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Torture in Afghanistan declining, but 'a long way to go,' UN says

Nearly one-third of detainees gave "credible and reliable" reports of torture or ill treatment between January 2017 and December 2018, a study found.

The United Nations found that the frequency showed

The United Nations found that the frequency showed improvement over the previous reporting period covering 2015 and 2016. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

UNITED NATIONS — The use of torture against detainees by law enforcement and military officials in Afghanistan is on the decline — but far from eradicated, according to a new United Nations study.

A 53-page study by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN Human Rights Office found that nearly one-third of the 618 detainees in 77 facilities gave “credible and reliable” reports of torture or ill treatment between January 2017 and December 2018.

Detainees reported suffocation, electric shocks, the pulling of genitals and being suspended from ceilings. But the frequency showed improvement over the previous reporting period covering 2015 and 2016, when as many as four in 10 detainees reported being tortured.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told journalists at a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday that the report found that “although there has been a reduction in the number of torture cases since 2016, there are still many detainees who continue to say they have been subjected to ill treatment.”

The report concerns detainees under custody of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the National Directorate of Security and the Afghan National Police.

Notably, beatings were the most common form of torture and ill treatment among the majority of detainees held for alleged links to the Islamic State group or other opposition forces, who complained of being tortured to force them to confess.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the government of Afghanistan to adhere to international conventions against torture.

The report acknowledged the country’s progress since it implemented the National Plan on the Elimination of Torture last year, as well as its penal code revision, adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in April 2018 and enactment of the Anti-Torture Law in October.

While those measures have taken effect, it was unclear whether they were the cause of the reductions, which the report said were “not yet significant enough to indicate that the remedial measures taken are sufficient.”

Bachelet said those efforts were not enough.

“I urge the Government to work swiftly to create a National Preventive Mechanism to ensure independent, impartial scrutiny of the treatment of detainees,” she said in a news release. “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 report noted that the record was uneven across the areas studied, with some places such as Kandahar raising serious concerns about the conduct of Afghan National Police, who were accused of subjecting 77 percent of their detainees to “the most brutal forms of torture or ill treatment.”

UN officials said that “enforced disappearances” occurred during the reporting period as well.

The report recommends Afghan officials guarantee detainees legal rights in line with international law, require all custodians of detainees to act within legal boundaries, make investigations prompt and effective and “ensure that victims of torture have effective access to justice and receive adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered.”

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, said the report shows there is much to be done.

“We welcome the steps taken by the government to prevent and investigate cases of torture and ill treatment over the past two years,” he said. “There is still a long way to go to eradicate this horrendous practice among conflict-related detainees. Respect for the rule of law and human rights is the best way to create the conditions for sustainable peace.”

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