Photo: Thomas Blom
This project investigates the fate of detainees made by Dutch and Australian forces during their mission in Uruzgan. What happened to them, after they were transferred to the Afghan security services?
The investigation started with a veteran who told us a chilling story. He had transferred a detainee, that was mis-treated before his eyes, but he wasn’t allowed to intervene. When inquiring what would happen to the detainee, his boss at that time told him: "If you are very quiet and you wait a little longer, you will hear it for yourself." He concluded: it means he will be executed.
Important to note that prior to the mission, the fate of detainees was a political issue in the Netherlands. International bodies and MPs were well aware of the risk of transferring detainees to a possible situation of torture - and the respective responsibility given the non-refoulement principle of international law.
The minister of Foreign Affairs of the time - Ben Bot - promised a monitoring system to protect detainees from potential ill treatment. They would visit within a week after transfer and every 3 months after. But our investigations shows that didn’t happen. And detainees were tortured despite the promises of monitoring.
First, we checked whether we could verify the suspicions of a single veteran. We could. There were more veterans who shared the same concerns.
Then we checked with the Dutch Ministry of Defense. What did they know about the prisoners involved? That proved to be inconclusive.
Then we worked with Afghan researchers in Uruzgan. Their report was reviewed by us and revealed a worrying picture of the conditions in Afghan security forces prisons.
After this, and with the help of an Afghan colleague, we traced 6 detainees who were arrested and transferred by the Dutch or Australian forces. Four of them were confirmed by a source within the Ministry of Defense.
They all tell similar stories: "I was taken to the torture chamber. They hung me up and hit me with rods. They threatened to kill me if I didn't pay the money."
Another: “I am now thirty, I should have a family and a wife to look after, but instead I work to be able to pay back my debts.”
Important to note that these people might have been arrested because they were engaged in a fight against the ISAF (International Security Assistace Force).
But that doesn’t change the fact they have a right to a fair trial. Or as Liesbeth Zegveld, human rights lawyer noted: “It's happening far away, it's about people without power, without money. Then you easily walk over them. That is why accountability is so extremely important in this situation."
Through a FOI request, we found only 69 reports of monitoring visits while 230 detainees have been transferred to the NDS. Nonetheless, the ministries of defense and foreign affairs concluded when they reported to the parliament in 2011: "The prisoners transferred by the Netherlands have not been tortured or treated inhumanely."
When questioned by MPs in the parliament, the Dutch minister of foreign affairs started an internal investigation. It focusses on the fate of the detainees and the missing reports of monitoring visits.