torture

This week in conflict… October 23rd-29th, 2010

World

  • Vincenc Fisas of the School for a Culture of Peace released his report on the progress of peace processes in the third quarter of 2010. Sudan, Chad, the Western Sahara, Myanmar talks with the NLD, China-Tibet talks, Israeli-Palestinian talks and Yemen were all listed as progressing poorly in their respective peace processes.
  • Negotiators are working on a treaty to share genetic resources between countries and companies, a step that could unlock billions of dollars for developing nations from drug, agri-resources and cosmetic firms. The access and benefit-sharing protocol aims to create a legal framework that would give nations much better control over their natural resources that can lead to potentially valuable discoveries.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2010 came out this week. The report increased this year to cover 134 countries, up from only 115 countries in 2006 and considers factors such as gender dimension in economic participation and opportunities, educational attainment, access to basic and higher education, and political empowerment.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced the launch of a training programme to help war-torn countries and those vulnerable to disputes over the use of natural resources prevent strife. UNEP research suggests that natural resource disputes account for some 40% of the world’s internal conflicts. Training will begin in four countries, Timor-Leste, Liberia, Peru and Guinea, next year.
  • Transparency International released its annual report on Tuesday on corruption and transparency. Somalia was listed as the most corrupt country in the world, followed by Afghanistan, Myanmar/Burma and Iraq. Nearly three quarters of the 178 countries fell below an index score of 5 on a scale where 0 is the most corrupt and 10 is the least.

Africa

  • French President Sarkozy announced on Saturday that it was a “scandal” that Africa has no permanent seat on the UN Security Council, considering they collectively have one billion inhabitants and make up 27% of the UN Membership. Sarkozy also supported places for India, South America, Japan and Germany in the UNSC.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the international community on Saturday to find sustainable ways of supporting the African Union’s peacekeeping initiatives. Ban called for the same level of support as similar UN missions, including reimbursement of staff, saying that their current limited resources are troubling the peacekeeping efforts in places like Sudan and Somalia.
  • Twelve people were killed in fierce fighting between a pro-government militia and an insurgent group in Mogadishu, Somalia on Saturday. A separate attack killed at least 5 people after al-Shabaab attacked the presidential palace, Villa Somalia. Al-Shabaab publicly executed two young girls aged 15-17 years old on Friday in front of a crowd of some hundred residents after accusing them of spying. Recent fighting near the Kenyan border is said to have displaced some 60,000 people.
  • Cote D’Ivoire has so far deployed less than a fifth of the 8,000 troops needed to secure this coming weekend’s election. While the run-up to the poll has been generally peaceful, clashes erupted between rival candidates’ supporters in some towns over the weekend. The UN has sent an extra 500 peacekeepers ahead of Sunday’s election, bringing their numbers up to 8,000 soldiers and 1,500 police.
  • The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group in Darfur announced on Sunday that it was ready to start discussions with international mediators in the peace process. JEM previously walked out of talks in Qatar in May claiming Sudan’s government had broken a ceasefire. A meeting on the Abyei referendum has been postponed indefinitely, after delegates from the National Congress Party and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement failed to agree on who can participate. It was announced on Wednesday that Southern Sudan has prepared to offer the north a financial package to soften the blow of secession if it agrees to allow southern annexation of the Abyei region. Several children under the age of 18 face the death penalty following their sentencing of special courts in Darfur in contradiction to international laws, which Sudan is party to.
  • The Nigerian rebel group Boko Haram attacked a police station on Sunday in Yobe, Nigeria. The rebels are said to have firebombed the police station, which led to a gun fight that killed at least one person. On Sunday morning, 3 soldiers and 13 civilians were killed in a clash between two neighbouring communities over ownership of portions of an oil palm plantation located at their border. Nigerian security forces intercepted 13 containers of arms and ammunition including rocket launchers, cartridges and hand grenades at the airport on Wednesday.The containers were suspected to have been shipped from Iran but were later determined to have originated in India. Six women and children were killed in Jos on Tuesday after attackers invaded a village.
  • Freedom of the press is in jeopardy in Egypt leading up the parliamentary elections, with a string of firings and resignations that removed most of the prominent government critics from their positions. At least four private TV channels were closed in the past week, two others were issued warnings for content violations and the opposition is claiming that Egyptian state TV has refused to air their ads and print shops are refusing to print their campaign literature.
  • The Presidential run-off elections in Guinea were delayed indefinitely, resulting in a weekend of looting and rioting. The election was postponed on Friday, just two days before the election, in the third delay to the run-off since September. Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Guinean security forces of using excessive force in clashes with demonstrators over the delayed elections which killed at least one person. On Wednesday it was announced that the run-off would be postponed until November 7th. Thousands of Guineans from the Peul ethnic group were forced to flee their homes in ethnic clashes following rumours that Peul businessmen tried to serve tainted water sachets at a political rally last Friday.
  • Around 50 rebels suspected to be from a Mai Mai militia group attacked a peacekeeping base in eastern Congo over the weekend, which resulted in the death of 8 assailants. The MONUSCO peacekeepers fired back on their attackers, following their rules of engagement in hostile environments. Angola deported nearly 200 Congolese citizens this week, prompting fears of a new wave of mass expulsions that saw tens of thousands displaced last year. The deported are said to come completely stripped, without clothing or even shoes, and several are injured. It was later reported that at least 30 of the deported women were kept as prisoners in a dungeon-like structure and gang-raped over several weeks at the border only to be left naked in the bush. Many men in the group were also brutalized, and at least three people were killed in the journey.
  • Human Rights Watch reported on Monday that Morocco routinely holds suspected militants in secret detention centres where they risk being coerced into making false confessions. The Moroccan government rejected the allegations.
  • Rwanda has charged the President’s main political opponent Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza with forming a terrorist organization with an aim of causing state insecurity. Ingabire has plead not guilty to all charges.
  • Two newspapers in Tanzania face being banned or deregistered for allegedly publishing material that could tarnish the government or country’s reputation. They have also been told them must stop publishing “negative articles” sent to the paper.

