Israeli forces detaining a Palestinian protester - Daniel Bar-On - 05102011
Israeli forces detaining a Palestinian protester near the Qalandia checkpoint last month. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The Israel Defense Forces last week upped the age for suspects to be tried as minors from age 15 to up to 18. The move comes following criticism by human rights groups of the IDF's treatment of minor suspects.

According to human rights groups, more than 700 minors are arrested and brought to court each year.

Israeli law considers teens as minors up to age 18, as opposed to military law in the territories, which regarded suspects as minors only up to age 15.

But according to the new orders, signed last week by GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi, all suspects up to the age of 18 will be brought before judges especially trained to deal with young offenders and will be tried separately from adults.

The Military Advocate General has been working on the new rules for the past two years.

On Tuesday, the IDF announced that young suspects would also be placed in separate detention from adults.

The new rule also means that the parents of suspects up to the age of 18, not up to the age of 15, will be informed of their detention and that the minor suspects will be apprised of their right to consult an attorney before their interrogation.

Naama Baumgarten-Sharon, an investigator for the human rights group B'Tselem, said the IDF's move was "welcome" but that "the situation is still problematic because military law still does not properly protect minors. There are still no special procedures for arresting minors, with arrest intended to be the last resort when it comes to minors."

Baumgarten-Sharon said military law still makes it possible to deprive minors of their rights when it comes to security offenses.

The IDF and the Shin Bet security service still arrest minors in the middle of the night and the new rules only require parents to be informed of the arrest of their minor child, whereas in Israel proper, a parent is allowed to accompany a minor child during the arrest.

"The change regarding informing minors in a language they understand that they are entitled to speak to a lawyer is not enough because it does not ascertain that the minor did indeed speak to a lawyer before being questioned," Baumgarten-Sharon said. "The minor is expected to provide the phone number of a lawyer and I don't know of minors who go around with the phone numbers of lawyers in their pocket."

A senior figure in the military justice system said that "no minor is tried without representation, even if representation is funded by the public purse."

The official said they were still working to make it possible for parents to accompany a child after arrest. He also said the system now had its welfare officer, who is a social worker, interview young offenders, inform the court of the minor's socioeconomic background and propose alternatives to incarceration.

The official said the fact that welfare came under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority was an obstacle, and that recent efforts to liaise with the PA on the subject had been rebuffed.