UK forces accused of illegally detaining Afghans

London-based Public Interest Lawyers on May 29 accused the UK military of holding at least eight men without charge at the UK temporary holding facility in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Their clients have allegedly been held for over eight months without charge and without access to lawyers in what could be a breach of international law. Applications for habeas corpus were issued on behalf of two of the men in April, and the military has ordered a hearing in July. UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond insisted that the holdings are in compliance with international law and that there are regular inspections by the International Committee of the Red Cross. He explained that standard military procedures, which required the detainees to be released to Afghan forces after 96 hours, were changed in November due to suspicions about the use of torture on prisoners by the Afghan forces. According to the Ministry of Defence, the detainees are being held in Camp Bastion until a safe path through the Afghan system could be assured.

Last year an Afghan detainee who was handed over to authorities in Afghanistan by UK forces won permission to challenge the legality of the transfer in a UK court. Before the High Court of Justice in London, Serdar Mohammed claimed that he had been transferred by British forces to a prison in Afghanistan where he was tortured by the Afghanistan intelligence service until he confessed that he was a member of the Taliban. The court felt there was “an arguable case” that required being heard out by a jury in order to determine the legality of the transfer. Observing the potential for torture, British forces have temporarily halted any future transfer of detainees to Afghanistan. Following the policy shift, a Ministry of Defense spokesperson claimed that UK does not transfer detainees to facilities where there is a risk of torture. In 2010 a UK court ruled that restrictions must be placed on whether British soldiers in Afghanistan may transfer detainees to Afghan-run detention facilities.

From Jurist, May 30. Used with permission.


  1. Afghanistan demands transfer of prisoners at Bagram
    Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai demanded June 9 that all prisoners of war held by UK forces at Bagram Airfield be released into Afghan custody. The estimated number of detainees is more than 80. Karzai’s spokesperson, Aimal Faizi, confirmed that Karzai instructed National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta  to ask the British Embassy in Kabul to hand over the prisoners by June 22. The British embassy responded that while it supports the transfer of custody, it needs assurances that doing so would not result in a violation of British laws against torture. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also cautioned against the transfer of detainees. Faizi responded that, “Continuing the detention of Afghan nationals by the British forces will be a violation of our national sovereignty and our country’s laws.”

    From Jurist, June 10. Used with permission.