Report: IDF's Youth Court Doing Little to Improve Treatment of Offenders

B'Tselem report finds that of 853 Palestinian minors charged with stone-throwing in 2005-2010, just one was acquitted by a military court.

A report that slams the Israel Defense Forces' new juvenile court is due out later this month, hard on the heels of B'Tselem's highly critical report on how the military justice system handles juvenile offenders.

B'Tselem's report, published yesterday, found that of 853 Palestinian minors charged with stone-throwing in 2005-2010, just one was acquitted by a military court.

Palestinian boy holds slingshot - AP - July 2011

The military juvenile court was set up in late 2009 in an effort to ameliorate the treatment of juvenile Palestinian suspects. But the new report, by an organization called No Legal Frontiers, says it has done little to improve matters.

The organization examined 17 cases in which minors were charged with throwing stones or Molotov cocktails between April 2010 and March 2011. But just as in the cases B'Tselem examined - most of which were heard by regular military courts rather than the juvenile one - almost all the suspects in these cases agreed to plea bargains in which they confessed and were sentenced to jail.

The fact that 94 percent of these minors were remanded until the end of their trials explains why 98 percent agreed to a plea bargain: The sentences imposed under such deals are usually shorter than the time the teen would otherwise spend in jail awaiting trial.

Moreover, the report found, the juvenile court did not intervene in a single one of these plea bargains, but went ahead and issued jail sentences - even though most of the teens were arrested at night, were not accompanied to jail by their parents or any other adult, and were not allowed to meet with a lawyer before they were charged.

The report also found that remand hearings for these minors were usually held in regular military courts rather than the juvenile court.

While Israeli civil law includes extensive protections for juvenile suspects, military law does not accord juveniles any special treatment. Thus, for instance, juvenile suspects in civil courts are always evaluated by a welfare professional, but only 4 percent of juvenile suspects in the military youth court received such evaluations, the report said. The IDF Spokesman's Office said it could not comment on the report because it hadn't yet received a copy.

"We regret that No Legal Frontiers went to the media before going to the IDF to obtain a professional, researched response to the matter," the Spokesman's Office added. "We stress that the IDF will respond to and investigate any allegation made to it after conducting a thorough, in-depth examination."