Asia

  • At least 10 alleged insurgents were killed after military helicopter gunships attacked the hideouts of Islamist militants in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday. On Sunday, military helicopter gunships attacked militant positions in the northwest, allegedly killing 13 insurgents and destroying four hideouts. On Monday, at least six people, all civilians, were killed in a bomb blast at a Sufi Muslim shrine in central Pakistan; two gunmen on a motorcycle killed a pro-Taliban politician outside his house in the southwest; and three labourers were killed in an attack by masked gunmen in Kohlu. On Tuesday, Islamist militants allegedly attacked a paramilitary checkpoint killing one soldier and at least five militants. On Wednesday, a pair of suspected US drone strikes killed at least 5 militants in northwest Pakistan; a roadside blast near a police van killed two policemen and one civilian in Quetta; and a bomb planted in a motorcycle wounded seven people in the north west. On Thursday, US missile strikes killed another seven suspected militants near the Afghan border; gunmen attacked a Japanese consular vehicle wounding two employees; a roadside blast killed on soldier and wounded five others in Kalaya; and militants cut the throats of three tribesmen and dumped their bodies on a roadside in Ghalanai.
  • Six Indian police were killed by a roadside bomb allegedly planted by Maoist rebels in the east of the country on Saturday. Officials claim the attack was aimed to disrupt the month-long polling process to elect a new government that began last Thursday.
  • Thousands of protesters were dispersed by Bangladeshi police using rubber bullets and teargas on Saturday, injuring some 50 people. Protesters are demonstrating against plans to acquire 1,000 acres of land for housing projects for the army.
  • Security forces in Myanmar/Burma have arrested five men accused of plotting to bomb public places, including an international airport on Wednesday. Investigators claim the insurgents had stockpiled explosives to plant bombs in three major cities in an attempt to derail next month’s election.
  • Two Kyrgyz politicians accused of planning mass disorder and attempting to overthrow the government in May of this year made their first court appearance on Monday. The two maintain that the charges are “absolutely groundless”. The leader of a nationalist party claimed on Monday that he was injured in an assassination attempt when some 50 men attacked his home in Bishkek. On Wednesday, a group of unknown assailants opened fire on a group of policemen, killing two and severely wounded another.
  • A Vietnamese blogger was arrested this week for allegedly defaming a senior Communist Party official and his family. Her arrest follows an increase in arrests in recent weeks of bloggers who criticize the government.
  • Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday that freedom of the press is under attack in Azerbaijan, as the government is using criminal laws and violent attacks to silence dissenting journalists. Dozens of journalists have been prosecuted on criminal and civil defamation and other criminal charges while police have carried out physical attacks to deliberately interfere with journalist’s efforts to investigate issues of public interest. Opposition candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections have accused authorities of preparing to fix the elections by barring candidates, censoring the media and limiting the right to campaign.
  • On Saturday, four suicide bombers dressed as police and women attacked the main UN compound in the western Herat province in Afghanistan; a Danish soldier was killed in a gunfight in the Helmand province; an ISAF service member was killed by a homemade bomb in the east; Afghan officials accused NATO troops of killing two schoolboys after a patrol came under fire by Taliban insurgents; and a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed one civilian. On Sunday, a NATO-ISAF soldier was killed in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan; Afghan and ISAF forces killed several insurgents in an air strike and rocket fire after a foot patrol came under attack; and several insurgents were reportedly killed by an air strike in Helmand province. On Monday, Afghan forces and NATO troops killed at least 15 alleged insurgents in a raid and air strike in Helmand province; a suicide bomber detonated explosives at an Afghan checkpoint in the southeast, killing three people; two civilians were killed when their motorcycle hit an anti-vehicle landmine in the road in Helmand province; a suicide bomber killed himself near a foreign troop convoy north of Kabul; Afghan and coalition forces killed a Taliban commander and two other alleged insurgents in an overnight right in the east; and Afghan and coalition forces killed two alleged insurgents in the west. On Tuesday, a roadside bomb killed four Afghan police in western Herat; NATO forces are said to have captured a Taliban leader in Logar; and ISAF said it killed more than five insurgents in an air strike in Helmand province. On Wednesday, a NATO service member was killed by a homemade bomb in Kabul; and Afghan and foreign forces killed several insurgents during an overnight operation targeting a Taliban commander in Baghlan. On Thursday, an improvised bomb explosion killed a NATO service member in Kabul; more than 10 suspected insurgents were captured in three operations in Kabul; and an ISAF air strike is said to have killed one suspected insurgent in the east. On Friday, more than 20 insurgents were killed in an air attack by the NATO led ISAF in Kandahar; two insurgents were killed in a NATO air strike in the south; and several insurgents were killed in an overnight operation to capture a Taliban commander in the southeast. Also this week, an Afghan refugee woman who was trying to cross the border into Iran with her four children was shot dead by Iranian border guards. The US military has been securing a vast database of biometric information of Afghans living in the southern and eastern parts of the country. They are said to have information on over 800,000 people.
  • The US has made plans to build a $12.6 billion dollar super military base in Guam in an attempt to contain China’s military build-up. The Environmental Protection Agency fears that the influx of 19,000 Marines into a population of only 173,000 could trigger some serious water shortages, and that the dredging of the harbour to allow an aircraft carrier to berth would damage 71 acres of pristine coral reefs.
  • A fire destroyed the Islamic Resistance Party’s (IRP) cultural center, widely known as the “women’s mosque” in Tajikistan on Saturday. The IRP does not think the fire is accidental, as the center served as the only mosque in Tajikistan that allowed women to pray alongside men, following the ban of women from attending mosque prayers in 2004 by religious authorities in the region.
  • UN funding has been found to be used to run a brutal internment camp for the destitute in Cambodia, where detainees are held for months without trial, raped and beaten, sometimes to death. The so-called “social affairs centre”, that is officially described as offering education and healthcare to vulnerable people is said to actually be an illegal, clandestine prison for “undesirables”, such as drug users, sex workers and the homeless. Cambodia’s ministry of social affairs has previously denied all allegations of abuse, saying that the centre offers rehabilitation and vocational training.
  • South Korea sent its first shipment of rice aid to North Korea in more than two years on Monday and announced it would consider holding monthly talks with the North if it was committed to denuclearization. South Korean media also reported that the US and South Korean military had postponed their latest military drills in the Yellow Sea to avoid creating problems with China and North Korea ahead of the G20 summit. On Friday it was announced that North Korean troops had fired across the heavily armed border into South Korea, whose soldiers fired back.

