Donald Macintyre: Nothing resonates like the mistreatment of minors

Donald Macintyre
Tuesday 26 June 2012 22:24

The charge that Israel violates international law in its treatment of Palestinian prisoners in general and child prisoners in particular is hardly new.

What makes this critique so devastating, beside the fact that its authors include lawyers as eminent as Sir Stephen Sedley, and that the study was funded and facilitated by a government essentially friendly to Israel, is the lucidity with which the violations are pinpointed.

At the heart of it is the conclusion that the military rulers in the occupied West Bank are as bound by the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child as their civilian counterparts in Israel itself. And that the Convention would still be serially breached even if Israel was right to claim that the detentions were properly conducted – in the face of a harrowing body of testimony about night-time arrests and interrogations, coercion, physical and verbal intimidation, solitary confinement and other abuses.

For all its measured language, it exposes a gulf between the admirable standards applied to Israeli child detainees on the one hand, and Palestinian ones on the other. This includes the routine detention of Palestinian minors, their relative lack of access to lawyers and their families, the use of shackles and the neglect of the Convention's requirement to act in the child's "best interests".

It argues that whether or not the children are guilty – usually of throwing stones – their right to equitable treatment cannot be made conditional on the security environment, pointing out that "a major cause of future unrest may well be the resentment of continuing injustice".

And it ringingly reaffirms that the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory to prisons in Israel violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community has not been vocal about this in the past, perhaps because of its own record of transnational prisoner transfers. It will harder for it to ignore it now.

Which brings us to the future. The report will not magically inject a new humanity into the treatment of Palestinian child detainees, even if, as it says, its recommendations are highly capable of implementation by the Israeli military.

The report has no enforceability. But its political impact may be greater. Many aspects of the occupation contravene international law. But none resonate, as Israel well knows, like the treatment of children.

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