Monday, December 11, 2006

Torture and other interesting topics for conversation

Today I had a long conversation with the District Chief of Police and the Head of the Criminal Investigation Department in Qades District, Badghis. Their frankness was at once refreshing, disarming and a little disturbing. I introduced myself as the Human Rights Officer for the province, and explained that I was in town to do research and monitoring of the legality of detention in their police lock up and the district prison. They kicked off the discussion by telling me that although they know the rules and regulations regarding human rights, they are not able to follow them because the only way they can get the criminals in their district to confess is to beat and torture them. In the end we agreed to disagree on this point, but we were certainly all in agreement that it was good for them to be honest with me so that my report could be accurate and, hopefully, encourage the donors who will be reading it to continue to support the professionalisation of the Afghan National Police. After interveiwing all the detainees in the police cells and the district jail (which turned out to be the same place) I met the District Prosecutor to verify a number of apparent irregularities in the detainees cases. It was an interesting discussion. Where one detainee had told me that he had been in the prison for seven months and had not appeared before a court or been convicted, the prosecutor insisted that this prisoner had been arrested only a month prior and had been tried, convicted and sentenced to seven months imprisonment. Perhaps the prisoner misunderstood my question and told me his sentence when I asked how long he had been in the prison. With the various language and communication barriers it sometimes feels impossible to be absolutely certain of meaning. The prosecutor and I also had a disagreement as to whether it was a crime under Afghan law for a woman to run away from her home. A young woman had recently been detained for a week while under investigation for this alleged crime, in the end the prosecutor decided she had been kidnapped, but he was insistent that he had been legally entitled to arrest and detain her while she as investigated for the alleged crime. In the end I dropped the debate, I will leave that one to my friend Kathryn who I´ve got coming up to this remote province from Kabul in January or February. Kathryn trains the prosecutors in Kabul on gender and criminal justice, so she´s much better placed than I am to have a debate about the provisions of Afghan law in this regard. The woman had been released in any case, so I felt less compelled to get a resolution on the point today. It makes for a long day, after the bone-rattling drive for several hours we were sitting in cold corners of the prison yard for hours so that our interviews with the detainees and prisoners could be relatively private. Of course they are stuck there all the time, so it seems horrible to complain about just a few hours. But I will have to get out the yoga mat again tonight and stretch out my stiff limbs. I´ve been managing a good 40 minutes every morning since I got up here and I think it helps with the physical and mental impact of this kind of work. This morning I tried out my new meditation guide on the iPod, but I only lasted 15 out of the 38 minutes before I gave in to the voices and distractions. I´ll have to build up to that one. Once again I have photos, which will be posted as soon as I get back to Herat. Tonight I´m meeting the American police mentor team, who are working with the Afghan National Police in the province. I´m keen to talk about what I was told today and to find out whether they have any plans for training on investigation techniques, anything other than laying the suspect out on the ground and beating him with large wooden sticks would be an improvement so I´m guessing even the Americans will be able to help with this. Tomorrow morning I have a meeting with the Provincial Chief Prosecutor, this will be my first meeting with him because he is new and has replaced the chap I met last time I was up here. I may have to win him over to the plan for the gender and criminal justice workshop, so I´m hoping to make a good first connection. Then it´s on the road and back to Herat, where my own bed and bathroom are waiting for me. I just found out tonight that my colleague is being sent to New York for two months so I have to somehow fit all of her urgent work into my workplan for the coming few months. It was always going to be a busy little time, but now it is threatening to be ridiculous. I´ll have to pull out my best prioritisation and planning skills to get through this lot in one piece. But first there is the most important task of getting a Christmas tree this weekend! Update: After my slightly snide comment about the American police trainers, they just bought me pizza and a coke, which was very kind. Of course I would have preferred a glass of red wine, which was available at the Spanish PRT bar, but since the American military are prohibited from drinking alcohol while in an active theatre of war, i.e. Afghanistan, it seemed impolite to ask for a wine in place of the coke that they were all drinking. But now I´m off to have my second dinner with the Spanish guys, at least to have a glass of wine!

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