Central and North Americas

  • A series of suspected computer problems is said to have taken 50 of America’s 450 nuclear intercontinental missiles (ICBMs) off-line for a short period. Reports say sabotage or a computer virus has been ruled out, and that the missiles could still have been launched in an emergency, despite the nearly hour long communications break. US officials arrested a Pakistani-American man for plotting a series of bomb attacks on Washington’s subway system on Wednesday. The man is suspected to have ties to al-Qaeda. Washington DC experienced more shooting of military buildings this week, as several shots were fired into the Marine Corps museum on Friday. Investigators believe that this recent shooting is linked to the two previous shootings, one at a Marine Corps recruiting station and another at the Pentagon.
  • Thirteen people were gunned down at a drug rehabilitation clinic in Tijuana on Sunday just days after another 14 people were killed at a party in Ciudad Juarez.  Also on Sunday, three bystanders were killed in the cross-fire between suspected drug hitmen and federal police in Saltillo. On Wednesday, a group of suspected drug hitmen shot and killed at least 13 people at a car wash in western Mexico. Seven other people were mowed down in the street, four factory workers were killed on a bus and nine police officers were killed in an ambush on Thursday.

South America

  • Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner died of a heart attack on Wednesday. Kirchner, who was succeeded by his wife as president in 2007, was expected to run in the 2011 Presidential elections. 
  • I am still looking for some suggestions of reliable news sources for South America that are available in English. If you have any suggestions, please write them in the comments below or email us at apeaceofconflict@gmail.com. Thanks!

