South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

A United Nations report, endorsed by the international military command, about torture and abuse in Afghan-run detention facilities, has reopened fissures with American forces and underscored the Afghan government’s sensitivity to being seen as a country that permits torture.

Within three days of the report becoming public, President Hamid Karzai appointed a commission to look into its findings. The National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, which was strongly criticized by the report, took its case public, inviting Afghan television reporters to see some of the detention centers and talk to detainees.

Mr. Karzai’s spokesman said the government was especially perturbed by the endorsement of the report from the International Security Assistance Force because the military has had a program of reviewing Afghan detention facilities for the past year. If it had concerns, he said, the military should have raised them sooner.

“ISAF is regularly visiting Afghan prisons run by the Interior Ministry and N.D.S.,” said Aimal Faizi, the president’s spokesman. “They are coming weekly and after each visit they write a note in the logbook,” he said.

“If there’s a problem, why aren’t they saying it when they visit? This raises the question, why are they raising their voices now?”

In response, a spokesman for the international military command referred to a letter written by Gen. John R. Allen, the ISAF commander, that was in an appendix to the United Nations report. In it, General Allen said that he and his deputy had written to Afghan government ministers about 80 cases of abuse. In some cases, he wrote that he made pleas to remove individuals who were involved in the abuse, but that only one detainee had been removed. Mr. Faizi said he was not aware of the letters.

Even before the report was made public, General Allen halted transfers of detainees to all of the facilities named in the United Nations report because under international human rights law it is prohibited to transfer any detainee to a government where there are “substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

The report was based on interviews with 635 detainees in facilities around the country, and it found that half of them had experienced torture or abuse. Most of the ill treatment happened in facilities run by the police or the intelligence agency. At a few detention sites, the torture was so frequent that the United Nations report described it as “systematic.”

The Afghan government took particular exception to that terminology, Mr. Faizi said. “It is not the policy of the Afghan government to torture and it’s not systematic. It’s not to the extent that it says in the Unama report,” he said, referring to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials at the Interior Ministry, which runs the police force, and at the intelligence agency agreed that there were cases of abusive treatment, but said more training and time was needed to persuade a few individuals to stop the bad behavior.

Shafiqullah Tahiri, the intelligence agency’s spokesman, defended the directorate’s detention facilities, saying that both international and Afghan human rights agencies and other observers had visited and had not expressed concerns.

Copies of notes from ISAF and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which were written in logbooks at the detention facilities and provided to The New York Times by Mr. Karzai’s government, were largely neutral, recording that a particular observer had been to the facility and that others would sometimes thank the government for access.

Human rights advocates contend that a note saying that an observer had visited a particular facility was fairly routine and that the Afghan government was evading the underlying point of the United Nations report.

“Allegations have come out repeatedly and have not been taken seriously,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

“The Afghans are responsible for knowing what’s going on in their own facilities; that’s their obligation, and they are either aware of it and do nothing about it or they are not aware and it’s a lack of oversight,” he said, adding that the ultimate solution was to empower the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission to take on an oversight and ombudsman role on behalf of detainees.

Source: New York Times – 25/01/2013 (