UN Afghanistan envoy calls for punishment of all coalition forces involved in prison abuses

Jean Arnault

22 May 2005 – Reacting to a press report on the abuse of prisoners by coalition forces in Afghanistan, the senior United Nations envoy in the country today said those responsible must be punished and pledged stepped-up efforts to protect the rights of arrested and detained persons.

“The circumstances involving the abuse and inhumane treatment leading to the death of two Afghan prisoners in Bagram in 2002, reported in The New York Times on the basis of a US Army investigation, are deeply disturbing,” Jean Arnault said in a statement.

He rejected the abuses as “utterly unacceptable” and asserted that they are “an affront to everything the international community stands for in Afghanistan,” contravening the central goal of the peace process, namely restoration of the rule of law after Afghans were denied their basic human rights for decades.

“The gravity of these abuses calls for the punishment of all those involved in such inexcusable crimes, as demanded by President [Hamid] Karzai,” Mr. Arnault said.

He said firm guarantees were needed to ensure that such abuses “cannot be committed again, now or at any time in the future.” All Afghans in the custody of the State or international forces should enjoy the full protection that international law and the Constitution afford to detainees, he added.

Noting that since 2002, steps have been taken in Bagram and other facilities to eradicate mistreatment and improve conditions of detention, he urged that these measures be “made public without delay; and complaints of arbitrary arrest, detention without charges and treatment of detainees, which continue to be raised, be addressed fully in order to ensure that basic rights are observed in connection with coalition operations.”

In particular, the envoy said, Afghanistan's judiciary should have a primary role in ensuring that detainees can enjoy the protection of the law. He also called for special measures, including the provision of access to prisons and coalition facilities by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

In support of that body, he pledged that the UN will “redouble” its own efforts to verify conditions surrounding military arrests and detentions. “In view of the commitment to address abuses shown by the US Army investigation, I trust that we will enjoy the full cooperation of the coalition forces in this endeavour,” Mr. Arnault said.

Calling the presence of international forces “one of the cornerstones of Afghanistan's security and reconstruction,” he said: “It is of the utmost importance that it should also serve to protect the exercise of the Afghans' fundamental human rights.”

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