A new Afghan government committee investigating prison conditions should focus on meaningful reforms to end torture and other pervasive abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 8, 2013, President Hamid Karzai created a committee to “study the general conditions of prisons and detention centers, along with the condition and situation of prisoners and detainees” and submit findings and recommendations within three months.

Afghan detention centers and prisons are rife with serious abuse, including torture, medically invalid “virginity examinations” of women, and holding detainees past their release date. The problems are so pervasive that the committee will need to set priorities and focus on the key issues.

“President Karzai’s new committee could be an important step for addressing the horrific abuses in Afghanistan’s prisons,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But the committee will need not only to shine the light on the abuses going on behind Afghanistan’s prison doors but to come up with ways to fix the system.”

A United Nations report released in January found that more than half of 635 pretrial detainees and prisoners convicted on national security grounds had been tortured or ill-treated in Afghan government custody. Detainees told the UN investigators that torture was typically used to try to elicit confessions. Fourteen forms of torture were reported, including suspension from ceilings, prolonged and severe beating, including on the soles of the feet, twisting genitals of male detainees, electric shock, prolonged standing or forced exercise, prolonged exposure to cold weather, and threats of execution and rape.

The Afghan government’s independent human rights commission, as well as Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations, have repeatedly documented torture of prisoners in Afghan government custody over the past decade.

President Karzai issued a decree in February ordering anti-torture measures, including prosecution of officials responsible for torture. However, there is no indication that prison and detention facility officials have respected that order or that prosecutors have moved forward with prosecutions for suspected torture and other abuses against detainees.

In addition to torture, the committee should investigate and produce recommendations to address the following abuses common in prisons and detention facilities in Afghanistan:

“The Afghan government has an opportunity to reduce the chronic, widespread abuses in prisons and detention centers that harm untold thousands of detainees,” Adams said. “But that can only happen if this new oversight committee has the mandate and the resources necessary to recommend meaningful changes to address the key problems in Afghan prisons.”

Source: Human Rights Watch – 26.09.2013 –
http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/26/afghanistan-prison-probe-should-address-longstanding-abuses