Middle East

  • The start of the olive season in Israel/Palestine has been wrought with conflict, as Palestinians blame Israeli settlers of chopping down, burning or stealing their fruit and trees and attacking farmers who try to harvest. Damage was also said to have been done to some Israeli properties. On Monday, Israel’s hardlined Foreign Minister commissioned a report on how the country will prepare for a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as a plan on possible responses should the Palestinians unilaterally declare a state taking in all of the occupied West Bank. Violent clashes broke out between Palestinian-Israelis and Israeli police following a demonstration by a right-wing Jewish group in northern Israel. Police fired tear gas at a crowd of Palestinian-Israelis who had gathered to protest the march. A huge arms cache bound for Gaza was impounded On Friday in Egypt. The cache was said to contain more than 150 kg of TNT.
  • Bahrain’s parliamentary elections have resulted in the Shia opposition movement winning all the seats it contested, and emerging as the single largest group in a political system dominated by the Sunni minority monarchy. Al-Wifaq won 18 out of 40 seats in the chamber of deputies, while 13 were won by Sunni candidates loyal to the government, with another nine to be fought out next week in the second round.
  • Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks released nearly 400,000 classified US files on the Iraq war, detailing instances of prisoner abuse and torture that was ignored by the US military. The files revealed a shocking scale of breach of international law by American soldiers, such as the shooting of men trying to surrender, the private security firm abuses and murders, and showing a significant raise in the official civilian death tolls, among other things. On Saturday, a sticky bomb attacked to a car wounded a driver in Baghdad; gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in southern Baghdad, wounding three people; and a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi checkpoint wounded six soldiers and one officer in Abu Ghraib. On Sunday, a former Iraqi intelligence officer died after Iraqi army soldiers raided his home southeast of Mosul; and a car bomb exploded inside a public hospital complex, killing two civilians and wounding 19 others in Mosul. On Monday, a gunmen in a speeding car shot an employee of the Electricity Ministry in Baghdad; and a sticky bomb attached to the car of a Defense Ministry employee wounded him and two bystanders in south Baghdad. On Tuesday, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed six workers north of Baghdad; two roadside bomb attacks killed one civilian and wounded another civilian in eastern Mosul; a roadside bomb targeting a deputy minister wounded two bodyguards and two bystanders in central Baghdad; and one person was wounded in a sticky bomb attack on a car in Baghdad. On Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed the head of Jalawa’s criminal investigation unit and three of his bodyguards; a sticky bomb on a car wounded two off-duty policemen in Jalawla; a bomb attached to a truck killed the driver and wounded four others in Baghdad; another bomb in Baghdad killed two guards and wounded four bystanders; a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded three people in Abu Ghraib; and at least three people were wounded when a bomb exploded in Kirkuk. On Thursday, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol wounded three policemen in Mosul; a sticky bomb on a car in Basra wounded a South Oil Company employee; a sticky bomb on a car killed a police colonel in Baghdad; a sticky bomb on a car wounded a police brigadier general in Baghdad; another sticky bomb on a car wounded a Housing and Construction Ministry employee in Baghdad; a suicide bomber targeting a federal police base killed a policeman and wounded eight others in Mosul; and one civilian was killed and two others wounded in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad.
  • Security forces in Yemen announced on Saturday that they have foiled a planned attack on “vital installations” ahead of the 20th Gulf Football Cup in Aden. A man was arrested with 1,800g of dynamite along with 7 suspected accomplices. On Tuesday, 15 Yemenis suspected of belonging to al Qaeda allegedly turned themselves in to authorities after negotiations. On Wednesday, Shi’ite northern rebels are said to have killed one man and wounded three others in an ambush, and on Friday two rebels and one pro-government tribesman were killed in clashes between rebels and government aligned tribes.
  • Iran has sentenced an Iranian journalist who worked for a banned pro-opposition newspaper to one year in prison for writing anti-government articles. Masoud Bastani is just one of thousands who were arrested and jailed following the June 2009 elections.
  • The UN court investigating the 2005 killing of Lebanese statesman al-Hariri was allegedly attacked by a group of people on its way to a pre-arranged meeting. Tensions have escalated in the past few months. Hezbollah called on all Lebanese to boycott the international investigation on Thursday accusing investigators of sending information to Israel.

