The United Nations said Wednesday that Afghanistan's Taliban had committed more than 1,600 human rights violations during arrests and detentions of people, including women, and it urged the de facto authorities to cease the abuses.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, has documented the violations in its first report on the treatment of detainees since the Taliban reclaimed power two years ago, saying nearly half of the violations were acts of custodial torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
The report described as "systemic" the use of torture and "ill-treatment" by police and the General Directorate of Intelligence, or GDI, in places of detention and prisons nationwide.
The Taliban renamed the official Afghan spy agency GDI after returning to power in August 2021. UNAMA attributed nearly 60% of the violations to the spy agency.
The reported abuses occurred between January 1, 2022, and July 31, 2023, across 29 of the 34 Afghan provinces. The UNAMA said it had documented the violations through its verifications of over 800 cases, including more than 130 in-depth interviews with Afghan males and females having been in Taliban custody.
The UNAMA report details methods of torture authorities used to extract confessions or other information, saying detainees were subjected to severe pain and suffering through physical beatings, electric shocks, asphyxiation, stress positions, and forced ingestion of water, as well as blindfolding and threats.
The report noted that 24% of the victims were journalists or civil society members, 21% were former Afghan government members and 44% were individuals with no particular affiliation. The rest included those affiliated with arms groups and people detained in order to extract information.
It also documented the death of 18 detainees, including former Afghan security forces and opposition fighters, while the rest's association was unknown.
"The personal accounts of beatings, electric shocks, water torture, and numerous other forms of cruel and degrading treatment, along with threats made against individuals and their families, are harrowing," said Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. "I urge all concerned de facto authorities to put in place concrete measures to halt these abuses and hold perpetrators accountable."
The Taliban have denied the UNAMA allegations. In a response attached to the report, the foreign ministry in Kabul insisted security institutions were carrying out their work lawfully and shared details of the steps they had taken to uphold the rights of detainees.
The Interior Ministry-led police department identified 21 cases of human rights violations, and they were under investigation, the Taliban said.
"Fortunately, Sharia (Islamic religious, social, and cultural values), which have been approved to protect and respect fundamental and Islamic rights, prohibit the torture of people even for the purpose of obtaining the truth," the Taliban office of prison administration was quoted as saying.
The UNAMA report noted that the Taliban had introduced some measures to monitor abuses in detention centers.
"Although there have been some encouraging signs in terms of leadership directives as well as an openness among many de facto officials to engage constructively with UNAMA and allow visits to prisons, these documented cases highlight the need for urgent, accelerated action by all," said Roza Otunbayeva, the mission's chief in Kabul.