Systematic torture in Afghan detention facilities – UN report

Afghan National Police in training in Kabul. Photo: UNAMA/Eric Kanalstein

10 October 2011 – A new United Nations report released today cites evidence of the “systematic” torture and mistreatment of detainees in Afghan detention facilities, including of children, and provides recommendations which it hopes will spur the necessary reforms.

The report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is the result of extensive interviews from October 2010 to August 2011 of 379 pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners at 47 facilities of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Afghan National Police (ANP) in 22 provinces.

The mission found “compelling” evidence that 125 detainees, or 46 per cent, of the 273 detainees interviewed who had been in NDS detention experienced interrogation techniques at the hands of NDS officials that constituted torture, and that torture is practiced “systematically” in a number of NDS detention facilities throughout Afghanistan,” states the report.

“Nearly all detainees tortured by NDS officials reported the abuse took place during interrogations and was aimed at obtaining a confession or information. In almost every case, NDS officials stopped the use of torture once detainees confessed to the crime of which they were accused or provided the requested information.

“UNAMA also found that children under the age of 18 years experienced torture by NDS officials,” the report adds.

In addition, more than one third of the 117 conflict-related detainees UNAMA interviewed who had been in ANP detention experienced treatment that constituted torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In situations where torture occurred, it typically took the form of abusive interrogation practices used to obtain confessions from individuals detained on suspicion of crimes against the State, according to the report.

Detainees described experiencing torture in the form of suspension (being hung by the wrists from chains or other devices attached to the wall, ceiling, iron bars or other fixtures for lengthy periods) and beatings, especially with rubber hoses, electric cables or wires or wooden sticks and most frequently on the soles of the feet.

Electric shock, twisting and wrenching of detainees’ genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threatened sexual abuse were among other forms of torture that detainees reported.

Routine blindfolding and hooding and denial of access to medical care in some facilities were also reported. UNAMA documented one death in ANP and NDS custody from torture in Kandahar in April 2011.

“UNAMA found compelling evidence that NDS officials at five facilities systematically tortured detainees for the purpose of obtaining confessions and information,” states the report.

It also found that accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse is “weak, not transparent and rarely enforced.”

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA pointed out that the report’s findings indicate that mistreatment is not an institutional or Government policy.

“The fact that the NDS and MoI [Ministry of Interior] cooperated with UNAMA’s detention observation programme suggests that reform is both possible and desired, as does the Government’s announced remedial actions to end these abusive practices,” said Staffan de Mistura.

“UNAMA welcomes the Government’s timely attention to this issue and steps taken to put in place corrective and preventive measures,” he added.

The Afghan authorities launched their own investigations and initiated remedial action after the mission presented its initial findings to them. NDS and MoI have stated clearly they have an action plan to address the concerns, started investigations, reassigned personnel in the case of NDS, and have further indicated that responsible individuals will be suspended from their positions and in serious cases, prosecuted.

The report includes a number of recommendations to the NDS, the MoI, the Afghan Government, judicial institutions and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), including calling on the NDS and ANP to take immediate steps to stop and prevent torture and ill-treatment.

In early September, ISAF stopped transferring detainees to 16 installations identified as facilities where UNAMA found compelling evidence of torture and ill-treatment by NDS and ANP officials, and has begun implementing a six-part plan of remedial measures prior to resuming such transfers.

“Torture is one of the most serious human rights violations under international law, a crime under Afghan law, and strictly prohibited under both laws,” said Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA.

“Accountability for torture demands prosecutions and the taking of all necessary measures by Afghan authorities to prevent and end such acts in the future.”


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