The increasing use of solitary confinement as an interrogation technique against child detainees has been highlighted by Defence for Children International Palestine (DCI Palestine) in a press release dated 17 April 2017.
DCI Palestine have collected affidavits from 161 children from the West Bank who were detained during 2016 and have noted that not only are larger numbers of children being held in solitary confinement, but the length of time in which children are being placed in solitary confinement is also increasing, with the average period of solitary confinement increasing by 23%.
There are concerns that the use of solitary confinement appears to be primarily for the purposes of coercing a confession out of child detainees. Creating an environment which is psychologically challenging and isolating for a child, has a detrimental effect on their morale and therefore increases their vulnerability and likelihood of making a confession, despite the fact that such a confession may be inaccurate and manufactured for the purposes of bringing the solitary confinement to an end.
It has been identified by the United Nations General Assembly that the detrimental psychological and physical effects of solitary confinement can manifest after only a few days in solitary confinement. It is therefore incredibly alarming that DCI Palestine has recorded that the average period of solitary confinement for children in 2016 was for 16 days.
The 10th recommendation made in the UNICEF 2013 report on Children in Military Custody is that “in no circumstances whatsoever should a child be held in solitary confinement”. Israeli’s former chief military prosecutor in the West Bank, Lt. Col Maurice Hirsch, has responded to this recommendation by stating that there is no policy of solitary confinement, and that UNICEF’s criticisms and recommendations are borne out of a misunderstanding of the reality of the situation. He sought to justify the use of solitary confinement on the grounds that Israeli military law requires children to be held separately from adults, and no other children were present at the time. DCI Palestine does not accept this explanation, stating that “Evidence and documentation collected by DCIP overwhelmingly suggests an apparent policy and practice implemented by Israeli authorities to use isolation for Palestinian child detainees solely for interrogation purposes, particularly to obtain a confession or gather intelligence or information on other individuals.”
It is recognised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that the prolonged use of solitary confinement against adults can in certain circumstances amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, and even torture. In the context of children, these grave concerns are strongly reinforced by noting that international law provides that the welfare of a child who has been detained must be the paramount concern of the authorities. Article 3 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child provides:
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.
The suggestion that there is a practice of using solitary confinement in cases of child detainees, with a view to coercing a confession, is in complete contradiction to the principle promulgated in Article 3, as it prioritises the need to obtain information and confession above the welfare needs of the child. These welfare interests should not minimised by the fact that a child is detained, and if anything should be protected to a greater degree, as demonstrated by article 37(c) of the Convention which states that: “Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age…”.
Violence against children
Instances of violence against child detainees remains ever present in the context of military arrests of Palestinian children. At around 4am on 7 April 2017, Mousa H from the West Bank was arrested during a home raid which involved around 30 Israeli soldiers. On transfer from his home to a nearby military base, Mousa was subjected to repeated slapping and kicking by two of the Israeli soldiers.
Accounts such as Mousa are unfortunately in keeping with the statistics released by DCI Palestine on 17 April 2017, which highlight that approximately 62.7% of the affidavits collected in 2016 involved accounts of physical violence against the child.
Amir O is a 14 year old boy from Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem, who was arrested in January 2017 and transferred to an interrogation centre in Jerusalem. Amir was forced to kneel in a specific position on the floor for a period of two hours, with his hands bound behind his back. He was then subjected to beatings, including hard slaps, punching and kicking, during the course of his interrogation. Amir described that the physical violence would get worse when he denied committing any wrongdoing. Amir had bruising to his face as a result of the violence that he endured, however it was claimed by interrogators that the bruises were present before he was interrogated.
The use of violence against children as a form of intimidation, or in the course of arrest and detention is alarming and extremely disconcerting. Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child protects children from being be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Moreover, the Convention protects children’s due process rights in the context of criminal investigations and prosecutions. Article 40(b)(iv) of the Convention provides, among other things, that children are “not to be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilty”. The use of violence with a view to extracting a confession out of child detainees, violates this provision of the convention entirely. Moreover, it does not produce evidence which is reliable or useful in the context of criminal proceedings.
Angelina Nicolaou, Alamara Bettum
The information in this blog is taken from the in focus section – which is fully footnoted – of the LPHR Child Rights Bulletin for the period 1 March 2017 – 1 May 2017.