Canadian MPs call for ending detainee transfers to Afghan authorities

[JURIST] Canadian opposition parliamentarians Dennis Coderre (Liberal) and Paul Dewar (NDP) [official websites] Friday called for Canada's government to stop allowing detainees captured by Canadian forces in Afghanistan to be transferred to Afghan custody, alleging that once transferred, suspects are subjected to conditions that violate the Geneva Convention. Heavily redacted documents [text] released by the government earlier this week under a court order appear to show that even before press reports this spring Canadian officials had significant evidence that transferred suspects had been abused and that some had disappeared altogether. During question period [official transcript] in the House of Commons Friday, Dewar and Coderre engaged in a heated debate with government MP Laurie Hawn [official website], Parliamentary Secretary to Canada's Minister of National Defence:

Dewar: Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has been forced by a judge to release documents the NDP has been demanding for months. In the heavily censored documents, we have confirmed three key facts. One: the government was aware of conditions in Afghan prisons at the same time ministers claimed they knew nothing. Two: Canada is incapable of tracking all of its prisoners in over 600 Afghan prisons. Three: the detainee agreement is not being respected.... Is the government finally willing to admit it has been caught? Is it willing to admit that it is in violation of the Geneva Convention or do the Conservatives believe the Geneva Conventions are simply a suggestion list?

Hawn: Mr. Speaker, that question is ridiculous. Canada abides by the Geneva Convention. The primary responsibility rests with the democratically elected government of Afghanistan. It is obliged to abide by the Geneva Convention. We brought forward an arrangement in May of last year that is superior to the one that was in place previous to that. We are abiding by all measures. We are abiding by all requirements....

Coderre: Mr. Speaker, Canada violated the Geneva Convention in Afghanistan. Even worse, by setting out to hide the truth that it has known since the start, this Conservative government has deliberately violated the convention. It must immediately stop the transfers and repatriate the prisoners who have already been transferred....

Hawn: Mr. Speaker, and that is more of the same. The challenges highlighted in the recent reports just indicate that Canada is required to be there to continue helping the Afghan authorities to build their judicial system, to build their prison system, to build their governance systems, to rebuild their country and give them back the country that was stolen from them, and to give Afghan women, children and men back their lives. We are not abusing anybody's rights. We are working together with the Afghan authorities to ensure that those rights are sustained under the Geneva Convention and every other agreement we have entered into.
The Globe and Mail has more.

Last month, Amnesty International accused [JURIST report] the Canadian government of trying to derail a lawsuit over whether the Canadian Army [official website] in Afghanistan was transferring custody of detainees to Afghan forces to face torture by bogging down the lawsuit with a flurry of technical arguments. Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association [advocacy websites] brought complaints against the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal [official website] in Canada's Federal Court in February, alleging complicity in torture by Canadian personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) [official website]. In September, the Canadian Army said that independent investigators found no evidence to support allegations [JURIST reports] that the Army "may have aided or abetted the torture of detainees" by transferring them to Afghan custody. The Federal Court ruled earlier this month that the two advocacy groups should be granted public interest standing [JURIST report] to seek judicial review of the Canadian military's actions.


 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.