Europe

  • The Swedish police are investigating a racially motivated gunman following 18 shootings of citizens of ethnic-minority with no known ties to organized crime. Police have warned residents from ethnic-minority groups to take extra care when going out at night.
  • NATO will reduce its troops in Kosovo by half to 5,000 over the next few months. It was announced on Friday that security had improved in the area and that local institutions are increasingly capable of assuming responsibility for security.
  • A policeman was killed in Daghestan when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a police base on Saturday. The attacker was unable to enter the base, as the entrance was blocked by a truck, so he blew himself up outside of it.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev voiced sharp criticism of Russia’s current leaders Medvedev and Putin, accusing them of eroding democracy in the country in an effort for personal power. The Russian military could return to Afghanistan for the first time since being forcibly expelled in 1989 as part of a joint NATO-Russian initiative, including the contribution of Russian helicopters and crews to train Afghan pilots, assistance training Afghan national security forces, increased cooperation on counter-narcotics and border security, and improved transit and supply routes for NATO forces. Russia successfully tested its Bulava nuclear missile on Friday, after seven previous failures, in hopes that the missile will make the cornerstone of its nuclear missile programme.
  • Police and residents clashed this week in Italy over a waste disposal crisis. Hundreds of tons of trash lie uncollected in the streets in Naples and surrounding areas, and daily demonstrations have resulted in violence.
  • Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has warned France to expect more of its nationals to be kidnapped because of it’s policy in Africa and the ban on the burka and the niqab. Bin Laden stated that “the reason why your security is being threatened..” is that “you intervene in the affairs of Muslims, in north and west Africa in particular”.

International Day in Support of Torture Victims

Objective:
A day to celebrate and support torture victims and stand united against this cruel violation of human rights.

26 June was the day that the Convention against Torture came into force. It was also the day that the United Nations Charter was signed – the first international instrument to embody obligations for Member States to promote and encourage respect for human rights.

To mark 26 June, torture rehabilitation centres and other human rights organisations around the organise a multitude of events. On the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’s website, campaign tools, information, materials and suggestions are made available for all who want to join us.

http://www.irct.org/about-us/what-we-do/awareness-raising/day-against-torture-on-26-june.aspx

Misconceptions surrounding the Afghan detainee issue in Canada.

“Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society…It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.” (Stephen Harper, BC Report, January 11, 1999)

I have heard so many rumors and comments as of late and I wanted to address some of the major misconceptions that I so frequently hear about the Afghan detainee scandal. PM Stephen Harper’s recent proroguing of Parliament has been linked by Canadian media to the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan interrogations into allegations of the torture of Afghan prisoners after they were handed over by Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities. The handing over of prisoners to torture is in breach of international laws and conventions, Canadian laws, as well as the technical agreements for the Canadian mission in Afghanistan that could result in possible war crime charges for some officials in the Canadian government. Michael Byers and William A. Schabas have formally requested the ICC investigate these allegations after pleas to apply the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms during the armed conflict in Afghanistan in the Federal Court of Canada, were denied. Sadly, the vague nature of the international laws makes justice illusive.

Firstly, I completely disagree with some of the statements I have heard that essentially say that discussing the issue or calling for an inquiry on these allegations is tantamount to not supporting our troops. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The international laws and conventions that prohibit torture or handing over prisoners to torture are in place to protect soldiers and those involved in war. Ignoring international conventions and laws not only disgraces our public image and any moral ground for our military intervention anywhere, but also puts all our soldiers at greater risk.  How can our government expect to invoke these laws for our own troop’s protection when they don’t have respect enough to follow them or investigate internal breaches fully? I will repeat my favorite comment from Brigadier-General Kenneth Watkin during the November 4, 2009 Committee meeting, “Respect for the rule of law is an essential aspect of Canadian Forces operations. Fostering respect for the rule of law is a key reason why we are in Afghanistan.

I would like to clarify that it is not individual soldiers who would be held responsible for war crimes, but rather those who ordered the troops and officials to ignore international laws. If you have doubts of this, please refer to the history of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its proceedings. Brigadier-General Kenneth Watkin further details who has this authority in the Canadian Forces, “The decision to transfer such persons rests with the Canadian Commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan and is made on a case-by-case basis.”

Secondly, some seem to believe that direct proof of torture must be found before we are to stop transferring detainees to Afghan officials. This is simply untrue. Those handing over prisoners or detainees “must be satisfied that there are no substantial grounds for believing that there exists a real risk that a detainee would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment“. Suspicion of torture is enough. Was there any suspicion of torture?  I think it is fairly clear that there was. Here is just one report by Graeme Smith from 2007. Amnesty International also reported on these concerns (and took the matter to the Federal Court of Canada), as did the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, Mrs. Ouimet of La Presse, the U.S. State Department, several UN reports and the Red Cross. Even General Hillier has suggested that he knew of allegations of torture when asked, “Were you aware of those reports about torture in Afghan prisons?”  he responded “yes, absolutely. You could not not be aware.” (November 25, 2009), but these reports were dismissed without full investigation or follow up to ensure the laws were being properly respected.

