A leading human rights group has called on NATO-led forces in Afghanistan to stop transferring prisoners to local authorities out of fear they could be tortured. NATO said there is no evidence of abuse.
Amnesty International said no safeguards exist to ensure that detainees turned over to Afghan authorities are safe from abuse. Amnesty urged the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to stop prisoner transfers immediately.
The report named Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) as a major offender, saying prisoners were exposed to whipping, beatings, food deprivation and exposure to extreme cold. The agency "currently poses a serious threat to those in its custody," the Amnesty report said.
ISAF has 40,000 troops in Afghanistan from 37 countries. Britain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have signed agreements on prisoner transfers, according to Amnesty. Germany, Belgium, France and Sweden are considering similar measures.
Agreements not enough
The report, which was released Tuesday, Nov. 13, detailed allegations of Afghan torture of several detainees handed over by Canadian troops to the NDS.
The agreements do not exempt countries from their obligations towards prisoners, Claudio Cordone, Amnesty's senior research director, told Reuters.
"These agreements are supposed to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with international standards but have proved to be inadequate," he said. "Such transfers should be suspended until effective safeguards are in place."
The German government was also criticized for not providing any information on prisoners it hands over to the Afghans. The Ministry of Defense refuses to release the exact number or whereabouts of prisoners, said Barbara Lochbihler, who heads Amnesty International in Germany. This makes it impossible to monitor treatment.
Amnesty said the agreements ISAF countries have with Afghanistan do not prevent detainees from being put in situations where they could face "torture or other ill-treatment."
Safeguards lacking for prisoner transfers
ISAF is providing support for President Hamid Karzai's weak central government. But a Taliban-led insurgency continues.
Amnesty called on ISAF to declare an immediate "moratorium on any further transfers of detainees to the Afghan authorities and [to] take responsibility for the custody of such detainees until effective safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment are introduced in the Afghan detention system."
Agreements alone would not guarantee prisoners' proper treatment by Afghan authorities, Amnesty said, adding that ISAF also needed to help train Afghan prison staff and reform the detention system. All prisons should allow independent monitors to check on the conditions, and the NDS also needed reform, the group said.
NATO rebuffs criticism
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the military alliance has no evidence of prisoner abuse and no plans to build jails.
"NATO has no proof of ill treatment or of torture of detainees that its forces have transferred to the Afghans," he said. "It's true there are concerns. This is precisely why the allies have invested, and a lot, in the reform of the Afghan institutions, including the NDS. It's the only appropriate and acceptable way to improve the situation."
Afghanistan is a sovereign country, he said.
"It's not up to NATO to put a parallel detention system in place on Afghan territory," Appathurai said.