Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail, arch 12, 2010
Afghan prison conditions are horrific, torture is common and police frequently rape female detainees, the U.S. State Department finds in its annual survey of human rights.
The damning report paints a grim picture of scant respect for human rights by the embattled regime headed by President Hamid Karzai. While Taliban treatment of civilians is even worse, the report’s assessment of vile prison conditions and routine abuse and torture by Afghan police and security raises new questions about whether Canada and other nations are still transferring prisoners to known torturers. Doing so is a war crime under international law.
“Torture was commonplace among the majority of law enforcement institutions, especially the police,” the U.S. report found, citing the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the group used by Ottawa to help monitor whether detainees transferred by Canadian troops are abused or tortured.
Canadian diplomats compile a similar annual report on selected countries – including Afghanistan – but it isn’t made public. Government censors blacked out all references to torture, abuse and extrajudicial killings by Afghan police and prison guards in the last available report obtained under Access to Information.
Yesterday’s U.S. report makes no similar attempt to shield allies from human rights scrutiny, even in places where U.S. troops are deployed.
Michael Posner, the U.S. undersecretary of state for human rights and democracy whose group prepared the mammoth report – generally considered the most authoritative annual assessment of conditions in more than 190 countries – said the issue of foreign troops being ordered by their governments to hand detainees to Afghan security forces was vexed.
“How can United States and NATO countries ensure or guarantee safe treatment or fair process when those transfers occur. … Those are issues very much on our minds,” Mr. Posner said.
The U.S. runs a prison facility at Bagram where more than 600 battlefield detainees are held. Some of them have been there for six years. But Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and other NATO countries with troops fighting in southern Afghanistan turn prisoners over to Afghan police and the Afghan internal security service (National Directorate of Security), usually within 96 hours. For years, no follow-up inspections were made to ensure transferred prisoners weren’t tortured or killed, but after publication of harrowing accounts of abuse, Ottawa added sporadic inspections.
Most Canadian detainees are turned over to the feared NDS. The U.S. report said it was impossible to determine how many prisons the NDS operates, or how many prisoners they contain. The report, which covers 2009, also noted that the Afghan government was making efforts to improve conditions in prisons.
Other countries where human rights abuses are identified include Iran and China.
Canada generally got good marks but the Harper government’s long-running effort to keep a Canadian citizen from returning home was cited. “In July the government complied with an order of the Federal Court of Canada and facilitated the return to Canada of Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian-Sudanese dual national, after the Court determined that Canadian officials had been complicit in his detention in Sudan in 2003,” the report said.
TORTURE, RAPE, CHILD ABUSE COMMON
Excerpts from the Afghanistan sections of the U.S. government’s latest human rights report:
- Afghan police and security “tortured and abused detainees. Torture and abuse methods included, but were not limited to, beating by stick, scorching bar, or iron bar; flogging by cable; battering by rod; electric shock; deprivation of sleep, water, and food; abusive language; sexual humiliation; and rape.”
- Afghan “police frequently raped female detainees and prisoners.”
- “Harems of young boys were cloistered for ‘bacha baazi’ (boy-play) for sexual and social entertainment …”
- “Child abuse was endemic throughout the country, based on cultural beliefs about child-rearing, and included general neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, and confined forced labor to pay off family debts.”
- “Human rights problems included extrajudicial killings, torture, poor prison conditions, official impunity, prolonged pretrial detention, restrictions on freedom of the press, restrictions on freedom of religion, violence and societal discrimination against women, restrictions on religious conversions, abuses against minorities, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, abuse of worker rights, the use of child soldiers in armed conflict, and child labor.”