Sadly, there have also been allegations that there was a scripted cover-up ordered by the PM and allegations of intimidation of witnesses and the obstruction and interference of Committee work by Government officials in the Committee in the House of Parliament. I quote from the above document, “That the Committee believes a serious breach of privilege has occurred and members’ rights have been violated, that the Government of Canada, particularly the Department of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, have intimidated a witness of this Committee, and obstructed and interfered with the Committee’s work and with the papers requested by this Committee.” This does not sound like the behaviour of leaders. It sounds like the behaviour of criminals. For shame. The truth must be told and any problems immediately rectified. According to the Parliamentary Journals (see particularly under the sections labeled “Business of Supply”) the majority of the house voted in favor of being supplied with access to uncensored documents currently being withheld by members of the government invoking the Canada Evidence Act (YEAS: 146, NAYS: 143). Despite this majority vote, the documents have yet to be supplied. The Committee must continue and investigations to prove or disprove the allegations must be made. Richard Colvin recently put forth this document to refute some of the evidence that was brought out during committee. Colvin has stated that he sent several emails about the issue that went ignored, with those in charge claiming that they never received emails from him that detailed anything about possible torture.

Thirdly, I have heard the excuse to the effect of, “what were they supposed to do about it, they had little choice but to hand them over”. This is also simply not true. As mentioned below in the Committee meeting from November 18th, 2009, other countries in a similar position have acted in a more responsible manner. Please read up on the actions of the Dutch and British armies in relation to our actions (it’s lengthy so I won’t quote it all here). Clearly, there was a choice and the choice made was to ignore international laws.

I urge you all to actually read the transcripts of the evidence as it is quite substantial and in parts quite disturbing. You can find the full disclosed details of the Afghan committee here.

You can watch the Richard Colvin testimony here:

I have chosen to highlight some of the evidence before Parliament that I feel is incredibly important to not overlook.

From November 4, 2009:
Brigadier-General Kenneth W. Watkin (Judge Advocate General, Department of National Defence– the legal adviser to the Governor General, the Minister of National Defence, the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Forces, in matters relating to military law.): “Torture is abhorrent and can never be tolerated. The prohibition against torture is a peremptory and non-derogable norm of international law. The transfer of detainees to a real risk of torture or ill-treatment is contrary to international humanitarian law, also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict. It is a specialized body of law that governs the conduct of Canada, its officials, and its military forces during the armed conflict in Afghanistan. The policies and procedures put in place by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and the legal test that must be satisfied before detainees can be transferred are all meant to ensure compliance with these international legal obligations.”

” The technical arrangements expressly state that, [d]etainees would be afforded the same treatment as prisoners of war. Detainees would be transferred to Afghan authorities in a manner consistent with international law and subject to
negotiated assurances regarding their treatment and transfer. The reference to detainees being afforded the same treatment as prisoners of war does not mean they have the status of prisoners of war. Rather, it demonstrates that we
are extending well-established and comprehensive international law protection for such detainees.”

“The court found that under the technical arrangements the detention of persons adverse in interest or providing support in respect of acts harmful to the Canadian Forces and coalition forces, and the transfer to Afghan custody of such persons, is to be carried out in accordance with international law. Prior to transfer, detainees are held in a temporary Canadian facility on a multinational base. The decision to transfer such persons rests with the Canadian commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan and is made on a case-by-case basis.”

“The legal test that must be met before a detainee can be transferred by the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities, and this was confirmed by the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal in the Amnesty case, is clear: the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan must be satisfied that there are no substantial grounds for believing that there exists a real risk that a detainee would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment at the hands of Afghan authorities.”

“…that there is no “legal no-man’s land” concerning the transfer of detainees to the Government of Afghanistan. International humanitarian law applies. Canada has “applied” the words of that code by making arrangements and establishing procedures to guarantee that detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces are protected.”

And my personal favorite: “Respect for the rule of law is an essential aspect of Canadian Forces operations. Fostering respect for the rule of law is a key reason why we are in Afghanistan.”

From November 18, 2009:

Mr. Richard Colvin: “What was the nature of our detainee system in Kandahar? Perhaps a good place to start is to compare our practices to those of our principal NATO allies in southern Afghanistan: the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. What we were doing differed in five crucial respects.

First, we took and transferred far more detainees. …As of May 2007, Canada had transferred to the Afghan authorities six times as many detainees as the British, who were conducting military operations just as aggressive as ours and had twice as many troops in theatre, and we had transferred twenty times as many detainees as the Dutch.

Second, we did not monitor our own detainees after their transfer. Again, unlike the British and Dutch, Canada’s memorandum of understanding on detainees, signed by General Rick Hillier in December 2005, had no provision for our own officials to follow up on what happened to our detainees after they were handed to the Afghan intelligence service, the NDS, or National Directorate of Security.”

” Instead, our detainee system relied upon two human rights groups to monitor the well-being of detainees after transfer: the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, or AIHRC, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the AIHRC had very limited capacity, and in Kandahar were not allowed into the NDS prisons. So for the purposes of monitoring our detainees, they were unfortunately quite useless. The Red Cross is a very professional and effective organization. However, they were also no good for us as monitors. Once a detainee had been transferred to Afghan custody, the Red Cross, under their rules, could only inform the Afghan authorities about abuse. Under those strict rules, they are not permitted to tell Canada.

