U.N. Expert Slams U.S. Actions in Afghanistan

U.N. (search) human rights expert criticized the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan (search) for violating international law by allegedly beating Afghans to death and forcing some to remove their clothes or wear hoods.

Cherif Bassiouni (search), a law professor at DePaul University in Chicago who is the U.N. Human Rights Commission's independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, said in a report Monday to the U.N. General Assembly that the coalition should be "a role model" for Afghan authorities — but it often is not.

"When they engage in practices that violate or ignore the norms of international human rights and international humanitarian law, they establish a double standard, enabling the continuation of abuses by various domestic actors," he said.

But Bassiouni blamed warlords, local commanders, and drug traffickers for most of the rights violations and stressed that "the absence of security has a direct and significant impact on all human rights."

"The coalition forces, which at one time could have marginalized these warlords, did not do so, and even worked with them to combat the Taliban regime and to pursue al-Qaida," he said. "This situation contributed to the entrenchment of the warlords."

Subsequently, the 18,000-strong U.S.-led coalition and 9,000 NATO troops based mainly in Kabul have supported the government's program to disarm and demobilize combatants, Bassiouni said.

While the coalition justifies its practices as necessary to fighting the "war on terrorism," Bassiouni said, "many coalition activities undermine the goals of enhancing national compliance with international law and weaken the government's efforts to enforce international law standards."

He cited several examples of alleged violations by coalition troops, including entering people's homes without warrants, detaining people without judicial authority, "beatings resulting in death, ...forced nudity and public embarrassment, sleep deprivation, prolonged squatting, and hooding and sensory deprivation."

Since no U.S. detention centers are open to inspection, Bassiouni said, "there is no way of ascertaining the veracity of these allegations."

But he said several incidents have been reported including possible criminal charges against up to 28 U.S. soldiers in connection with the deaths of two prisoners at an American-run prison in Afghanistan two years ago.

Bassiouni said he also received reports from international human rights organizations and the U.N. mission in Afghanistan regarding individuals who died in coalition custody. Some bodies were reportedly returned to their families "showing signs of torture, including bruises and internal bleeding from severe beatings and serious burn marks on victims' skin," he said.

The U.N. expert said an estimated 300-400 detainees are being held "without legal process" under domestic or international law at detention facilities operated by the coalition at Bagram, Kandahar and at field "fire bases."

He called for the Afghan government to sign agreements with the coalition and the separate NATO-led force in Afghanistan covering arrests, searches and seizures and detentions, in accordance with international law.

Despite serious human rights problems that must be tackled, President Hamid Karzai's government "has accomplished a great deal" and "there is no doubt that the people of Afghanistan are better off today than they were during the 23 years of conflict that preceded 2001," Bassiouni said.

Bassiouni expressed "special concern at pressing human rights issues about which the government is in a position to take immediate corrective action" — from improving the failing justice system to helping returning refugees who face extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, extortion and seizure of their land by local commanders.