Saturday 31 March 2018

Detention of Palestinian children breaches their rights under the UNCRC

Recently ATUC Exec member and former President Kate Ramsden spoke at a public event organised jointly by SPSC and ATUC as part of their 150th anniversary commemoration, on the detention of Palestinian children by the state of Israel. Here is the text of that presentation for any who wish to read it.

"As well as a trade union activist I am a social worker to trade and for the past almost 20 years I’ve been a children’s rights officer  – what I like to refer to as “my proper job.”

It’s a job I love. Firmly based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (the UNCRC) my colleague and I work with and for children who are looked after and placed away from home, and other children needing a rights service. We are involved only with the express agreement of the young person and they have control of what we do, unless there is risk to them or others, and even then we would not act without their knowledge. For children who often don’t have a lot of power in their lives, this helps to promote their confidence and their resilience – crucially important for their future life chances. 

Over those 20 years I have seen the acceptance that children have rights widen. Now all legislation relating to children incorporates reference to their rights under the UNCRC. The importance of children having a voice in matters affecting them has become widely accepted and very gradually cultures in this country are changing. Children are empowered to speak and adults see the value of listening.

I feel privileged to have been a part of this change. 

Which is not to say that things are perfect in this country. But there is progress.

And it is because of my background I suppose that I see so clearly when children are not being valued across the world, where their rights are not being respected or are being ridden roughshod over.

 And ofcourse this is happening in lots of different places – Syria, India, in the refugee camps in France where this government could be doing far more to bring those children that have family here and those who are unaccompanied and vulnerable, to the UK but drag their heels. And in many other countries. 

And of course in Palestine and the occupied territories, where the treatment of children by the occupying state of Israel has shocked me beyond belief. I was first awakened to this during the 2014 bombardment of Gaza, when so many civilians and so many children died or were badly injured was my awakening to the numerous assaults on Palestinian children and their rights by the Israeli state.

We called it a war on children – it was. 

Like many of you I joined the Aberdeen protests week in and week out. I  wrote to MPs and joined SPSC to add my voice of condemnation. And from there I learned of all the other breaches of everyday rights that the people of Palestine face day in and day out.

I heard from Palestinian activists speaking at SPSC events. And from the wonderful Lajee Centre with their vibrant and brave young dancers and story tellers who performed in Aberdeen to a big crowd – and from Fiona and her colleagues following their visits to the West Bank - about the small acts of terror that haunt the lives of the Palestinian people under occupation. 

Never knowing whether they will get permission to tend their crops… or whether they will be shot at in their fields if they are given permission. Or whether their children will come home safely from school, or the local community centre, or whether they will be shot or beaten at checkpoints, or whether their community centre will be invaded by soldiers with guns and tear gas. The tearing down of houses and schools. The collective punishment of communities on a daily basis.

The inability to visit family in different parts of Palestine because of the apartheid wall and the numerous checkpoints and the need for permission from Israel.

And I learned about the detention of Palestinian children by Israel in direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which, believe it or not, Israel is a signatory and I was outraged. 

Ofcourse, in this country we do lock up children. But there is clear legal criteria. The welfare of the child remains paramount and children can only be placed in secure care for their own safety or that of others. Most are placed through the Children’s Hearing system – some through the Courts. All are given legal representation to ensure the protection of their rights. It must be regularly reviewed and their detention must only last for as long as they meet the legal criteria. They must be cared for properly and appropriate for their age. Their family must have access to them for visits. They are still children first.

But not so for Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel. Israel is the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in military courts – between 500 and 700 each year. 

Let’s look at the UNCRC and remember what it says when I tell you about the experiences of Palestinian children.

Article 37 states that
       No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
       The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
       Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age
       Every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so
       Every child shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances
       Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action

Since 2012, Israel has held an average of 204 Palestinian children in custody each month, according to data provided by the Israel Prison Service. 

Ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains “widespread, systematic, and institutionalised throughout the process,” according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendation.

And it is primarily Palestinian children who are detained. Apartheid writ large.

Yet the Western world seems unwilling to do anything about such breaches of children’s and human rights.

