Cherif Bassiouni, the UN Human Rights Commission's independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, denounced on Monday the "inhuman" practices at prisons in the war-torn country and demanded answers from the US on prisoner releases.

Bassiouni, who is also a law professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said prisoners were being abused in Afghan jails and conditions for some inmates "violate every standard of human rights".

"There is a very unusual practice in Afghanistan, mainly foreign forces, who have taken upon themselves the right, without any legal process of arresting people, detaining them, mistreating them and possibly even torturing them."

Bassiouni has visited numerous detention centres to probe the well-being of prisoners and detainees.

He said he visited Pul-e-Charki prison to investigate the condition of a group of 725 out of some 3200 persons originally detained by the Northern Alliance - "apparently some US forces were involved" too - who then were transferred to the jail under the authority of the government.

Around 350 of the detainees are of Pakistani origin.

Illegal detention

The detention of the group, Bassiouni said, is illegal because the suspects were arrested as combatants and are therefore prisoners of war.

"Every government official I have discussed this matter with has agreed that there's no legal basis for their detention, and everyone has said that they should be released," he said.

Released Afghan detainees have 
spoken of mistreatment

"There are allegations that the US authorities ask that they continue to be kept in detention. I have protested against this situation with the appropriate government officials and I will continue to do so," Bassiouni said.

The UN official also raised the issue of US forces holding between 300 and 400 detainees in Kandahar and Bagram - saying that a lack of transparency from the authorities had raised "serious concerns" about the legality of detention as well as the condition of those detentions.

No role model

Bassiouni said in a previous report to the UN General Assembly that the coalition should be "a role model" for Afghan authorities - but it often is not.


"When they engage in practices that violate or ignore the norms of international human rights and international humanitarian law, they establish a double standard, enabling the continuation of abuses by various foreign and domestic actors," he said.


"There is not (a) legal basis for coalition forces to hold people as prisoners," Bassiouni said.

 

No other foreign forces have detention facilities in Afghanistan besides the US.


Human Rights Watch also has documented cases of US forces using military tactics, including unprovoked deadly force, during operations to apprehend civilians in uncontested residential areas - situations where law-enforcement standards and tactics should have been used.

Scathing report

The rights group published its findings in a scathing 59-page report, Enduring Freedom, against US forces in Afghanistan.

Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan were documented based on research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and early 2004.

"There is not (a) legal basis for coalition forces to hold people as prisoners"

Pof Cherif Bassiouni,
Independent UN human rights expert

Afghan forces deployed with US forces have also been accused of mistreating civilians during search and arrest operations and looted homes, the report said.

The report also detailed mistreatment in US detention facilities.

Afghans held at detention centres have spoken out against their captors, resulting in the executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, saying: "There is compelling evidence suggesting that US personnel have committed acts against detainees amounting to torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment."

The report also describes frequent arbitrary arrests of civilians, apparently based on mistaken or faulty intelligence, and numerous cases of civilians - grocers, farmers or labourers - who were held incommunicado and indefinitely.

Charges denied


Adams also highlighted that "the United States is setting a terrible example in Afghanistan on detention practices".

 

The US military has, however, rejected his allegations.

 

Rights groups say the US is
setting a 'terrible example'

"We don't arrest people, we detain individuals during the course of combat operations. These individuals are a security threat for Afghans. These people are the ones placing IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and using weapons to shoot at our forces," coalition spokesman Major Mark McCann said on Sunday.


"We are abiding by the spirit of the Geneva Convention" on prisoners of war, he said, before stressing that an internal survey of detention centres in Afghanistan had revealed "no incidences of abuse".

 

"We are providing humane treatment to all those prisoners," he said.


Under fire

 

The US army acknowledged in December that eight prisoners had died in US military custody in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban late-2001.

 

Three of the eight cases were the subject of inquiries, three were waiting for judicial procedures to start, one trial had ended, and the status of the eighth case was unknown at the time, the army said.

 

The US has been under fire from numerous rights groups for its methods at detention centres.

 

Bassiouni will present his report on the rights' situation in Afghanistan to the next session of the UN's Human Rights Commission in March.