Arbitrary Detention: A Call to Action
26 March 2009 - The United Nations in Afghanistan today released a major report on arbitrary detention in the country. The report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that Afghans are often detained without lawful reason and in many instances detainees do not enjoy basic rights that are enshrined in Afghanistan’s Constitution.
The major, two volume report entitled “Arbitrary Detention in Afghanistan: A Call to Action” is part of a larger effort by the United Nations to support the Government of Afghanistan, including in particular the judiciary, to address the problem of detention that is unlawful.
Under the Afghanistan Compact and the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), the Afghan Government committed to taking a range of actions aimed at, by 2010, combating detention that is arbitrary.
The report highlights that frequently detainees do not have access to a lawyer, are unable to challenge the legality of their detention before an impartial judge, and do not enjoy the presumption of innocence before being tried in a lawful court.
UNAMA found that unlawful detentions are most often the result of poor awareness and understanding of the law and the rights of detainees, procedures that are inadequate to safeguard the rights of detainees, and an inadequate legal framework. There were also instances where corruption, abuse of power, and disregard for the law by responsible authorities led to detentions that are unlawful and at odds with the rights of detainees.
UNAMA’s top human rights official, and Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Afghanistan, Norah Niland, said: “No Afghan should be detained arbitrarily; every Afghan has a right to justice and dignity. Ensuring that all detentions are lawful is vital to instilling public confidence in the judiciary and government institutions as well as in promoting the rule of law.”
The report recommends a range of concrete changes to laws, policy and operating procedures so that all detentions are lawful and there is greater accountability of the law enforcement and justice systems in Afghanistan. Specific recommendations include reforms to legislation and introduction of codes of conduct, improved training and capacity-building for law enforcement officials and the judiciary, and greater access of detained persons to legal representation.
The report is designed as a practical tool for judicial and other Government authorities as well as international partners concerned with combating this problem. Volume One, designed for national level policy makers and legislators, provides analysis and recommendations. Volume Two, targeted at practitioners and trainers, explores in a practical manner patterns of arbitrary detention, root causes, legal issues, and possible solutions.
“I am confident that the Government and judiciary, with the support of international partners, will find the report’s practical recommendations useful in formulating better laws, procedures and training aimed at combating the problem of arbitrary detention,” added Norah Niland.
In collaboration with justice sector partners, UNAMA intends to pursue initiatives throughout the country aimed at translating the report’s recommendations into concrete measures to combat arbitrary detention.
The report draws on more than 2,000 cases monitored between 2006 and 2008 by UNAMA in cooperation with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Monitoring covered district and provincial detention facilities of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice. The monitoring and the report benefited greatly from the support of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Attorney General’s Office and Supreme Court, as well as international partners. The report does not cover conflict-related detentions.