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Afghanistan: Prison Conditions Endanger Lives

* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *

31 January 2002
ASA 11/004/2002

The lives of thousands of prisoners in Afghanistan are at risk because of the conditions in which they are detained, Amnesty International warned today. Visitors to detention facilities are reporting that prisons are dangerously overcrowded and that prisoners lack adequate food and medicine and are not sheltered from severe winter conditions.

Under the Bonn agreement, the Afghan Interim Authority is formally in control of detention facilities. However, under international law, the USA has continuing responsibilities for the welfare of prisoners who were in US custody before being handed over.

It is also apparent that the USA has significant influence, if not control, over the situation of prisoners in facilities run by Afghan authorities. US military personnel reportedly interviewed detainees in Sheberghan prison and took a number of them to the US controlled facility at Kandahar airport, from which prisoners have been flown to the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In a statement yesterday, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggested that the USA exerted overall control of the thousands of detainees in Afghanistan, including those currently held by Afghans.

Amnesty International also has serious concerns about conditions at the Kandahar airport facility which was established in mid-December. Journalists who were present when the detainees reached the airport have reported that on arrival the prisoners were gagged and blindfolded, with their hands and feet shackled, and with all the prisoners tied together in a long line. They are reportedly being held in cells made of concertina wire, in an unheated former airport storage area with a dirt floor. The building is reportedly lit 24 hours a day by strong halogen lights.

"The Afghan Interim Authority and the US government should urgently assess the conditions in which the prisoners are held and take immediate steps to ensure that their treatment is humane, as required by international human rights and humanitarian law," Amnesty International said. "Prisoners must be provided with adequate food and clothing, clean water and medical care, and be housed in facilities that are not overcrowded and provide adequate protection from the elements."

"It is vital that all detention facilities are open to inspection by independent experts who are able to report publicly and draw attention to serious concerns."

Background At Shebarghan prison in northern Afghanistan, a team from the organization Physicians for Human Rights has just reported that diseases - including dysentery, pneumonia and hepatitis - are rampant, the water supply is unclean and sanitation is virtually absent. The facility's commander told the team that "many" prisoners had already died but that he had had "minimal" response from the international community to his requests for help in dealing with the situation. The prison was designed to hold 800 prisoners but currently has more than 3,000.

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