NATO Aware of Prisoner Abuse in Afghanistan, General Says | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.11.2007
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NATO Aware of Prisoner Abuse in Afghanistan, General Says

The executive head of the ISAF troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Egon Ramms, confirmed Amnesty International accusations and told Deutsche Welle that NATO knew prisoners handed over to Afghan authorities were later tortured.

Soldiers from the Afghan National Army and Canadian soldiers return from a patrol in the Kandahar province in November 2006

Canadians stopped working with Afghan authorities until assured of prisoners' safety

"We are aware of individual cases where employees in Afghan prisons committed actions that, according to international law, certainly do not meet our expectations," German Gen. Egon Ramms told Deutsche Welle on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

The general added that the situation was not widespread and that the alliance wanted to prevent additional cases by allowing NATO's military leaders on the ground to decide if prisoners were transferred to Afghan authorities.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was accused by Amnesty International on Tuesday of exposing detainees to abuse by handing them over to Afghan security authorities who tortured the detainees.

The human rights group called for prisoner transfers to stop "until effective safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment are introduced in the Afghan detention system."

Pressure on Afghan government needed

Portrait of Egon Ramms

Ramms said the ISAF soldiers had no choice in giving prisoners to Afghan authorities

The ISAF had previously said it was not aware of any abuse.

"NATO-ISAF has no evidence of systematic mistreatment and torture of detainees who have been handed over to Afghan authorities by ISAF," alliance spokesman Nicholas Lunt told reporters. "The business of monitoring prisoners who have been handed over by ISAF is the responsibility of individual nations."

Ramms, however, said NATO was aware of indications that transferred detainees were being abused by Afghan authorities. He said Canadian troops in the Kandahar province stopped handing over prisoners until their safety and human rights could be guaranteed.

The general added that ISAF rules of engagement agreed to by the NATO council required soldiers to convey prisoners to the Afghan security officials within 96 hours.

"I now expect politicians to become active and influence the Afghan government to change things," Ramms told Deutsche Welle. "If we obey the rules agreed on and given to us, it is terrible for the soldiers to be the ones accused of acting inappropriately."

Investigation to begin

Soldiers walk through their base in Afghanistan in July 2006

The soldiers are not to blame for applying the rules given to them, Ramms said

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government announced on Wednesday that it will investigate Amnesty's claims.

"An authorized commission appointed by the president will seriously investigate the issue," the Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement. "Afghanistan is against any physical and mental torture and is committed to all international human rights standards which are also stated in the Afghan constitution."

ISAF has 40,000 troops in Afghanistan from 37 countries. Britain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have signed agreements on prisoner transfers, according to Amnesty. Germany, Belgium, France and Sweden are considering similar measures.

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