Risk of abuse delayed prisoner transfer

The defence minister denies that the Afghan prisoner’s detention breeched international human rights conventions

The Danish forces in Afghanistan have transferred an Afghan prisoner who spent 200 days in their custody in Camp Bastion in the Helmand province to the Parwan prison near Kabul, according to the operative command of the Danish military.

The Afghan man, who is suspected of either making or laying roadside bombs, was captured by Danish soldiers on 5 December 2012 and has remained in Danish hands ever since. The Danish forces and the Defence Ministry have had a difficult time deciding what to do with the man after prisoner transfers to the Afghan authorities were suspended due to the risk of them being subjected to abuse and torture.

The prisoner transfer suspension led the Danes to build a small prison using containers, and they’ve tried to make the prisoner’s ‘stay’ more comfortable by allowing phone calls to his family and a daily visit from an interpreter. The prisoner has also had access to a Koran and a mullah.

But according to the international human rights organisation Amnesty International Denmark, the intentions to protect the prisoner robbed him of other rights, including the right to an immediate trial.

The defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), rejects any such notion.

“Firstly, the detained individual has been held in good conditions and secondly, we have not breached any conventions,” Hækkerup told Politiken newspaper. “It’s not a breach that is against any convention and we have done what we could to make his stay tolerable.”

Amnesty International Denmark's legal consultant, Claus Juul, argued however that while he understood the practical problems that the Danish government faced, it was not acceptable that the prisoner spent seven months waiting to see a judge.

After the prisoner is transferred and awaits his trial in the Afghan justice system, a Danish military lawyer and a doctor will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that the prisoner is not subjected to abuse.

The news comes just less than a week after the Danish defence was cleared of torture charges in connection with handing over prisoners to US forces back in 2002.