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Children in Conflict with the Law

Governments around the world abused youth during arrest and interrogation and held them in overcrowded, unsafe conditions in disregard of international standards. Juvenile detention facilities often failed to provide youth with adequate educational, medical, mental health, or rehabilitative services. In many cases, children were commingled with adults, in violation of international law.

The United States' treatment of children in conflict with the law presented particular concerns. It continued to detain and incarcerate large numbers of youth-over 100,000, by one estimate-even though juvenile arrests fell for the sixth year running. With four juvenile offenders executed in the first half of the year, it continued to defy the international standard forbidding the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed below the age of eighteen.

Abuse in Policy Custody

Children in conflict with the law were often subjected to human rights violations during arrest and detention, including arbitrary arrest, physical abuse during interrogation, and other denials of due process. In particular, street children throughout the world were subjected to routine harassment and physical abuse by police and by private security guards who often acted with the acquiescence of the government.

According to the Russian Committee for Civil Rights, one third of all youth facing criminal proceedings in Russia are subject to violence during detention and interrogation. One in four youth was subjected to police violence on the street before the age of fifteen.

When Human Rights Watch interviewed a fourteen-year-old boy who had been frequently detained by Russian police, he reported that during one arrest, the police beat him and his friends, spraying tear gas in their eyes. His mother told us that when she picked him up the following day, he had bruises on his head, back, and legs. The bruising on his legs was "mostly on the hips, not round ones but stretched ones, as if they were beating with sticks." She also stated that his eyes were red and that he vomited shortly after he was released.

Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations heard reports of similar abuses from children across the world. In Pakistan, a fifteen-year-old boy detained for the theft of a motorcycle told Human Rights Watch in 1998, "I was whipped with a rubber strap or lash used to rotate a motor, like a fan belt." In Jamaica, Human Rights Watch researchers heard numerous accounts of beatings with batons, sticks, and electrical cords during and shortly after arrest. In Bolivia, in one case documented by Amnesty International in April 2000, police detained a sixteen-year-old boy in Cochabamba, beat him with hoses and chains, and broke his nose.

The Israeli military reinstituted Military Order No. 132 in 1999, permitting its forces to arrest Palestinian children as young as twelve. Originally issued during the Intifada, the order had been suspended in 1993. Following the renewed implementation of the order, groups of Palestinian children reported that they were beaten or threatened with physical abuse during interrogation.

A sixteen-year-old girl continued to be held pending trial in Israel's Ramle prison after being arrested in December 1998. According to her parents, she was placed in solitary confinement and denied family visits for seventeen days after her arrest.

Palestinian security forces carried out sweeping arrests of secondary school and university students in the West Bank in response to violent demonstrations there, detaining many who reportedly took no part in the demonstrations or in acts of violence.

Several of the students reported that they were kicked and beaten in Palestinian General Intelligence and Preventive Security Service detention centers (see Israel, the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority chapter).

In November 1999, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Guatemala responsible for the 1990 deaths of five street youth ranging in age from fifteen to twenty. Police officers shot four of the youth in the head and the fifth in the back; the officers then abandoned the bodies in Guatemala City's Bosque de San Nicolás. The court noted that the officers' actions in the case were consistent with a pattern of illegal acts against street children that included threats, arbitrary arrest, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and extrajudicial execution. The decision was the first by a regional human rights tribunal to address violations of the rights of street children.

Following the Inter-American Court's decision, Guatemala showed increased willingness to acknowledge abuses committed by its security forces against street children. At a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March 2000, Guatemala accepted full responsibility for the death of Marcos Fidel Quisquinay, a thirteen-year-old killed in 1994 when two individuals handed him a bag of food containing explosives. In July 2000, Guatemalan authorities arrested a private security guard for the 1994 murder of a seventeen-year-old street youth. Also in July, the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman found members of the National Civil Police's former Special Forces unit responsible for sexually assaulting a fifteen-year-old girl in front of another fifteen-year-old street child.

