Amnesty International has welcomed the Minister of Defence Wayne Mapp’s commitment to investigating the role of New Zealand’s Special Air Service (SAS) in the handling of prisoners in Afghanistan.
“We are pleased to hear that the Minister intends to release the findings of reports and legal advice sought following allegations that detainees captured during joint operations between the NZSAS and Afghanistan’s Crisis Response Unit have been transferred to the National Directorate of Security (NDS),” says Patrick Holmes, CEO of Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the NDS, has demonstrated a persistent pattern of human rights violations perpetrated with impunity. Dozens of NDS detainees, some arrested arbitrarily and detained incommunicado without access to defence lawyers, families, courts or other outside bodies, have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including being whipped, exposed to extreme cold and deprived of food,” says Holmes.
The Afghan government, by its own admission, in its February 2009 report to the UN Human Rights Council acknowledges ‘some criticisms of mistreatment and torture of prisoners’ by NDS officials.
Amnesty International believes New Zealand has an absolute responsibility under international humanitarian law not to transfer detainees where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
Amnesty has been calling on the Government of New Zealand and all ISAF contributing countries not to hand detainees over to the sole custody of the Afghan authorities, until such time as the current risk of torture no longer exists.
“Irrespective of whether the SAS is the detaining power, New Zealand must ensure that the Afghan government prohibits the NDS from detaining prisoners and allows independent human rights monitoring of all detainees, including by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, with access to all places of detention and all detainees, ” says Holmes.
New Zealand has a written agreement with the Government of Afghanistan, which states that all detainees will be treated in accordance with the requirements of international law. Bilateral agreements do not, however, absolve New Zealand of its obligations to uphold international law and protect detainees from torture and ill-treatment.
“If New Zealand is to fulfil its objective of bringing about real and lasting peace and security to Afghanistan, it will only do so through the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law,” adds Holmes