Protecting the Rights of Afghans

As talk about President Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan focuses on troop levels, there is a critical piece missing in the debate: U.S. detention policy at Bagram. Getting detention policy right – making sure that decisions about imprisoning individuals are made in a fair and transparent way that respects human rights – is essential to winning the goodwill of the people of Afghanistan and achieving lasting stability there. Read our press release including policy recommendations.

Human Rights First has conducted missions to Afghanistan, speaking to former detainees whose stories reveal a pattern of not being told why they were captured and not being able to challenge their detention. We have issued two reports analyzing U.S. detention policies and recommending reforms. Recent detainee policy changes which provide detainees notice of the allegations and the opportunity to bring evidence and witnesses to rebut the allegations are a step in the right direction – but more needs to be done for detainees to have a meaningful way to challenge their detention.

Some important reforms to detentions in Afghanistan include:

  • Legal representation and transparency: Detainees in Afghanistan should have the right to a lawyer and not just military-assigned “personal representatives.” Their treatment and conditions should be open to inspection by human rights monitors, especially the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) which is mandated under Afghan law to visit detention facilities in Afghanistan.
  • Reliability of evidence: Mechanisms must be put in place to improve the reliability of information leading to capture as well as information that is used to try some people in Afghan courts – current procedures do not do enough to prevent erroneous capture and ensure adequate evidence for fair prosecutions.
  • Increase Afghan and U.S. cooperation: The U.S. and Afghan government should enter into a security agreement that details the grounds and procedures for detention consistent with international law, and includes Afghan judges in U.S. detention review procedures.
  • Repatriate, release or try the 30 or so detainees captured outside Afghanistan and imported to Bagram for detention.

These reforms to detentions in Afghanistan will help ensure that U.S. troops are operating in a framework that respects human rights – not only because it’s the law, but also because treating the Afghan people fairly and with dignity is essential to winning hearts and minds and advancing the overall mission, which is to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda and to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Help us influence the debate on this issue – contact your local papers and write in your online forums!

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Published on December 1, 2009

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