HRW‘s “Child Detention” Report: Ignoring Inconvenient Truths
Update: Following NGO Monitor’s exposure of a number of factual errors within Human Right Watch’s (HRW) publication, HRW’s posted the following correction on August 3, 2016:
“The original report incorrectly described how Israel handles security offenses involving juveniles in its courts. The following sentences were added to the report on August 3, 2016.
“The Israeli military court system tries Palestinian children from the West Bank for security-related offenses, with the exception of children from East Jerusalem. As of 2009, children are tried in a designated juvenile military court, whose judges receive special training. The military justice system, however, does not focus on rehabilitation and social reintegration for children, as provided under international law.”
This edit clarifies that children who are residents of East Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank but which Israel purported to annex in 1967, are prosecuted by Israeli civilian courts, because these children are considered Israeli residents and are not subject to military rule. The earlier version also omitted reference to the juvenile court that the Israeli military established in 2009, where Palestinian children outside East Jerusalem are tried.”
Despite this correction, a number of unresolved issues remain – highlighting HRW’s bias towards Israel:
- The correction notice is placed at the very end of the report (after several other countries are discussed) and therefore one would have to read until the end to know the text had been changed and HRW had erred on a central point.
- HRW’s “Corrections” page is not prominently highlighted on its website and the particular correction is not referenced anywhere on the Israel country page. The readers, therefore, would be unaware that there had been an error in the original document.
- HRW did not correct the statement regarding the “2013 UN Committee on the Child” document, which claims that “Israel had ‘fully disregarded’ previous recommendations to comply with international law.” As previously noted by NGO Monitor (see below), a 2015 report by UNICEF shows that Israel is implementing UN recommendations with regards to child detention.
- We note that the “testimonies” attributed to Palestinian children included in the HRW report are entirely unverifiable and that many of the factual claims were refuted in the Israeli government responses.
NGO Monitor’s Response to HRW’s Original Report:
On July 28, 2016 Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report entitled “Extreme Measures: Abuses against Children Detained as National Security Threats,” which claims to document the abuse of minors by security forces in Afghanistan, the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, Syria and the United States.
The inclusion of a section on “Israel/Palestine” in this document clearly reflects the primacy of HRW’s political agenda over methodological rigor and due diligence. This section is based on a number of false or unverified allegations.
For example, HRW claims that, “The military courts do not provide for specialized juvenile justice, with specially trained judges, prosecutors, and attorneys.” This statement is completely false. A special Juvenile Military Court was established in 2009, and according to the Israeli Ministry of Justice only “judges that have received relevant professional training, similar to the training offered to justices of the Youth Courts in Israel, are qualified to serve as juvenile judges.” (Most of the Palestinian minors held by Israeli security officials are encouraged to attack civilian vehicles, and these attacks have led to fatalities. In some cases, minors have been involved in stabbing attacks.)
This Israeli document is publicly available on the Ministry of Justice website, and the HRW statement is indicative of a lack of substantive research, as well as the NGO’s recurrent bias against Israel. This bias has been systematically documented by a number of sources.
In this report, HRW also cites a 2013 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child document which claims that, “Israel had ‘fully disregarded’ previous recommendations to comply with international law.” This allegation is also false. In February 2015, UNICEF published a report on its ongoing dialogue with the Israeli government on issues related to the detention of children. This document cited “positive developments in the administration of juvenile military justice, including the increase in the age of majority in the military courts from 16 to 18 years and the adoption of a number of military orders providing for guarantees and safeguards for children.” It further provided a detailed list of 38 recommendations raised in the dialogue with Israel of which more than half were addressed to a certain degree.
As these and other examples demonstrate, the section on Israel in HRW’s report is based on false claims, without credibility and promotes an agenda that exploits human rights for political conflict.