The third important difference is that, again unlike the Dutch and British, Canada was extremely slow to inform the Red Cross when we had transferred a detainee to the Afghans. The Canadian Forces leadership created a very peculiar six-step process. Canadian military police in Kandahar had to inform the Canadian Forces command element at Kandahar airfield, who in turn informed Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, or CEFCOM, in Ottawa.”

“The Dutch and British military, by contrast, had a one-step process. They simply notified the Red Cross office in Kandahar directly. The Dutch did so immediately upon detaining an Afghan, and the British within 24 hours.

In other words, in the critical days after a detainee was first transferred to the Afghan intelligence service, nobody was able to monitor them. Canada had decided that Canadians would not monitor. The AIHRC could not do so, because they had very weak capacity and were not allowed into NDS jails. The Red Cross in practice could not do so either, because we did not inform them until days, weeks, or months after we had handed over the detainee.

During those crucial first days, what happened to our detainees? According to a number of reliable sources, they were tortured.”

” The most common forms of torture were beating, whipping with power cables, and the use of electricity. Also common was sleep deprivation, use of temperature extremes, use of knives and open flames, and sexual abuse–that is, rape. Torture might be limited to the first days or it could go on for months.

According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured. For interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure.”

” The final difference, which is a very important one, is that Canada, unlike the U.K. and the Netherlands, cloaked our detainee practices in extreme secrecy. The Dutch government immediately informed the Dutch Parliament as soon as a detainee had been taken. The Dutch also provided their Parliament with extremely detailed reporting on every stage of detention and transfer and on the results of monitoring after transfer. The U.K. also announced publicly the number of their detainees.

The Canadian Forces, by contrast, refused to reveal even the number of detainees they had taken, claiming this would violate operational security.

When the Red Cross wanted to engage on detainee issues, for three months the Canadian Forces in Kandahar wouldn’t even take their phone calls. The same thing happened to the NATO ISAF command in Kabul, who had responsibilities to report detainee numbers to Brussels. They were told, “We know what you want, but we won’t tell you.”

Further from November 18, 2009:

Why should we care about Afghan detainees being tortured?:

Mr. Richard Colvin: “As a final section, asking kind of a rhetorical question, even if Afghan detainees were being tortured, why should Canadians care? I think there are five compelling reasons.

First, our detainees were not what intelligence services would call “high-value targets”, such as IED bomb-makers, al-Qaeda terrorists, or Taliban commanders. High-value targets would be detained under a completely different mechanism that involved special forces and targeted intelligence-driven operations. The Afghans I’m discussing
today were picked up by conventional forces during routine military operations, and on the basis typically not of intelligence but suspicion or unproven denunciation.

According to a very authoritative source, many of the Afghans we detained had no connection to the insurgency whatsoever. From an intelligence point of view, they had little or no value. Frankly, the NDS did not want them.
Some of these Afghans may have been foot soldiers or day fighters, but many were just local people: farmers, truck drivers, tailors, peasants, random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time, young men in their fields and villages who were completely innocent but were nevertheless rounded up. In other words, we detained and handed over for severe torture a lot of innocent people.

The second reason that Canadians should care is that seizing people and rendering them for torture is a very serious violation of international and Canadian law. Complicity in torture is a war crime. It is illegal and prosecutable.

Third, Canada has always been a powerful advocate of international law and human rights. That is a keystone of who we are as Canadians and what we have always stood for as a people and nation. If we disregard our core principles and values, we also lose our moral authority abroad. If we are complicit in the torture of Afghans in Kandahar, how can we
credibly promote human rights in Tehran or Beijing?

Fourth, our actions were counter to our own stated policies. In April 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said publicly that Canadian military officials don’t send individuals off to be tortured. That was indeed our policy. But behind the military’s wall of secrecy, that unfortunately is exactly what we were doing.

Finally, even if all the Afghans we detained had been Taliban, it would still have been wrong to have them tortured. The Canadian military is a proud and professional organization, thoroughly trained in the rules of war and the correct treatment of prisoners.”

** A side note (RS- not from the transcript): There has been a great attempt to discredit Mr. Colvin since this evidence was given. Here is my favorite quote dealing with that issue:

“If [Colvin] had no credibility, why was he promoted from Afghanistan to a senior intelligence position in the Canadian embassy in Washington? That is a very senior job that that man is holding so there is no credibility on trying to discredit him.” (Bob Fife, CTV Power Play, November 18, 2009)

From November 25, 2009:

Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, Lib.): “I want to talk to you about the issues about law, the command responsibility. You know that better than anybody else. It requires no actual knowledge of the risk of torture. If the risk of torture is widely known, as it was to the U.S. State Department, UN reports, Afghan Independent Human Rights reports, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, our own human rights reports, their knowledge can be imputed. In fact, ignorance is not a defence either, for want of reports, and you know that better than I do.”

