MPs' challenge on Israel's child prisoners

Israel has admitted that some Palestinian children as young as 12 or 13 charged with criminal offences have been brought into court in handcuffs and leg irons.

The practice was brought to light by four MPs of the All Party Palestinian Group who visited Israel and the West Bank at the end of last month with lawyers from Israeli non-governmental organisation Defence of Children International.

One of the four, Sandra Osborne, the Labour MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, sponsored a debate on Tuesday morning in which she and her colleagues described what they had seen in Ofer military prison on November 29.

Mrs Osborne said: "At the end of four days of touring the Occupied West Bank our group arrived at the military court of Ofer in the West Bank. Army officers led child detainees into the military courtroom, their legs shackled, their hands cuffed, all kitted out in brown jumpsuits. Did soldiers feel threatened by 13- and 14-year-old boys?"

Seeing children being manacled in court was appalling

She put forward five recommendations to Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, who was responding for the government. She said no child should be interrogated without a lawyer or member of their family being present; all interrogations to be audio-visually recorded; all evidence suspected of being obtained by torture should be rejected by Israeli courts and authorities; all allegations involving obtaining confessions by torture should be investigated, and no Palestinian child should be detained outside the parameters of the Geneva Convention.

A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy acknowledged that leg shackles were used as well as handcuffs.

"We have to remember that, although they may be juveniles, the suspects in question are being tried for severe crimes.

"Standard procedure in such a case, crucially regardless of whether it is Israelis or Palestinians in the dock, would be to ensure that they are not free to escape, or attack those who are accompanying them.

"It is also important to state that the restrictions are only in place on journeys to and from the court. However, once in a secure location such as the courtroom or a detention centre, there are no such restraints."

Grahame Morris (Labour, Easington) asked Prime Minister David Cameron about the situation during Prime Minister's Questions last week. He said during the debate: "I didn't have any long-standing commitment to the Palestinian cause as such but I felt as a new MP I should see the evidence with my own eyes.

"To see Palestinian detainees was
a shocking experience. I am a father of a 13-year-old and seeing children of the same age in fatigues and being manacled and chained in court was appalling and something I found difficult to come to terms with."

The two other MPs who were on the tour, Richard Burden (Labour, Birmingham Northfield) and Ian Lavery (Labour, Wansbeck) joined in the condemnation of the practice.

They also alleged that Palestinian children were regularly arrested during the night, physically assaulted, deprived of food and water, held in communicado for eight days, taken into Israel without their families' knowledge and exposed to extremes of heat and cold.

Alistair Burt said he would raise concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children and youngsters with the Israeli authorities during a visit he said was scheduled for next year.

Afterwards, he said that sometimes Israel needed to listen to people outside. "We are not all motivated against Israel and we are making remarks that are in Israel's best interests."

    Last updated: 1:50pm, December 9 2010