U.N. Alleges 'Systematic' Torture of Afghan Detainees

The Afghan security institutions to which the United States transfers detainees in Afghanistan are "systematically" torturing their prisoners, including children, according to a new United Nations report.

The report, compiled by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is based on interviews with 379 pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners at 47 different facilities run by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) over the course of the last year. According to UNAMA, there was "compelling evidence" that nearly half of the detainees held in NDS facilities experienced enhanced interrogation that constituted torture.

"Detainees described experiencing torture in the forms 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 from wooden sticks and most frequently on the soles of the feet," the report says. "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."

U.N. REPORT: Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody (PDF)

NDS officials conducted the torture repeatedly until some confession was obtained, the report says. UNAMA said that some children under the age of 18 were the victims of torture by the NDS.

As for the 117 people detained by the ANP and interviewed by UNAMA, another one-third claimed they had experienced either torture or other forms of cruel treatment while in detention.

However, UNAMA said that the torture, though systematic, did not appear to be "an institutional or Government policy" and said both the Afghan government and the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force responded positively to the report.

"The fact that the NDS and [the 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," UNAMA head Staffan de Mistura said in a statement.

The U.N. said the Afghan authorities have launched their own investigations into the allegations. Early last month, ISAF ceased transferring detainees to 16 of the institutions identified by the UNAMA as potential torture facilities.

The U.N.'s Convention Against Torture prohibits signatories from transferring prisoners to another state "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." The UNAMA survey found 89 detainees that had been captured either by or with the assistance of the ISAF and then had been transferred to either NDS or ANP custody -- 22 of whom later reported torture. Previously, American, British and Canadian forces had stopped transferring detainees to various Afghan facilities after reports of torture there, the U.N. said.

In a statement today the ISAF said it acknowledged the U.N. report and said UNAMA had shared information with them over the past month "enabling ISAF to work closely with the Government of Afghanistan and UNAMA on cooperative efforts to implement appropriate programs to improve detention operations and establish safeguards to prevent future mistreatment."

"ISAF remains committed to eliminating human rights violations in detainee operations, and will continue to work closely with the Government of Afghanistan and UNAMA on this issue," the statement said.

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