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On 29 July 2009, the Israeli military commander in the West Bank, Gadi Shamni, issued Military Order 1644 purporting to establish a juvenile military court. The order came into effect on 1 October 2009, and has now been in operation for four months.
Since coming into effect on 1 October 2009, lawyers for DCI-Palestine have noticed few substantive changes to the procedures in the military courts other than that children are now generally (but not always) tried separately from adults. No other significant discernable changes have occurred in the practice or procedure of the military courts in relation to juveniles.
For the past 42 years, Palestinian children have been tried in the same military courts as adults, even though Israel is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which promotes the establishment of specialised juvenile courts (see Article 40(3)). After years of criticism, the Israeli military commander issued Military Order 1644 purporting to establish a juvenile military court. This attempt to incorporate juvenile justice standards within the military court system has been met with concern by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child during its 53rd session in January 2010.
Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years, are prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is for throwing stones.
Implementation of Military Order 1644
Three judges have been appointed from the existing ranks of military judges to adjudicate in the ‘juvenile military court’. One judge has been appointed to Ofer Military Court (near Ramallah), and two judges have been appointed to Salem Military Court (near Jenin). In addition to their new role, these judges are still hearing cases involving Palestinian adults. It is not clear what juvenile justice training the three military judges have received. Lawyers for DCI-Palestine have been monitoring the implementation of Military Order 1644, and can report as follows
On 1 February 2010, DCI-Palestine representatives attended the sitting of the ‘juvenile military court’ in Ofer between 10:00am and 12 noon. During this period, 14 cases of juveniles and young adults were brought before the court.
No child should be prosecuted in military courts which lack comprehensive fair trial and juvenile justice standards. DCI-Palestine recommends that as a minimum safeguard in the light of consistent reports of mistreatment and torture, that the Israeli authorities:
1. Ensure that no child is interrogated in the absence of a lawyer of their choice or family member;
2. Ensure that all interrogations of children are video recorded;
3. Ensure that all evidence suspected of being obtained through ill-treatment or torture be rejected by the military courts;
4. Ensure that all credible allegations of ill-treatment and torture be thoroughly and impartially investigated and those found responsible for such abuse be brought to justice.
DCI-Palestine lawyers will continue to monitor developments in the military courts. For further information please see DCI-Palestine’s latest report on Palestinian child prisoners.
Committee on the Rights of the Child – Concluding Observations (53rd Session – January 2010) – Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict