US-Afghan Detainee Transfer Agreement Falls Short

Washington, DC – Human Rights First is pleased to note that the United States and Afghan Government are addressing the serious question of how to transfer approximately 3,200 detainees currently held by the U.S. military at Bagram Air Base. The organization has long sought an end to the indefinite detention of the Afghans and others being held without charge, and welcomes efforts to transfer custody and responsibility for detention to Afghan authorities, but only on conditions that assure humane treatment and fair trials. The organization notes that the agreement announced today depends on vague assurances of humane and fair treatment, despite evidence of torture and other mistreatment that detainees have suffered in Afghan hands, and despite that Afghanistan has shown little evidence of having established a mechanism to assure due process of detainees. This renders the agreement badly flawed and Human Rights First is gravely concerned about these shortcomings. “The United States has done a good job of improving conditions of confinement for detainees at Bagram, but this agreement provides no reason to believe that those improved conditions will be maintained when this facility is under Afghan control,” said Human Rights First’s Gabor Rona. “The agreement also provides few details about the due process rights of the detainees. In order to implement this agreement consistent with U.S. obligations, the United States and Afghanistan must specify the legal basis for continued detention, the grounds upon which a person may be detained, the procedures for challenging detention, and the procedures for fair trial of those criminally charged.” Human Rights First also cautions that the United States is obligated under international law not to transfer detainees to a situation where they are at risk of being tortured. Recent reports from the United Nations indicate that Afghan authorities still use abuse and torture to coerce confessions from detainees. This raises concerns about how the U.S. will meet this obligation. “The U.S. should make clear its continued obligation of the United States to refrain from transferring any detainee for whom there is a credible risk of ill-treatment or other violation of humanitarian and human rights law, including the right to due process,” said Rona. Rona also notes that it remains unclear if the U.S. will continue to conduct Detainee Review Boards at Bagram over the next year, and if it will continue to support Afghan trials at the Parwan Justice Center adjacent to the Bagram Air Base after the transfer of detainees is completed. The adequacy of those proceedings has concerned Human Rights First in the past, as discussed in our 2011 report, Detained and Denied in Afghanistan: How to Make U.S. Detention Comply with the Law. “The U.S. has supported the improvement of Afghan national security trials at the Parwan facility. The United States should continue to provide resources and training to improve these proceedings and to ensure that all Afghan detainees transferred by the U.S. to Afghan authority receive a fair trial,” said Rona. “We know the United States takes seriously its obligation to protect the Afghan detainees it transfers from torture and mistreatment, and look forward to seeing the details of its plan for meeting those obligations,” concluded Rona.

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Published on March 9, 2012

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