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UN Says Detainees Tortured in Afghan Jails

An Afghan National Army soldier stands in front of the gate of the newly refurbished Pul-e-Charkhy prison during an opening ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2007 (file photo)

A United Nations report issued Monday says hundreds of detainees and prisoners in Afghanistan have been subjected to treatment that meets the international definition of torture.
The report was released by the U.N.'s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA. The mission's director of human rights, Georgette Gagnon, told U.N. Radio that almost 400 detainees at nearly 50 Afghan facilities were interviewed for the report.

"We found that almost half of these detainees were tortured by either the National Directorate of Security or the Afghan National Police," said Gagnon. "And the treatment that they received meets the international definition of torture, which is severe physical or mental pain meted out by a state official aimed at getting a confession or information."

Gagnon says detainees were suspended by their hands or arms, beaten with electric cables and subjected to electric shock.

The U.N.'s special representative to Afghanistan says the report's findings indicate that the mistreatment was not part of an institutional or government policy. And according to Georgette Gagnon, the Afghan government participated in the investigation.

"This report was done with the cooperation of the Afghan authorities who allowed UNAMA access to all their facilities," he said. "UNAMA presented its findings to the Afghan government many weeks ago, and they have since set out an action plan of steps to end some of this abuse including the removal and reassignment of a number of officials responsible, some investigations into the reports of torture. They've also indicate they need to do more training of all the staff in these facilities and a number of other steps."

Gagnon says the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, has temporarily suspended the transfer of detainees to Afghan facilities where abuses have occurred.

"Under the convention of torture and also the ISAF rules, troop contributing countries like the U.S., U.K. and others cannot transfer to any local facility where there is a risk of torture," said Gagnon. "When UNAMA presented its findings to ISAF several weeks ago, ISAF stopped transferring detainees to these 16 facilities that we had identified. ISAF also announced a six point plan of remedial measures that is underway now before it can resume any transfers to these 16 facilities."

Afghanistan's interior minister and intelligence chief have rejected the U.N. findings and questioned the timing of the report. International forces are working to hand over security responsibilities to Afghanistan's army and police, a process that is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.