While incidents of detainee torture in Afghanistan have dropped since the last report from January 2013, the problem still persists, according to a report released Wednesday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Of 790 conflict-related detainees interviewed between January 2013 and December 2014, 35 percent were found to have been tortured or mistreated upon arrest or in detention facilities of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, the national police, the local police and the national army. In the previous UNAMA report on detainee torture, nearly 40 percent of those interviewed said they had been tortured or mistreated.
The detainees reported 16 torture methods, including beatings, suspension from walls or ceilings, electric shocks and near-asphyxiation. Some detainees said their genitals were twisted with a wrench-like device while others reported being kept in extremely hot or cold conditions and being denied food and water.
A detainee who was held in an intelligence facility said he was kicked and punched on his first day of detention and beaten with a water pipe the following day. On the third day, he said, they used a device to “squeeze my sexual parts till I cried,” at which point he confessed to being a Taliban insurgent, the report said.
“I was scared because they threatened they would destroy my sexual organs. I just said anything and they wrote it down and I put my thumb prints on the papers. I thought I might die if they destroyed my sexual organs,” he was quoted as saying.
In response to the report, the Afghan National Security Council said “it is not official government policy to use torture and ill-treat detainees to obtain information and confessions in detention facilities.”
Lack of consequences
The new report is the third in a series of reports on the treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan custody jointly released by UNAMA and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It shows a 14 percent drop in the number of detainees subject to torture or other forms of abuse since the last reporting period.
In 2011, a UN investigation revealed that Afghanistan’s intelligence agency and police force had “systematically” tortured detainees, including children, at a number of detention facilities. UNAMA said they found “compelling evidence” that 125 detainees, or 46 percent, had been subject to physical or mental abuse that constituted torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The government in Afghanistan implemented measures aimed at eliminating torture in detention facilities in 2013. However, UNAMA said that these measures were not taking hold, partially due to a lack of legal repercussions for anyone who engages in torture. The report found just a single instance of criminal prosecution for torture since 2010.
“Continuing impunity for the use of torture allows torture to continue,” UNAMA Human Rights Director Georgette Gagnon said in a press release. “Accountability – particularly the prosecution of both those who perpetrate and administer torture, and those who order or condone it – is a key means of signaling political commitment at the highest levels to end it.”
Moreover, the report points out that many Afghan security and police officials interviewed appeared not to accept that torture is illegal, instead viewing it as an appropriate method by which to extract valuable information.
“Torture is a very serious crime, for which there can be no justification. The international prohibition is absolute,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stressed in the press release. “We have seen many examples showing how its use undermines national security and proves counter-productive.”
Of 71 detainees who were apprehended by international military forces or other foreign government agencies, 20 reportedly experienced torture or mistreatment. Some of these instances took place in facilities that had been certified by the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) as being torture-free.
The new report comes just a week after UNAMA announced that civilian casualties in Afghanistan jumped by 22 percent in 2014, topping 10,500 — the highest number in a single year since 2009. In total, the U.N. has documented nearly 19,000 civilian deaths and more than 30,000 injuries since they began tracking civilian casualties six years ago.