The United Nations says there has been "encouraging" progress in Afghanistan's efforts to eradicate the torture of people detained in relation to the country's ongoing conflict, but much remains to be done.
"The UN documents an encouraging reduction in the number of cases of torture since 2016 but notes its ongoing concern at the high number of detainees who continue to report torture and ill-treatment," the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office said in their latest report issued on April 17.
The document says the Afghan government has made progress in enforcing the National Plan on the Elimination of Torture, and achieved a reduction in the torture or ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees across the board.
Almost one-third, or 32 percent, of the detainees held by the Afghan military and interviewed by UNAMA gave "credible and reliable accounts" that they had been tortured or ill-treated, said the report, based on statements by 618 detainees held in 77 facilities in 28 provinces across the country between January 1 2017 and 31 December 2018.
That represented a reduction of 8 percent compared to the almost 40 percent over the previous reporting period, from January 2015 to December 2016.
Beatings reportedly represented the most usual method of torture and ill-treatment, with most detainees saying they had been beaten to force them to confess and that the treatment stopped once they did so.
Among conflict-related detainees held by the Afghan National Police (ANP) and interviewed for the report, the percentage of those who said they were tortured or ill-treated fell from 45 percent over the previous reporting period to 31 percent.
However, the reported rate was "a very disturbing 77 percent in the ANP facility in Kandahar," the document said, adding that "allegations of brutal forms of torture, such as suffocation, electric shocks, pulling of genitals, and suspension from ceilings" were made by those interviewed, as well as allegations of enforced disappearances in Kandahar.
The report says that, while the reduction represents welcome progress, the “decline in use of torture or ill-treatment is not yet significant enough to indicate that the remedial measures taken are sufficient.”
It also raises concern about poor conditions of detention in some facilities, including the one run by the military in Parwan. "Overcrowding, inadequate lighting, the use of solitary confinement as the sole disciplinary measure, and restrictions on family visits and access to lawyers" are mentioned in the document.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the conclusions of the report, issued on the first anniversary of Afghanistan’s accession to the Convention Against Torture’s Optional Protocol, demonstrate that the policies implemented to combat torture and ill-treatment were bearing fruit, but were far from sufficient.
“I urge the Government to work swiftly to create a National Preventive Mechanism to ensure independent, impartial scrutiny of the treatment of detainees," Bachelet said.
"A well-resourced watchdog of this sort, which is able to make unannounced visits to places of detention and raise awareness of what constitutes torture and ill-treatment according to international human rights law, can go a long way towards the ultimate goal of fully eradicating torture.”