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Torture eradication in Afghan prisons progressed

17 Apr 2019 Raha Press

It notes its ongoing concern at the high number of detainees who continue to report torture and ill-treatment.

The joint report by the UN Assistance Mission in

Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office, issued on the first

anniversary of Afghanistan’s accession to the Convention Against Torture’s

Optional Protocol, finds that nearly a third of conflict-related detainees

interviewed provided credible and reliable accounts of having been subject to

torture or ill-treatment. 

The report is based on interviews with 618 detainees held

in 77 facilities in 28 provinces across the country between 1 January 2017 and

31 December 2018.

The report acknowledges progress made by the Government in

implementing Afghanistan’s National Plan on the Elimination of Torture, and

highlights that this enforcement has had tangible results, with a reduction in

torture or ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees across different

security entities in the country.

Overall, among those in the custody of the Afghan National

Defence and Security Forces, 32 percent based of the sample of the detainees

reported torture and ill-treatment, compared to 39 percent over the previous

reporting period (1 January 2015 to 31 December 2016). Notably, the reduction

was more marked in 2018. 

In particular, within facilities of the National

Directorate of Security (NDS), the prevalence of torture and ill-treatment of

those interviewed decreased from 29 per cent to 19 per cent in 2018. 

And among conflict-related detainees held by the Afghan

National Police (ANP), the proportion of those who reported torture or ill-treatment

fell from 45 per cent over the previous reporting period to 31 percent.

Youngsters were at a higher risk of suffering mistreatment.

While the reduction in the number of cases is encouraging,

the report notes that the “decline in use of torture or ill-treatment is not

yet significant enough to indicate that the remedial measures taken are


The most common form of torture and ill-treatment reported

was beatings. The vast majority of detainees said they had been tortured or

ill-treated to force them to confess and that the treatment stopped once they

did so.

There are also major differences depending on the location

of the detention facilities. While, on average, 31 percent of those ANP

facilities reported torture or ill-treatment, the rate in the ANP facility in

Kandahar was a very disturbing 77 percent, including allegations of brutal

forms of torture, such as suffocation, electric shocks, pulling of genitals and

suspension from ceilings. 

Allegations of enforced disappearances in Kandahar also

persisted during the reporting period.

While the report highlights significant improvements for

the NDS facilities in Kandahar and Herat, the treatment of conflict-related

detainees in some NDS facilities also remains of concern, particularly those

located in Kabul, Khost and Samangan provinces, as well as by the NDS

counter-terrorism department. 

The report also highlights instances of unlawful and

arbitrary detention, including following mass arrests, by NDS Special Forces

and the Khost Protection Force.

The report further raises concern about poor conditions of

detention observed within the Afghan National Army-run Detention Facility in

Parwan, including overcrowding, inadequate lighting, the use of solitary

confinement as the sole disciplinary measure and restrictions on family visits

and access to lawyers.

“We welcome the steps taken by the Government to prevent

and investigate cases of torture and ill-treatment over the past two years.

However, as our report illustrates, there is still a long way to go to

eradicate this horrendous practice among conflict-related detainees,” said

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for

Afghanistan. “Respect for the rule of law and human rights is the best way to

create the conditions for sustainable peace.”

The report emphasizes violations and challenges in other

areas, among them, legal limitations on the right of conflict-related detainees

to judicial oversight; lack of implementation of key procedural and other legal

safeguards to prevent torture (medical screening, access to lawyers, etc.);

continued absence of accountability for perpetrators, with very limited

referrals to prosecution; and lack of any meaningful possibility of obtaining

an effective judicial or administrative remedy.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

said the report’s findings demonstrate that the policies put in place to combat

torture and ill-treatment were having effect – but they were far from


“A year ago, on this day, the Government of Afghanistan

committed itself to the prevention of torture by acceding to the Optional

Protocol to the Convention against Torture,” Bachelet said. 

“I urge the Government to work swiftly to create a

National Preventive Mechanism to ensure independent, impartial scrutiny of the

treatment of detainees. A well-resourced watchdog of this sort, which is able

to make unannounced visits to places of detention and raise awareness of what

constitutes torture and ill-treatment according to international human rights

law, can go a long way towards the ultimate goal of fully eradicating torture.”

The status and treatment of conflict-related detainees

held by Anti-Government Elements is not covered by the report.

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