Senator Nick Xenophon – Estimates question about Palestinian children in Israeli prisons

May 31, 2017

Questioned DFAT’s responses to Israel’s unlawful transfer of Palestinian children from West Bank prisons to prisons inside Israel and Australia’s representations to Israel on breaches of children’s rights in detention.

On 2 December 2015 Military Court Watch wrote to Australia’s diplomatic representative in Ramallah concerning Israel’s policy of unlawfully transferring Palestinian child detainees out of the West Bank to prisons inside Israel in violation of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Will DFAT undertake to provide a detailed response to this letter as soon as possible given that I understand the letter was written some time ago. I understand that Military Court Watch has not received a response.

Whole interaction with Mr Matthew Neuhaus (Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT) and Ms Frances Adamson (Secretary, DFAT) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).

Senator XENOPHON: On 2 December 2015 Military Court Watch wrote to Australia’s diplomatic representative in Ramallah concerning Israel’s policy of unlawfully transferring Palestinian child detainees out of the West Bank to prisons inside Israel in violation of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Will DFAT undertake to provide a detailed response to this letter as soon as possible given that I understand the letter was written some time ago. I understand that Military Court Watch has not received a response. It has been some 18 months since that letter was written to the Australian representative office in Ramallah. Would you like me to repeat that for you?

 

Mr Neuhaus : Clearly it is an important issue. I have not personally—

 

Senator XENOPHON: It cannot be that important. It has taken 18 months to get a response to the representative.

 

Mr Neuhaus : I have only taken over the division in the last month. I have not personally sighted that letter.

 

Senator XENOPHON: Ms Adamson, can I ask you. Do you think it is acceptable that if a letter is written by a body such as Military Court Watch and signed by a number of eminent lawyers including Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Danny Friedman QC, Gerard Horton and Ms Saimo Chahal QC, that since December 2015 it is yet to be responded to, apparently, by Australia’s representative?

 

Ms Adamson : I think Mr Neuhaus was about to say that he had very recently taking over acting in this role. I am sure he would be happy to check on that and get back to you as quickly as he can.

 

Senator XENOPHON: Yes, but my question to you is: do you consider a letter that is clearly a considered letter by some very eminent lawyers on an issue involving the Fourth Geneva Convention ought to be responded to in under 18 months?

 

Ms Adamson : I always make it a personal practice to reply to correspondence as promptly as possible but I would need to have a look at the facts of the issue that you have raised.

 

Senator XENOPHON: I will not take it any further other than to ask will DFAT undertake to provide a detailed response within a reasonable time frame?

 

Ms Adamson : We can certainly look at the issue that you have raised. We will look at the issue that you have raised and come back to you once we have done so.

 

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you. If you could take that on notice as to when a response is likely. Chair, do not look at me like that. I still have three minutes.

 

In March 2013 UNICEF recommended that every child detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank must have access to a lawyer of their choice prior to interrogations required under Israeli military law. Recent evidence indicates that more than four years on 90 per cent of children continue to report being interrogated without prior access to a lawyer. Will DFAT take that issue up with the Israeli authorities and report back? Is that something that DFAT will look into given the concerns of UNICEF and also the concerns, as I mentioned earlier, in relation to the Fourth Geneva Convention?

 

Ms Adamson : Yes, we will do that.

 

Senator XENOPHON: Further, in March 2013 UNICEF recommended that every child detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank must be informed of their right to silence under Israeli military law at the time of arrest and again prior to interrogation. Recent evidence indicates that more than four years on no child is being informed of their right to silence at the time of arrest and 88 per cent report not being informed of this right prior to interrogation. I ask could you take that up with the Israeli authorities?

 

Ms Adamson : We will certainly look into that and take it up.

 

Senator XENOPHON: Finally for now—and I will put some other questions on notice about the whole issue of children in detention—in March 2013 UNICEF recommended that no child held in custody should ever be blindfolded. Recent evidence suggests that more than four years on 80 per cent of children detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank continue to report being blindfolded on arrest. I ask that you take that up with the Israeli authorities in respect of that.

Link to full Hansard transcript.

Sign up to receive emails from APAN

Available Mailing Lists

Keep up to date with what is happening in Palestine advocacy in Australia - all the latest events, campaigns and actions. Emails are irregular based on events, but on average are fortnightly.
Weekly email featuring three top news items - bite size way to keep up to date with Palestinian concerns.
Team who respond to stories about Palestine in the Australian media - predominantly letter writing.