LONDON (Reuters) - British forces are breaking the law by detaining up to 85 Afghans without charge at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a law firm acting for eight of the men said on Wednesday.
British firm Public Interest Lawyers said their clients had been held for up to 14 months without access to lawyers or being told why they were being detained, and that this was “in clear breach of UK and international law.”
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denied their detention was illegal, and said the threat of court action in Britain was preventing the transfer of the detainees to Afghan authorities.
“The UK’s temporary holding facilities at Camp Bastion are regularly monitored by the ICRC,” the MoD said in a statement, referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“All UK detentions in Afghanistan are legal under the U.N. mandate and comply with all applicable international obligations,” the MoD added.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said the government was investigating the Camp Bastion detentions.
“We have repeatedly demanded foreign troops operating in Afghanistan to hand over Afghan detainees to the Afghan authorities,” Faizi said.
Last November, British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond imposed a ban on transferring suspects to Afghan forces due to concerns over ill treatment, a move he said was pushed by the very law firm representing the Afghan detainees at Camp Bastion.
“Last year (Public Interest Lawyers) started proceedings against the department precisely to prevent us handing them over to the Afghan judicial authorities because of concerns about treatment of prisoners,” Hammond told the BBC.
He added that the detainees were suspected of murdering British troops and planting roadside bombs.
Housing around 30,000 staff, Camp Bastion is the largest British military base in Afghanistan. British troops are handing over security operations to Afghan forces and are due to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Mohammed Abbas in London and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; editing by Mike Collett-White