Conditions of Confinement

Children throughout the world continued to be confined in conditions that violated international law and standards. In many cases, children in confinement were subjected to violence at the hands of guards and other detainees, commingled with adults, denied access to education, medical, or mental health services, deprived of family visits, religious services, and other important contacts with their communities, and even denied adequate food or basic sanitary facilities.

Palestinian youth held in Israel's Telmond Prison said they were held in overcrowded conditions and experienced difficulties in receiving family visits and medical treatment. In addition, in November 1997, a Tel Aviv court ordered the prison authority to provide detained Palestinian children with an education equivalent to that offered to detained Jewish children, with the exception of instruction in subjects defined only as those that "threaten the security of Israel." According to Defence for Children International/Palestinian Section, the prison authority failed to implement the decision fully.

Children in Russia's investigation and pretrial detention centers were also subjected to cramped, filthy, and dangerous conditions. In December 1999, a representative of a local NGO observed twenty-eight boys in a cell with eighteen beds, only twelve of which had mattresses; the boys slept in rotations. The representative told Human Rights Watch that one boy was severely beaten by other youth: at the instigation of guards, another boy stood in the center of the cell, blindfolded and swinging a plastic bottle full of water; the others repeatedly pushed the first boy within range of the swinging bottle. The representative described the boy who had been beaten as "covered in bruises of every shape and color."

Human Rights Watch received reliable reports that children under eighteen were regularly held in adult detention facilities in Bahrain. Local NGOs in Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Mali, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, and Zambia also reported that children and adults were at times commingled, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Each of these countries was a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; all except for Bahrain and Pakistan were states party to the ICCPR.

In March 1999, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered Honduras to compensate children detained in adult prisons between 1993 and 1997 to remedy Honduras' violations of the American Convention on Human Rights. By September 2000, however, only a few of the youth had received payment.

In the United States, abuses in South Dakota's juvenile detention facilities came to light after Gina Score, fourteen, collapsed and died during a forced run at the state's boot camp for girls in July 1999. Following her death, other youth and their parents charged that guards routinely shackled youth in spread-eagled fashion after cutting their clothes off (a practice known as "four-pointing"), chained youth inside their cells ("bumpering"), and placed children in isolation twenty-three hours a day for extended periods of time. Girls held in the State Training School reported that they were strip-searched by male guards, sprayed with pepper spray while naked, and handcuffed spread-eagled to their beds. Human Rights Watch wrote to South Dakota Governor William Janklow in March 2000 to urge him to revamp policies and practices at all state juvenile detention facilities. The governor did not respond to our letter.

Prompted by Human Rights Watch's 1999 report on children in adult jails in the U.S. state of Maryland, community pressure, federal inquiries, and in some cases the prospect of litigation, detention officials in Maryland took some steps to address deficiencies in education. The Baltimore City Detention Center's school added additional teachers to its staff and began to offer a full school day to youth in the general population and protective custody sections, but youth in other sections, including segregation, continued to be deprived of regular classroom instruction. The Frederick County Detention Center entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to provide appropriate special education to all detainees under twenty-one years of age, as required by federal law. In Prince George's County-where youth were receiving no education at the time of our visit-the Department of Corrections and the county board of education agreed to provide educational services in September 2000, several months after the American Civil Liberties Union Fund of the National Capital Area notified the department that it intended to initiate a lawsuit.

In a welcome development, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice notified Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening on October 16 that it would investigate conditions for all 3,000 detainees

at the Baltimore City Detention Center, including an examination of whether youth were "subjected to excessive use of isolation." The division also planned to examine whether detainees, including youth, received appropriate medical and mental health care and adequate protection from harm.

In September 2000, the U.S. state of Louisiana agreed to implement significant changes in its juvenile detention system to protect youth from physical, sexual, and mental abuse and provide them with rehabilitative services and medical, dental, and mental health care. Under the settlement, health care services will be provided by the Louisiana State University School of Medicine; independent monitors chosen by the U.S. Department of Justice and lawyers for youth in detention will conduct regular compliance inspections. Educational services were addressed in an earlier settlement, reached in November 1999. The settlement brought an end to some twenty-seven years of litigation over juvenile detention conditions in the state. The Department of Justice had intervened in the lawsuits following a 1995 Human Rights Watch investigation and report.

