The world's most respected human rights organization has just accused this country of complicity in torture. Canadians should hang their heads in shame.Somewhere between worrying about Brian Mulroney's effect on Harper, somebody decided to respond.
Yesterday, the London-based international secretariat of Amnesty International released a 38-page report into detainee transfers conducted by Canada and other members of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The report is based upon Amnesty International's own field research, as well as on-the-ground reports from other reputable human rights and media organizations.
Back in December 2005, Canada and Afghanistan concluded an "arrangement" on detainee transfers that lacked basic verification mechanisms, such as the right for Canadian officials to visit transferred detainees. Last May, under the threat of a federal court injunction, the Canadian government negotiated an improved arrangement.
But the new arrangement has failed to work. According to Amnesty International, transferred detainees remain "at substantial risk of torture and other ill-treatment."
The human rights organization cites two reports from the UN secretary general, the most recent from just two months ago, pointing to the use of torture in a "significant number of cases." It collates a number of media reports to the same effect, as well as statements from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. It highlights the admission, by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade last summer, that Canadian officials had received at least six first-hand reports of torture.
Yesterday, the Canadian Department of National Defence responded to the Amnesty International report by stating that "Afghanistan is a sovereign country with a constitution that requires the protection of human rights, and which has the responsibility for detention of Afghans."DND is way off the mark here. This is a cheap-out along with a cop out.
The response misses the point. Canada is a sovereign country, too. We have our own constitutional and international legal responsibilities that are engaged whenever our soldiers act overseas. And we had, until recently, a strong reputation as a human rights respecting state.
First, Afghanistan is NOT sovereign. Any country with somebody else's army on the ground fighting for the survival of a questionable government, relying on others for materiel and combat support, is not totally independent.
The truth is, DND and the Canadian Forces have an obligation, no matter where our forces are deployed, to observe Canadian law. We don't get to ignore the mistreatment of prisoners taken by our forces, even if that mistreatment is happening at the hands of others after being turned over.
The responsibility for the detention of prisoners falls to the Aghanistan authorities because we have agreed to that obviously flawed arrangement. As a belligerent involved in a war, we have every right to retain prisoners in Canadian custody.
It's about time prisoners taken by Canadian Forces were placed in Canadian custody until the objectives of the Canadian mission have been fully satisfied. And if the argument is that it is too costly to do so, we shouldn't be involved at all.
Did I say, "objectives"?
Over to you, MacKay.