Yesterday, the UK parliament held an important debate entitled “Child Prisoners and Detainees – Occupied Palestinian Territories”, which was secured by Sarah Champion MP (Labour Shadow Minister for Preventing Abuse and Domestic Violence). The debate focused on the major and long-standing human rights problem of Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children living in the occupied West Bank.
The debate covered a range of pressing human rights and legal concerns as prior addressed by UNICEF in its significant 2013 report. The UNICEF report concluded: “the ill-treatment of children who come into contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and instiutionalised throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
Sarah Champion’s impressive and authoritative opening speech adopted a clear legal and human rights perspective on the issue of Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children. Her speech concluded with a marked emphasis on the critical aspect of the unlawful transfer of children outside of the occupied West Bank for detention inside Israel. It is worthwhile excerpting the conclusion of her speech on this point, and her related five key recommendations to the UK government, in full:
“The transfer of detainees en masse from occupied territory is a stand-alone issue, because it is a war crime. It is not contingent on the presence or absence of peace talks. It should not be contingent on one political view or another. After nearly half a century, it requires decisive action in accordance with our international legal obligations. The fourth Geneva convention makes it clear that the UK has a positive legal obligation to search for persons accused of committing grave breaches of the convention, regardless of their nationality, and to ensure that if such persons enter the UK, they are arrested and prosecuted with all speed. That is why I recommend that in order to begin to fulfil our legal obligations, we must establish and maintain a watch list of all known war crime suspects, whoever they may be. We should know, at all times, who is coming into this country, whether we need to be concerned and what action we are legally obliged to take. As a nation, we must send a strong message that we will no longer tolerate the commission of war crimes on such an industrial scale, and that we are a people who honour our commitments.
“I would like the Minister to act on five points. I would like him to establish a watch list that includes the names of all who commit, aid, abet and procure the commission by another person of the unlawful transfer of protected persons—adults and children—from occupied territories to prisons in Israel. I want him to ensure that any individual on the watch list who attempts to enter the UK is detained for questioning and, if sufficient evidence is available, charged and prosecuted, subject to the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“I would like the Minister to continue to lobby the Israeli Government to cease the practice of unlawfully transferring protected persons—adults and children—from the occupied territory, and to relay the concerns of this House that that practice undermines international legal order. I would like him to continue to lobby the Israeli Government to implement all 40 recommendations included in the UK report, and to monitor whether any changes to military detention systems are translating into tangible improvements on the ground and resulting in a substantial reduction in the level of reported abuse.
“In accordance with international law, all Palestinian children detained in the Israeli military detention system shall be held in facilities located in the occupied Palestinian territory”?”
It is noteworthy that among these recommendations are feasible accountability measures that the UK government can undertake in relation to effectively meeting its international legal obligation under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention “to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts”.
Sarah Champion MP also highlighted the issue of G4S PLC’s involvement in Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children through its contracts to install and maintain security systems within prisons located inside the occupied West Bank and Israel. She noted that G4S is in breach of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (which followed submission of a comprehensive business and human rights complaint by Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights to the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines).
The Foreign Office minister, Tobias Ellwood MP, stated in closing the debate that he would reply in writing to Ms Champion’s recommendations and that “the British government remain concerned by the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons”. He notably announced that the Foreign Office was funding an independent UK lawyers’ delegation (including Baroness Scotland QC and Sir Stephen Sedley) follow-up visit in February 2016 to review progress on the 40 recommendations made in their 2012 Children in Military Custody report.
It is vitally important that momentum is now developed on expediting and strengthening the reforms urgently required to remediate the substantial, systemic and harmful lack of basic human rights protections for Palestinian children held in Israel’s military detention system. Sarah Champion MP should be hugely commended for renewing attention on this critical issue and for framing the parliamentary discussion on it in a highly considered manner.
Tareq Shrourou – Director of LPHR
(You can read a full transcript of yesterday’s parliamentary debate here. For an analysis on this issue, please see LPHR’s January 2016 briefing on Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children living in the occupied Palestinian territory.)