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Bagram prison transfer deal puts thousands of detainees at torture risk

*US-Afghan prisoner transfer will affect over 3,000 detainees

*‘Agreement is all the more worrisome given we are talking about specific and real risks of torture’ - Catherine Baber

A deal that will see US forces handing over Bagram detainees to the Afghan government fails to respect the rights of captives, leaves them at risk of  torture and other mistreatment, Amnesty International has warned.

For the USA or any other foreign forces to hand detainees over to Afghan custody despite risks of human rights violations is, Amnesty said, a specific violation of their own obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

The prisoner transfer, which is being overseen by General Farooq Barkzai after his recent appointment (on 1 April) as commander of the Bagram detention facility, is set to take place over a six-month period. More than 3,000 detainees are reportedly held there, the majority of them Afghan. The transfer deal contains diplomatic assurances over detainee welfare, with reference being made to access for monitoring by - unspecified - humanitarian bodies, but Amnesty believes such assurances are inherently deficient and unacceptable in combating the risk of torture and other deliberate abuse of detainees.

The torture and ill-treatment of detainees remains endemic in Afghanistan. Last October a UN report found that torture was systematic in Afghan detention centres, with detainees regularly beaten with rubber hoses and threatened with sexual assault. A report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission last month echoed these findings.

Amnesty International Asia Deputy Director Catherine Baber said:

“The Afghan government has failed in the past to protect detainees in its custody from torture, inhuman, degrading and ill-treatment.

“Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate (NDS) is notorious when it comes to human rights abuses and torture of detainees accused of affiliation with the Taliban and the wider insurgency in Afghanistan.

“No transfer of detainees should take place until there is real proof from the Afghan authorities that they are actually meeting human rights benchmarks, not merely promising to do so.

“This agreement is all the more worrisome given we are talking about specific and real risks of torture. All detainees, including those held by the NDS, should have access to lawyers and family and receive medical treatment where needed.

“The US and Afghan governments are both responsible for making sure that the rights of all security detainees are really respected in practice, before doing deals for the handover of control over any prisons or prisoners.”

For nearly a decade Amnesty has been raising concerns over the system of detention without trial operated by the USA in Afghanistan was arbitrary. Amnesty maintains that the ordinary criminal justice system - subject to fundamental reforms - should be used to deal with individuals accused of involvement in armed violence in Afghanistan. Fundamental reforms are essential because the Afghan justice system still flagrantly fails to meet international fair trial standards and fails to ensure that individuals responsible for crimes under international law - particularly those committed against civilians - are effectively brought to justice.

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