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ICRC visits to detainees in Afghanistan

13-12-2007 Interview

It is well-known that the ICRC visits detainees worldwide. But to whom exactly does it report? Interview with Pierre Kraehenbuehl on ICRC visits to detainees in Afghanistan

 Where does the ICRC actually visit detainees in Afghanistan? Does it have access to all places of detention?  

  ©ICRC/M. Kokic/af-e-00914    
Kandahar, central prison    
    In Afghanistan, the ICRC regularly visits over 80 Afghan detention places, including National Security Directorate detention centres. Security constraints sometimes prevent ICRC delegates fro m visiting places of detention that are located in remote areas.

The ICRC has also been visiting detainees at the US-run Bagram military airbase (Bagram Temporary Internment Facility) since January 2002 as well as detainees held by NATO/ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces in Afghanistan.

The ICRC's priority is to visit people held in connection with the continuing conflict in Afghanistan

However, not all places of detention and detainees are notified to the ICRC. The organization can therefore not confirm that it has access to all detainees in Afghanistan.

 Does the ICRC visit all detainees handed over by ISAF/NATO to the Afghan authorities? Does it share its findings with ISAF/NATO?  

  ©ICRC/M. Kokic/af-e-00914    
Kandahar, central prison. ICRC delegate visits security detainees in the juvenile section.    
    Where the ICRC has access, it gives the same attention to all detainees, whether they were transferred by international forces into the Afghan detention system or have been in Afghan custody all along. When the ICRC is informed of the transfer of a detainee from ISAF/NATO to Afghan custody, the ICRC will follow up on the respective detainee during its regular visits to places of detention.

Where the ICRC visits detainees, it raises its observations and possible concerns about their situation during confidential contacts with the detaining authorities, to ensure that minimum standards of detention are maintained .  

Concerning detention centres run by Afghan authorities, the ICRC reports its findings solely and exclusively to the Afghan authorities with a view to improving conditions of detention and treatment of detainees. It does not report its observations to any other party or make them public. 

Similarly, observations made regarding detainees held by any of the ISAF/NATO countries are shared exclusively with that country's detaining authorities.

 What are the standard procedures for obtaining information about detention?  



In 2006, the ICRC visited 2600 prisons and detention centres holding nearly half a million detainees in about 70 countries. The aim of these visits is to improve conditions of detention and treatment, when necessary, and to help restore and maintain links between detainees and their families. The ICRC does this in a purely neutral and humanitarian capacity.

The ICRC's findings are mainly based on first-hand observations made during visits by ICRC delegates to detention facilities, private one-on-one discussions with detainees and regular contacts with the detaining authorities. The ICRC conveys its findings to the authorities, with the expectation that they will address any problems as quickly as possible.



 Why doesn't the ICRC speak out publicly about detention conditions in Afghanistan or elsewhere?  


The fact that the ICRC does not publicize its findings does not indicate satisfaction with the conditions of any given detention place. Equally, the fact that the ICRC visits a place of detention and has access to it regularly does not imply that there are no concerns over conditions of detention and treatment. However, these concerns are raised in a bilateral and confidential dialogue with the detaining authorities only.

Wherever the ICRC visits places of detention, its findings and observations about the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees are discussed directly and confidentially with the authorities in charge.

Confidentiality is an important working tool for the ICRC in order to preserve the exclusively humanitarian and neutral nature of its work. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that the ICRC obtains and, importantly, maintains, access to detainees around the world held in highly sensitive situations of armed conflict or other situations of violence. Working outside t he spotlight of media attention often makes it easier for the ICRC and the detaining authorities to achieve concrete progress in detention places.