Last December I announced Australia’s detainee management framework for Afghanistan following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan Province on 1 August 2010.
Getting Australia’s detainee management arrangements right was important.
Australia takes very seriously its responsibility for ensuring detainees are treated with dignity and respect as befits the professionalism of our forces and consistent with our domestic and international legal obligations.
In developing this framework, Australia has two priorities in mind. The first priority is the critical need to remove insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, International Security Assistance Force and Afghan lives. The second priority is the need to ensure humane treatment of detainees, consistent with Australian values and our legal obligations.
The detainee management framework draws on applicable international standards and advice from international organisations. It is consistent with the Laws of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions.
After detainees are captured, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) holds them in a purpose-built screening facility in Tarin Kot in Uruzgan Province for a limited amount of time.
The screening facility is intended to be under constant camera surveillance and the facility is open to regular inspection by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Detainees in the Australian custody are able to freely practice their religion, and are provided access to exercise, adequate food and water, suitable sleeping arrangements and other amenities.
Once initial screening is complete, the detainees are transferred either to Afghan or United States custody, or released if there is insufficient evidence to justify ongoing detention.
Those assessed as posing a less serious threat are transferred to the Afghan National Directorate of Security in Uruzgan.
Those assessed as posing a serious threat are transferred to the US-run detention facility in Parwan Province. This provides a level of security appropriate for housing high-risk insurgents.
In the period 1 August 2010 to 20 March 2011, Australia apprehended 468 detainees. Of these, 92 have been transferred to Afghan or United States authorities. The remainder have been released following initial screening.
In the same period, I am advised the ADF have captured five people who were subsequently released, then recaptured. Four of the individuals in question were released as there was insufficient evidence to warrant their continued detention.
In the case of the fifth individual, the second time he was apprehended there was sufficient evidence to provide a conclusive link to the insurgency. In accordance with Australia’s detainee management framework, he was transferred to the Detention Facility in Parwan.
Detainee monitoring and allegations of mistreatment
A detainee monitoring team of Australian officials monitors detainees’ welfare and conditions while they are in US or Afghan custody, until they are released or sentenced. The monitoring team visit detainees shortly after transfer and around every four weeks after the initial visits.
This monitoring is underpinned by formal arrangements with Afghanistan and the US, which include assurances on the humane treatment of detainees and free access by Australian officials and human rights organisations.
Any allegation of mistreatment is investigated.
In an update on 17 February, I advised that since 1 August 2010, 8 allegations from 6 detainees, have been made and thoroughly investigated. These allegations were found to have had no substance and were dismissed.
Since providing the 17 February update, there has been a further allegation of detainee mistreatment against the ADF, which is currently being investigated.
These allegations and the outcome of the comprehensive investigations are reported in full to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and appropriate humanitarian organisations.