August 27, 2017 / 6:36 AM / 4 months ago

New law needed to allow torture victims to sue Afghan government: activists

KABUL (Reuters) - Human rights activists are urging Afganistan’s President Ashraf Ghani to expand anti-torture laws enacted months ago to allow victims abused by security forces to seek restitution and compensation.

A “Redress Annex” attached to the anti-torture law would allow victims to take the government to civil court, something not currently allowed under the law, say activists.

The annex has been drafted and its backers hope Ghani will sign a decree making it an official part of the law. A spokesman for Ghani’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

As of now, it is up to the government to investigate and prosecute members of its own security forces who are accused of torture, something activists and investigators say is rare.

“The pervasiveness of torture in Afghanistan makes its criminalization and the prosecution of alleged torturers an urgent priority,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Patricia Gossman wrote in a post calling for the annex to be enacted.

“But the government also needs to enshrine in law the rights of torture victims to redress for their suffering.”

If prosecutors delay, “a compensation system would create a new avenue for holding the government accountable,” she said.

Human rights investigators have praised recent moves by Ghani’s administration to criminalize torture, but at a practical level reports of torture continue to be widespread.

In April, a U.N. report said measures by the government had failed to reduce torture, with nearly 40 percent of conflict-related detainees interviewed by the investigators reporting that they had been tortured or mistreated by Afghan security forces, mostly the police and intelligence services.

Among the methods described in the report were severe beatings to the body and soles of the feet with sticks, plastic pipes or cables, electric shocks, including to the genitals, prolonged suspension by the arms, and suffocation.

Allowing victims to sue in civil court would ensure that they receive compensation and create a public record of torture cases, said Shaharzad Akbar, a civil society activist who works on anti-torture causes.

“Governments across the world are hesitant to prosecute their employees, so redress creates a civil mechanism for the public to hold government accountable,” she said.

“This leads to an internal conversation in the government about the responsibility of government entities to prevent torture.”

Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Michael Perry

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