Dutch forces in Afghanistan have been accused of exposing their detainees to torture and flouting international obligations. Amnesty International says troops from NATO’s ISAF mission in the country are handing over detainees to Afghan authorities, despite consistent reports that these are using methods such as whipping and beatings against inmates.
“There is evidence that torture takes place within the Afghan detention system,” says Susi Dennison of Amnesty’s Europen Union office, adding:
“There is no way that ISAF troops – including those of the Dutch government – can know that torture will not take place when they transfer detainees to Afghan authorities.”
The Dutch, British and Belgian and other ISAF contingents have signed a deal with Afghan authorities to ensure that inmates are treated in accordance with international standards. This ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ should guarantee these forces and the International Committee of the Red Cross full access to the detainees.
But in all these cases, Ms Dennison insists that this Memorandum “is not being fulfilled and independent human rights monitors are not getting full access.”
Neither the United Nations nor the Red Cross are able to completely monitor inmates held by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), says Amnesty.
The Red Cross, however, is disputing these findings. Red Cross officials say they have full access to detainees which are being transferred by the Dutch and British military.
The United Nations says the NDS uses various methods of ill treatment, including:
beatings, exposure to extreme cold and food deprivation
not respecting the due judicial process leading to trial of detainees
‘No proof’ in report
Amnesty is now calling on all governments involved in the ISAF mission to stop handing over detainees to Afghans until these shortcomings have been resolved.
But the government in The Hague has rejected this appeal. Out of seventy people captured by Dutch forces so far, it says ten are currently in detention and it insists that it does have full access to them. The safeguards are sufficient, according to Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen:
“The ten people who are still in jail have been visited by the International Red Cross, by the independent human rights commission of Afghanistan and by representatives from the embassy. From those visits we can do nothing but concluded that – including the local circumstance at the Afghan jail – they are being treated decently and are not being exposed to torture.” [translation]
Some Dutch parliamentarians have also rejected the Amnesty report out of hand, including Arend-Jan Boekenstijn from the conservative VVD party:
“The wording of these allegations is extremely general. I don’t even know if they apply to Uruzgan or some other province. I don’t like that, I want concrete information.”
To be taken seriously
But Socialist parliamentarian Harry van Bommel said he wants a full response from the defence ministry.
“If Amnesty learned of this by way of the Red Cross for instance or other organisations that have access to prisoners, then its something we have to take seriously. This strikes at the core of the agreements the Dutch government made with the Afghans.”
Whatever further steps are taken, these latest allegations will not help the reputation of the struggling ISAF mission, which is meant to be restoring peace and rule of law in Afghanistan.