Today I announce the details of Australia’s detainee management framework in Afghanistan following the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan Province on 1 August 2010.
Until 1 August this year, Dutch forces took responsibility for detainees captured by the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
On 1 August, leadership in Uruzgan Province passed from the Netherlands to the multinational Combined Team-Uruzgan. Interim arrangements on detainee management were put in place at that time.
The Government has now finalised with Afghan and United States authorities a comprehensive detainee management framework. It formalises the interim arrangements in place since 1 August.
Getting Australia’s detainee management arrangements right is 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 had two priorities in mind:
* First, the critical need to remove insurgents from the battlefield, where they endanger Australian, International Security Assistance Force and Afghan lives, and * Second, 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, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
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 Kowt in Uruzgan Province for a limited amount of time.
The screening facility is under constant camera surveillance and the facility is open to regular ICRC inspection.
Detainees in the ADF’s custody are able to freely practice their religion, and are provided access to exercise, sustenance, 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. The US currently runs this facility, but is aiming to transition to Afghan control, commencing next year.
When detainees are transferred, the ADF provides evidence packs to support further investigation and possible prosecution under Afghan law.
Since 1 August 2010 to 12 December 2010, Australia has apprehended 348 detainees. Of these, 64 have been transferred to Afghan or US authorities. The remainder have been released following initial screening.
Australian officials, both ADF and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, continue to monitor 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.
I will continue to provide regular updates, including to the Parliament, on developments in Afghanistan.
The operation in practice of our detainee management framework in practice will form part of these regular updates.
The new arrangements will be formalised by the Chief of the Defence Force with a Directive which will align our ADF operations in Afghanistan with this policy.