“…Justice Anne Mactavish in February 2008? She stated that: “Eight complaints of prisoner abuse were received by Canadian personnel conducting site visits in Afghan detention facilities between May 3, 2007 and November 5, 2007.” Moreover, she noted that in some cases prisoners bore physical signs.”

Mr. Claude Bachand: “Everyone here recognizes that the suspected torture we are dealing with has certainly not being inflicted by Canadian soldiers. What we are trying to find out is if Canadian soldiers like you, on the ground, knew that torture was being practiced and if, despite that, they still transferred detainees. That is our main concern.”

“Can you explain to me how you can state that absolutely nothing happened when Amnesty International, the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission and the Red Cross all stated that torture was being practiced in the prisons? Even a guard in the Sarposa prison stated that torturing prisoners it was routine. International diplomats said the same thing. Today, a Canadian diplomat repeated statements made by Mr. Colvin as well as by many reporters. You referred to the Globe and Mail but I can also mention Mrs. Ouimet of La Presse who reported on what she saw there. All the Opposition parties believe that torture was being practiced. Why are you trying to convince us that it was not?”

Mr. Paul Dewar to Gen. Rick Hillier: “Were any of you aware of these independent groups’ assessments on torture in Afghan prisons from 2005, 2006, and onwards?I guess by 2006 everyone knew, so were you aware of the independent assessments by other groups? They’ve all been listed: the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Red Cross, the State Department, etc. Were you aware of those reports about torture in Afghan prisons?”

Gen Rick Hillier: ” How could you not be aware of individuals saying that everything was bad and the sky was falling? So yes, Mr. Dewar, absolutely. And then I’d just balance that against a comment I heard from somebody in the ICRC or read somewhere back in February 2007, saying there’s no problem whatsoever with respect to detainees. So I tried to balance the specific against the generalities, which had no substance against specific–“
“So yes, absolutely. You could not not be aware.”
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Some links for further reading:
40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

Descending into madness. Time for change in the DRC.

Ok, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is perhaps not descending into madness. It has already been there for quite some time. Violence there is out of control right now, and things are getting worse not better. Talks of peace are hollow and full of corruption. The international community seems to ignore the problem entirely, instead hoping they can use the corruption to their advanatage to get rights to resources or political support, resisting spending enough money or providing enough assistance to actually make a difference. There seems to be little being offered in the way of real transformations of violence or ensuring lasting peace and most definitely very little hope that it’s coming anytime in the near future.

The population in many areas live in near constant fear. Many more people live as virtual transients, floating from village to village or town to town, displaced from their homes and unable to return. Forced labour (ie. slavery) and torture are on the rise. Rape and sexual mutulation has been a massive tool of the war; affecting both men and women (although women probably in much higher numbers), and is used to demoralize and humiliate. Humiliating and torturous methods of castrations and sterilizations are used to help exterminate populations as reprisals.

A disturbing case of a 3 year old little girl dying after a brutal rape by a group of rebel soldiers sends chills down the spine. Other stories, including horrors such as soldiers digging holes into the ground, lining them with razor blades and forcing the men to self-castrate; or the cutting of babies out of women’s bellies and forcing them to eat their own fetuses make me feel physically ill. Male children have been forced to rape their mothers and sisters; fathers their daughters. It is thoroughly disturbing to think about; but we need to think about this. This cannot continue to happen. Why are we sitting back and doing nothing to stop it?

This war is not about ethnicities. It is not about ancient hatreds or blood-hungry populations. It is about years of political manipulations, massive theft of resources and land, denial of rights and we are all connected to it whether we truly know the extent or not.

Every time we buy an electronic product- we are connected. We are connected through the political choices of our elected leaders. We are also connected because we are all humans. We all share the same blood, the same organs, the same flesh, the same souls… We need to work together to develop solutions to transform this violence. Too many innocent people are dying, being tortured or enslaved, raped or beaten and money is just not a good enough reason for it.

Please. Take the time. When you buy an electronic product, call the manufacturers or the corporations that sell, distribute or produce them. Ask them, just ask them what they are doing to stop war resources from getting into their products. You don’t have to take it much further. When enough people make the connection between what we use, where it comes from and what effect this is having and start to demand that corporations have ethical purchasing– something more positive must come.

Please. Take the time. Write a letter to your government. Ask them to send support, either financially, or in peacekeeping troop personnel to help build peace in this region. Ask them to create policies to ensure corporations are acting in legal and ethical manners throughout the world.

Alone, we do very little, but our voices together can help to make a change.

If you need suggestions on what to write or who you can contact, please feel free to ask me (apeaceofconflict@gmail.com)– I’ll be happy to help!

-RS

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