KABUL): An international human rights group on Thursday asked a government committee investigating prison conditions to focus on meaningful reforms to end torture and other abuses.
On Sept. 8, 2013, President Hamid Karzai formed the body to study general conditions of prisons and detention centres and submit its findings and recommendations in three months.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Afghan detention centers and prisons were rife with serious abuse, including torture, medically invalid virginity examinations of women, and holding detainees past their release date.
Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said: “President Karzai’s new committee could be an important step for addressing the horrific abuses in Afghanistan’s prisons. But the committee will need not only to shine the light on the abuses going on behind prison doors but to come up with ways to fix the system.”
In January, a UN report found more than half of 635 pretrial detainees and prisoners convicted on national security grounds had been tortured or ill-treated in government custody. Detainees alleged that torture was typically used to try to elicit confessions.
In a statement, HRW urged the committee to investigate the coerced use of “virginity examinations” of female prisoners accused of moral crimes.
Women and girls arrested on charges of zina, attempted zina, or running away from home are routinely sent to government doctors for vaginal examinations, purportedly to provide information about the woman’s sexual history.
It called for probing serious procedural errors that could unlawfully delay the release of prisoners, including the loss of case files, dysfunctional communication between government entities, failure to provide free legal services to detainees and errors by judicial institutions.
HRW also called for addressing the issue of prison overcrowding, saying Afghanistan’s prison population had increased from about 5,000 in 2004 to 32,000. The UN estimates the number will rise to 40,000 by 2018, a rate of increase that is unsustainable.