HRW’s Publication on Detained Children: Irresponsible Political Agenda, Not Fact-Finding
On April 11, 2016, Human Rights Watch circulated a press release, “Palestine: Israel Police Abusing Detained Children.” Like previous HRW publications on Israel, this document promotes a one-sided narrative attacking Israel, minimizes the context of terrorism, fails to adhere to basic fact-finding standards, and contains factual discrepancies. Media outlets or governmental bodies should not rely on this publication as a credible source of information.
As in the past, HRW promotes a narrative of sole Israeli aggression and minimizes the role of Palestinian violence. The publication begins with the claim that “the number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces has more than doubled since October 2015.” Using only three anecdotal incidents, HRW then issues sweeping conclusion that the Israeli police engages in “physical abuse of children in custody and interrogation practices,” in violation of international and domestic norms.
Only later in the document, and after its inflammatory accusations, does HRW briefly mention the wave of stabbings, stonings, and other Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis civilians that began in October 2015. A significant percentage of the perpetrators have been child soldiers – minors under the age of 18.
At no point does HRW call on the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to end incitement to murder Jews, nor on Palestinians to end violent and illegal attacks on civilians. Similarly, HRW does not demand that Palestinian leaders and terror groups end their exploitation of children to carry out terror attacks, riots, and other violent confrontations.
In addition, HRW ignores many changes enacted by the Israeli government in recent years regarding juvenile justice, including the creation of juvenile military courts and raising the age of majority to 18. These measures reflect efforts on Israel’s part to increase child protection, even in cases where children have committed serious, life threatening crimes such as murder, violent assault, stabbing attempts, firebombing and stone throwing.
As seen in this publication, HRW fails to adhere to internationally accepted procedures for fact-finding, such as the Lund-London Guidelines issued by the International Bar Association (see here for more on NGO fact-finding).
Substantively, HRW makes accusations of widespread “abuse” of child detainees by Israeli police and issues legal conclusions based on only three anecdotal cases, a statistically irrelevant sample. Almost all of the claims of abuse derive from witness statements. Comparative data and information from other areas of law enforcement and practice from other countries that could be used to evaluate the credibility of the HRW’s claims are not provided.
HRW also repeats the unverified claims of political advocacy NGOs, DCI-Palestine, B’Tselem, Addameer, and Military Court Watch, as well as the UN agency, OCHA-oPt (which in turn repeats the unverified claims of these same political advocacy NGOs). All four NGOs have documented issues regarding the credibility of their information. (See e.g., here, here, here, and here).
Moreover, HRW does not provide the terms of reference and the objective of this analysis (the absence of which suggests a political motive rather than credible human rights monitoring or reporting). The qualifications and expertise of those involved in preparing the document are likewise unknown.
One of the three anecdotes discussed by HRW involves a 15-year old Palestinian arrested on October 7, 2015. The incident followed several stabbing attacks in Jerusalem (two murders), and three attacks on that same day in Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, and Kiryat Gat. HRW claims the Palestinian was “handcuffed and walked to the Abu Tor neighborhood.”
However, the video linked to by HRW purporting to show the arrest notes that it was taken in Al-Tour (Mount of Olives), located almost four kilometers from Abu Tor. This major discrepancy calls into question HRW’s recounting of this incident and its ability to accurately report on Israel, as well as the reliability of the other anecdotes in the publication.