So it goes on and Palestinian children as young as 12 are routinely:
• Taken from their homes at gunpoint in night-time raids by soldiers. 
• Blindfolded, bound and shackled. 
• Interrogated without a lawyer or relative being present and with no audio-visual recording.
• Put into solitary confinement. 
• Forced to sign confessions (often in Hebrew – a language they do not understand).

Can you imagine our 12 year olds being treated like that? Our children and grandchildren taken away by soldiers and held in prison, without us having any access to them? 

We would be incensed and distraught and we should be no less enraged that this is happening day in and day out to the children of Palestine.

And why?

Most face the charge of throwing stones which carries a maximum sentence of 10 or 20 years depending upon the circumstances. 

This has been highlighted most recently by the arrest and detention of Ahed Tamimi. She has been held in detention since December for slapping a soldier who came into her garden. Expressing her anger at the shooting of her cousin. And for that she faces years of imprisonment.

Children are taken from their homes, often in the middle of the night as happened to Ahed; or are arrested at demonstrations, or checkpoints. Nowhere is safe for the children of Palestine.

Conviction rates in Israeli military courts, where these children are tried, is more than 99%
Around 60% of child prisoners end up in prisons inside Israel. This is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the deportation of any person from an occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power. As a practical consequence, these vulnerable children have limited family visits.

So imagine – they arrest our children them put them in prison miles from where we live with walls and checkpoints separating us. It’s unbearable!

Yet so far the response from our government has been woeful. 

Well that’s just not good enough. We need to spur them into action. We need to insist that the rights we expect for our children, the rights that are accorded to Israeli children are also given to Palestinian children like Ahed Tamini and all the other Palestinian child prisoners.

This is the Year of the Young Person in Scotland. As a country we need to stand up and unequivocally condemn Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children. 

So what can we do? I won’t lie. It’s very difficult whilst we have a Tory government in Westminster that cares little for the lives of children in this country, never mind in Palestine – a government happy to see more and more children grow up in poverty whilst the rich get richer – a government happy to sell arms to Israel despite the human rights abuses they perpetrate on a Palestinian people under occupation and daily oppression.

I genuinely believe that a Corbyn led Labour Government would change all that. And so does the Israel lobby which is why they have tried so hard to discredit him from outwith the Party and within. Nonetheless he is the best hope for an end to this country’s unequivocal support for Israel and an end to the arms trade with Israel. 

Meantime our branch has been doing all it can to support the growing campaign to highlight the plight of Ahed Tamimi and all the other Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel and has joined the growing  campaign for their release.

We have raised the issue at our Scottish Council of Branches and called on all branches represented to do their bit by writing to your MPs and MSPs calling on them to raise this issue in the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments and demanding they call on their governments to do all they can to press the Government of Israel to end the widespread and systemic human rights violations suffered by Palestinian children in Israeli military custody.

This call has been publicised to all our members in Scotland through the website, social media and Scotland in UNISON to raise awareness of the issue and encourage our members to lobby their MPs and MSPs.

And the issue of Israel’s detention and treatment of Palestinian children will be raised again with the Labour Party through Labour Link and call on them to add their voice to the condemnation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian child prisoners.

The branch has written to our local MPs and MSPs, with differing responses, supportive from Labour and SNP politicians but not so from my ocal Tory MP.

We have also submitted a motion to our National Delegate conference which we hope will be heard. Our union is already affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity movement and supports BDS. It has long worked to end apartheid in Israel and for justice for the Palestinian people. I feel sure that our motion will be fully supported.

As you know the Aberdeen TUC has also submitted a motion to the STUC Congress which again calls for a campaign to end the detention of Palestinian children and seek the freedom of Ahed Tamimi and all other children unlawfully detained.

I know that I an speaking mainly to the converted here tonight , but if you haven’t done so, please write to your MP and MSP and demand they act to protect the rights of the children of Palestine and publicly condemn Israel for their shameful treatment of these children.

Please use your union or any other political organisations you are involved in, and ask them to add their voice to the condemnation of Israel for detaining children. 

Of all the crimes that the Israeli state perpetrate against the Palestinian people – and there are many – surely the way they treat Palestinian children is the by far the worst. We must all do what we can to bring an end to it and to the everyday oppression of the Palestinian people."