A deal that will see US forces handing over Bagram detainees to the Afghan government fails to respect the rights of captives, leaving them at risk of torture and other mistreatment, Amnesty International has warned.
The agreement is padded by diplomatic assurances over detainee welfare, with some reference to access for monitoring by unspecified humanitarian bodies, but such assurances are inherently deficient and unacceptable when it comes to dealing effectively with risks of torture and other deliberate abuse of detainees.
In reality torture and ill-treatment of detainees remains endemic, as evidenced by a March 2012 report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission updating findings reported by the UN in 2011.
It will take six months to complete the transfer of detainees - which is being overseen by General Farooq Barkzai appointed commander of the Bagram detention facility by President Hamid Karzai on 1 April. More than 3000 detainees reportedly remain in the Bagram detention facility at Parwan, the majority of them Afghan.
The process comes against the backdrop of a UN report published on 10 October 2011 which found systematic torture in Afghan detention centres where detainees were regularly beaten with rubber hoses and threatened with sexual assault. Many of those targeted were suspected of being insurgents.
For nearly a decade Amnesty International has raised concerns that the system of detention without trial operated by the USA in Afghanistan was arbitrary, and argued the ordinary criminal justice system, subject to fundamental reforms, should be used to deal with individuals accused of involvement in armed violence in Afghanistan.
Fundamental reforms are essential because the Afghan justice system still flagrantly fails to meet international fair trial standards and fails to ensure that individuals responsible for crimes under international law, - particularly those committed against civilians - are effectively brought to justice.
“The Afghan government has failed in the past to protect detainees in its custody from torture, inhuman, degrading and ill-treatment,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Program Director for Asia.
“Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate (NDS) is notorious when it comes to human rights abuses and torture of detainees accused of affiliation with the Taliban and the wider insurgency in Afghanistan.”
For the USA or any other foreign forces to hand detainees over to Afghan custody despite these risks of human rights violations is itself a specific violation of their own obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.
“No transfer of detainees should take place until there is real proof from the Afghan authorities that they are actually meeting human rights benchmarks, not merely promising to do so”.
“This agreement is all the more worrisome given we are talking about specific and real risks of torture. All detainees, including those held by the NDS, should have access to lawyers and family and receive medical treatment where needed,” said Baber.
“The US and Afghan governments are both responsible for making sure that the rights of all security detainees are really respected in practice, before doing deals for the handover of control over any prisons or prisoners.”