Afghanistan: NATO prisoner handovers must stop while torture risk remains-new report

ISAF must promote reform of Afghan detention system

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is exposing detainees to the risk of torture and other ill-treatment by the Afghan authorities, said Amnesty International today, as it published a new report on the topic.

The 51-page report, “Detainees transferred to torture: ISAF complicity?”, shows how ISAF forces - particularly those from the UK, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway - have transferred scores of prisoners to Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), despite numerous reports of torture by this security unit.

The human rights organisation is calling for all prisoner handovers between ISAF and the Afghan authorities to cease until effective safeguards against abuse are in place. The report calls for ISAF to urgently promote reform within Afghanistan’s detention system, including through the independent monitoring of detention facilities.

According to UK government figures, in the year to September 2007 British forces in Afghanistan had detained 127 people, releasing some and transferring others, including to the NDS. In September this year, 21 prisoners were said to be in NDS hands.

Amnesty International’s report commends the UK for keeping records of prisoner transfers and for attempting some monitoring of prisoner welfare (contrasted with the record of other ISAF forces), but remains concerned that prisoners are being transferred to torture.

Amnesty International Senior Research Director Claudio Cordone said:

“ISAF states are under an international obligation not to hand over detainees to the Afghan authorities where they will be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Such transfers should be suspended until effective safeguards are in place.”

Amnesty International has received multiple reports of torture carried out by NDS members, and recently the United Nations called for an investigation into the NDS’s conduct. One former detainee (“AB”) told Amnesty International of how in 2005 the NDS tortured him in a “big concrete room” where “the walls were covered with blood”:

“I was beaten on my back and especially my kidneys with a metal cable …After some 50-60 cable blows, I fell unconscious … A metal bar was placed under my chained arms and knees and I was hung from the hook on the ceiling and they continued to beat me.”

Amnesty International’s report also criticises a reliance on “Memorandums of Understanding” between various ISAF forces and the Afghan authorities. These are compared to the “diplomatic assurances” sought by countries like the UK over deportations, where bilateral deals risk bypassing international obligations to avoid the risk of torture, arbitrary detention and other human rights violations.

Claudio Cordone added:

“The obligation of ISAF states to protect individuals from such treatment cannot be discharged by relying upon bilateral agreements. These agreements are supposed to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with international standards but have proved to be inadequate.”

Meanwhile, in addition to relatively formal handovers, Amnesty is concerned at reports of numerous “in-field” transfers, where detainees apprehended during joint ISAF-Afghan operations have been handed over on the spot to the Afghan authorities. It is believed that hundreds of prisoners have been subject to this process, particularly in southern Afghanistan.

In one case, shown on a British television documentary, British forces appear convinced that a Taleban fighter would be abused after being handed over to the Afghan National Army. In another case, Canadian troops reportedly intervened to stop the summary execution of a detainee by Afghan forces.

The “Detainees transferred to torture” report comes after the launch last month of Amnesty International UK’s “Unsubscribe” campaign ( www.unsubscribe-me.org ), a new initiative to unite people in opposition to terrorism and human rights abuses committed in the “war on terror”. Since its launch over 70,000 people have visited www.unsubscribe-me.org and “unsubscribed”.

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