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Prisoners subjected to torture in Afghanistan: UN report

By Yoshita Singh
October 11, 2011 10:52 IST

Prisoners and suspects lodged in some of Afghanistan's detention facilities are subjected to "systematic" torture by intelligence services and police authorities, but the mistreatment is not an institutional or government policy, a United Nations report has said.

The report by the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan said detainees at the National Directorate of Security and Afghan National Police facilities were hung by the wrists from chains or other devices attached to the wall, ceiling, iron bars for lengthy periods and were beaten up with rubber hoses, electric cables on the soles of the feet.

UNAMA further found that children under the age of 18 years were also tortured by authorities, the report adds.

The systematic torture also took the form of electric shock, twisting and wrenching of detainees' genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threatened sexual abuse.

The report is the result of extensive interviews conducted from October 2010 to August 2011 of 379 pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners at 47 NDS and ANP facilities in 22 provinces.

The mission found "compelling" evidence that 125 detainees, or 46 per cent of the 273 detainees interviewed, were subjected to interrogation techniques by NDS officials that constituted torture.

"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," the report added.

In addition, more than one third of the 117 conflict-related detainees were subjected to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Authorities used abusive interrogation practices to obtain confessions from individuals detained on suspicion of crimes against the State, according to the report.

Routine blindfolding, hooding and denial of access to medical care in some facilities were also reported. The methods even resulted in the death of two detainees in Kandahar in April 2011.

Accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse is "weak, not transparent and rarely enforced," the report added.

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

"The fact that the NDS and 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," Mistura said.

"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 the interior ministry have said they have an action plan to address the concerns and have started investigations.

The report includes a number of recommendations to the Afghan Government, judicial institutions and the International Security Assistance Force, 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 evidence of torture and ill- treatment by Afghan 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," Director of Human Rights for UNAMA Georgette Gagnon said.

"Accountability for torture demands prosecutions and the taking of all necessary measures by Afghan authorities to prevent and end such acts in the future," Gagnon added.
Yoshita Singh in United Nations
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