Conclusion 

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 children. 

Copenhagen, 27th of January 2008 

Panel

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 Psychiatrist

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.

Witnesses: 

  1. Taghreed Jashan, lawyer, WOFPP (Womens Organisation for Political Prisoners) - Israel,
  2. Anat Litvin, manager of prisoners department, Physicians for Human Rights Israel
  3. Khaled Quzmar, lawyer, Defence for Children International/ Palestine section
  4. Mahdi Hreish, 18 years, previous child prisoner, who was detained 8 months in Israeli prison, lives in Ramallah.
  5. Khader Rusrus, psychologist, Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture, Ramallah
  6. Butheina Doqmaq, lawyer, Mandela Institute – Palestine.
  7. Birgitta Elfström, internationally nominated rapporteur by Israeli Military Courts from ICJ Sweden (International Committee of Jurist)

    Furthermore by video konference from Ramallah:

  1. 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.
  2. Doctor Rifqa elJa’abri, Hebron, who spent 13 months in prison. Now she has her own practice in Hebron
 

The tribunal’s arrangers attended a meeting with the Danish Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee

On 28 February 2008, a delegation comprising five representatives of the Tribunal on Israel and Civil Rights* met with the Danish Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee. The delegation had the opportunity to tell about the tribunal, the witnesses’ testimony and the panel’s conclusions. The report, Backyard Proceedings, from the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din was also presented to the Committee.

The delegation asked the Committee to support the Danish government and the Parliament in making policies to:

  • Exert pressure on Israel either to release all imprisoned Palestinians or allow them a fair trial in accordance with the 4th Geneva Convention.
  • Exert pressure on Israel with a demand for immediate cessation of torture and any other gruesome and inhumane and humiliating treatment or punishment, both physical and psychological.
  • Ensure that Palestinian children are treated in accordance with the Convention for Children’s Rights, and also that women prisoners are provided special protection against any violation of their honour and modesty.
  • Arrange public hearings that can provide further information about Israel’s policies regarding Palestinian prisoners in relation to human rights and international law.
  • Work to support all international organizations in which Denmark is represented to demand that Israel abide by international law with regard to Palestinian prisoners.

*Bent Sørensen, Professor of Medicine, representative for the panel

Kirsten Grosen and Bodil Heinø from Human Rights March

Kjeld Aakjær from Mandela Center, Danmark

Anni Herfort from UN Association