Trial and Sentencing Practices

The trend in the United States of trying more children in the adult criminal system continued in 2000, depriving youth of the variety of rehabilitative dispositions that are available in juvenile proceedings. In California, voters approved a measure in March that made transfer to the adult system mandatory in some cases and gave prosecutors the final word in many others; before the measure's passage, youth were transferred to the adult system only after a judicial hearing. Even with the procedural safeguards of judicial transfers, minority youth in California and elsewhere in the United States were significantly more likely to be sent to adult courts than their white counterparts. A Justice Policy Institute study found that compared with white youth, children of color in California were 2.8 times more likely to be charged with violent crimes, 6.2 times more likely to be tried in adult court, and seven times more likely to be sentenced to prison when they were tried as adults.

In Pakistan, President Rafiq Tarar announced the promulgation in July of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, the country's first federal juvenile justice law. Incorporating the recommendations of Human Rights Watch, local NGOs, and the Pakistan Law Commission, the ordinance prohibited the imposition of the death penalty on children under the age of eighteen, provided a right to legal assistance at he state's expense, authorized the creation of juvenile courts with exclusive jurisdiction over juvenile cases, prohibited joint trials of adults and children, and required probation officers to prepare a report on the child's circumstances prior to adjudication. In addition, Punjab began to apply its provincial juvenile justice legislation, the Youthful Offenders Ordinance, throughout the province; it had previously been in force only in the district of Sahiwal.

The Death Penalty

Five individuals were executed between January and October 2000 for crimes committed when they were under the age of eighteen. Four of these executions took place in the United States; the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) carried out the fifth. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child forbid the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders.

Douglas Christopher Thomas and Steven Roach were put to death in the U.S. state of Virginia in January 2000. The state of Texas executed Glenn McGinnis in January 2000 and Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham) in June 2000. Texas and Virginia together accounted for over 70 percent of juvenile executions and nearly half of all death sentences carried out nationwide between 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated, and October 2000 (see section on United States).

The highest court of the U.S. state of Georgia postponed Alexander Williams' execution one day before his death sentence was scheduled to be carried out in August 2000; at this writing, the court had not reached a decision on his appeal. Williams would have been the fifth juvenile offender put to death in the United States during the year. The last time five or more juvenile offenders were executed in a single year in the United States was in 1954, when six people were put to death for crimes they committed as children.

Of the thirty-eight U.S. states that retained the death penalty, twenty-three permitted its imposition for crimes committed under the age of eighteen. Eighteen states allowed executions for crimes committed by sixteen-year-olds. Including Williams, seventy-one juvenile offenders were on death row in the United States as of July 1, 2000.

In Congo, a fourteen-year-old child soldier was executed in January 2000 shortly after being sentenced to death by the country's Court of Military Order. Established in 1997 by a presidential decree that was itself of questionable legality, the military court did not safeguard the due process rights of those brought before it. In particular, those convicted by the court had no right to appeal; the second president of the military court told Human Rights Watch in late 1998 that those condemned to death could legally be executed immediately following judgment. The sole power to commute death sentences lay with President Kabila, who was known to have granted only two pardons, including one for a thirteen-year-old soldier who had been sentenced to death in March 1998 (see Congo chapter).

Iran and Nigeria were the only other countries that were known to continue to permit the death penalty to be imposed on juvenile offenders. Iran executed a seventeen-year-old in October 1999; Nigeria carried out a death sentence against a seventeen-year-old in July 1997 for a crime committed at the age of fifteen.

Pakistan's July 2000 juvenile justice ordinance raised the minimum age at the time of the offense to eighteen for capital punishment to be imposed, three years after its last reported execution of an adolescent offender. China and Yemen banned the execution of juvenile offenders in 1997 and 1994, respectively.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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