Today, the BCCLA and Amnesty International Canada renewed calls for the Canadian government to convene a public inquiry into the Afghan detainee scandal, following yesterday’s publication of a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documenting widespread and systematic torture in Afghan detention facilities. Our public statement is available here. We also sent a letter to the Minister of National Defence, requesting that Canada confirm the actions it plans to take in response to serious issues raised by the UNAMA’s findings.
We’ve been waiting for the UNAMA to make its report public for some time now, ever since NATO announced in early September that it would be suspending all detainee transfers to Afghan authorities, following its advance review of the UNAMA report.
The full report is available here. Some key points, from our reading of the report:
- The UNAMA’s team found “compelling evidence that 125 detainees (46 percent) of the 273 detainees interviewed who had been in NDS detention experienced interrogation techniques at the hands of the NDS officials that constituted torture, and that torture is practiced systematically in a number of NDS detention facilities throughout Afghanistan.”
- The UNAMA team found that children were tortured by NDS officials.
- Of the 89 detainees who were transferred to Afghan security forces after being captured by international forces, 19 of them were tortured in NDS custody, and three in ANP (Afghan National Police) custody.
- The methods of torture used are consistent with what was reported by detainees to Canadian diplomats making their first post-transfer monitoring visits in 2007.
- The UNAMA “definitively ruled out the possibility of collective fabrication — where a group of detainees would share stories of real or rumoured abuse and, either spontaneously or by design, arrive at and deliver a common account.”
The UN’s findings are disturbing, to say the least. In 2005, the Canadian government announced its prisoner transfer policy in Afghanistan. Given the well-documented, prevalent, and systematic use of torture in Afghan prisons, the BCCLA and Amnesty called on the government to cease transfers to Afghan authorities. While the government has insisted on maintaining this policy, it has, over the years, occasionally suspended transfers for brief periods, though always ultimately resuming the practice after receiving assurances from the Afghan government that it would no longer engage in torture. And each time, we have asked: how can Canada trust these assurances? How can Canada know that it is not transferring individuals to risk of torture, in clear violation of international law? How can Canada be justified in insisting that there is no substantial risk of torture, in the face of the information gathered by its own diplomats and numerous reports from international authorities? How can Canada know that Afghan authorities will stop torturing prisoners?
The distressing fact of the matter is that Afghan authorities never stopped torturing prisoners, notwithstanding repeated suspensions of transfers and repeated commitments to respect basic human rights.
More than five years after we first raised concerns about torture in Afghan prisons, after years of litigation in the Federal Court and two complaints before the Military Police Complaints Commission, and after years of government insistence that its detainee transfer policy did not and would not expose individuals to risk of torture, the United Nations is still finding “compelling evidence” that 46 percent of the NDS detainees they interviewed were tortured.
How’s that for substantial risk?