In its biannual report released today, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted a modest decline in torture allegations across the country. This is good news. But with about one-third of conflict-related detainees still alleging serious abuses, including severe beatings, electric shocks, near suffocation with plastic bags or water, and suspension from the ceiling for prolonged periods, the picture remains grim.
UNAMA’s numbers indicate that the most significant decreases in abuse took place in 2018 in facilities under the control of the main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Not all NDS facilities improved: in Khost, for example, reports of abuse remained quite high, but the pattern suggests that measures undertaken by the agency in 2018 to strengthen safeguards and improve monitoring have had effect.
Other security agencies, notably the police in Kandahar province, showed very little improvement. UNAMA reported a “staggering” 77 percent of conflict-related detainees in Kandahar being subjected to brutal torture and other ill-treatment. Enforced disappearances in Kandahar, which may number in the hundreds since 2010, continue to be reported.
The Afghan government deserves credit for aligning its legislation on torture with international standards and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which permits an expert UN body to conduct visits to detention centers.
But the government’s record on accountability remains abysmal. In the very few cases of torture that have been investigated, the perpetrators have faced at most only minor disciplinary sanctions. Nor have the victims received compensation as required by law.
So long as torturers face no real consequences, serious abuse will continue. The Afghan government knows what it should do to curb torture. It’s time it did so.