[imc-ottawa] Rabble: Court challenge to torture in Afghanistan
christoff at resist.ca
Thu Nov 22 17:15:22 PST 2007
Rabble: Court challenge to torture in Afghanistan
An interview with Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International in
> by Stefan Christoff
November 19, 2007
In Canada, Amnesty International has filed a landmark lawsuit directed at the
Canadian government, on the basis that Canada is violating the constitution by
handing over prisoners to Afghan authorities in the context of NATO military
operations in the country and accusations of widespread torture in Afghan
Human rights organizations in Canada, including Amnesty International and the
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, have sued the government in the
context of widespread media reports that prisoners captured by Canadian forces
were facing torture in Afghan prisons.
Last week a major decision was released by Canada's Federal Court, which ruled
the lawsuit filed concerning torture in Afghanistan has grounds on which to
move forward despite major legal maneuvers from government legal
representatives to have the legal challenge thrown out of court.
Currently Canada maintains over 2500 troops in Afghanistan, mainly in the
southern province of Kandahar, in a military mission that the majority of
people in Canada don't support, according to repeated opinion polls. Alex Neve,
the Secretary General of Amnesty International in Canada, comments on the
current Federal Court case and answers questions from Stefan Christoff...
Alex Neve: Amnesty International has had long standing concerns with the
approach that Canada has been taking to handling prisoners apprehended by
Canadian forces in the context of conflict in Afghanistan. Canada has been
deployed in Afghanistan since early 2002 and since then Canada has been taking
As a human rights organization we want to ensure that Canada is treating those
prisoners in a way that is completely consistent with international human
rights standards. Initially Canada decided that they would hand all prisoners
over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Amnesty raised concerns on this matter
given that there are many concerns related to U.S. practices in Afghanistan,
including the fact that many of those prisoners were going to end up being held
in Guantanamo Bay.
Amnesty asked Canada to change and revise that practice. After several years
the government finally decided to do so, but rather than taking the
responsibility of taking the prisoners onto their own shoulders, they decided
to turn to another country, this time Afghanistan itself and since the end of
2005 Canada's practice has been to hand the prisoners to Afghan authorities.
Our concern is that in Afghan prisons torture is rampant and systematic, in
which context in our view it's very likely that a good number of those who are
transferred from Canadian custody into the Afghan prison system will therefore
end up being tortured. If the risk of torture is a real one, which Amnesty
believes it is, it's incumbent upon Canada and it's actually a matter of
international legal obligation not to hand the prisoners over and to instead
adopt some other approach, some other way of keeping those prisoners in custody
that corresponds with international law.
Stefan Christoff: Can you address the current legal challenge that Amnesty has
launched in Canada, and explain Amnesty's role and specifically the Federal
Court decision that was made this past week?
Neve: Amnesty tried repeatedly to have this matter addressed through political
channels, we repeatedly brought our concerns to the attention of the Minister
of National Defense in particular, asking that Canada adopt a new approach, a
new strategy and those requests fell on deaf ears. The government refused to
revise its policy or practice in any way and in the end Amnesty felt that there
was no other option but to turn to the courts for a remedy.
Amnesty joined up with the British Colombia Civil Liberties Association, which
shared our concerns, and we launched a lawsuit in February of this year in
which we are seeking a Federal Court order that the practice of handing
prisoners over to Afghan authorities cease.
The Canadian government is fighting vigorously against our lawsuit and earlier
last month we were in court responding to a government application to try to
have our lawsuit summarily dismissed at the outset as being groundless. The
government threw every possible argument they could at the court in what really
seemed like a desperate effort to try to have the lawsuit thrown out of court
before it receives a full hearing.
On Monday [November 5], more quickly than expected, the Federal Court decision
on that particular application came out and the government's application was
unequivocally rejected on every count. It's a very strong judgment that
underscores that the issues we have brought forward are important issues that
are perfectly appropriate for a court to be looking at. Issues that are far
from groundless and do involve very critical human rights concerns and on that
basis the Federal Court has ruled that the case can go ahead and we look
forward to a full hearing being set in the next two to three months, we hope.
Christoff: Could you explain the details within the reports, the information
that Amnesty International has received from the ground in Afghanistan
regarding the situation of Afghan prisoners. Earlier this year there was a
breaking story that was published in the Globe and Mail, written by Graeme
Smith, detailing accounts of torture. Can you talk about the information that
you have received that lead you to take action on this issue?
Neve: Sadly there is nothing new about the proposition that torture is
systematic and widespread in Afghanistan. This is not something that has
suddenly emerged since the 2001 war and the new government; it is a
long-standing concern and reality in the Afghan prison system, an issue that
Amnesty International has documented and reported on publicly for many, many
The particular concerns as to what happens to battle field prisoners who end up
in Afghan prisons is a new issue. It's been very difficult to get clear
information as to what is happening to those prisoners. From a Canadian
perspective the government for instance refuses to identify who those prisoners
are, refuses to give their names or any details. Also Canada refuses to allow
them to have any access to lawyers, which makes it very difficult to do any
Amnesty very much welcomed the great work that the Globe and Mail was able to
do in terms of getting access to some of the prisoners after they had been
released from Afghan prisons. In the course of that work the Globe and Mail
documented some very serious and disturbing allegations of torture. Now, they
haven't been proven but they are very detailed allegations that are certainly
credible and consistent with other information that is available to us with
regard to the practice of torture in Afghanistan and therefore is something
that the government should be taking very seriously.
Sadly instead, at every turn, from responding to questions in the House of
Commons, or the kinds of arguments that the government lawyers have been
advancing in court, instead the line that has been taken has been to try to
diminish and dismiss out of hand these allegations because they come from
"Taliban fighters" and therefore aren't worthy of consideration. Well, when it
comes to torture it doesn't matter if you are a Taliban fighter or a
humanitarian worker, you should not be tortured and allegations made that you
have been tortured should be fairly and impartially investigated and that's
where Canada is falling short.
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