VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian military has stopped transferring detainees in Afghanistan to the control of Afghan authorities due to concern over torture allegations, according to a government letter released on Wednesday.
Canada stopped the transfers in November but did not disclose the change in policy until this week, according to Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which released the letter.
The groups have sued the federal government over the transfer policy.
Canada’s Department of Justice said in the letter it halted the transfers after receiving a report in November from a Canadian monitoring group with a credible allegation of mistreatment at an Afghan detention facility.
The allegation was under investigation and “Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations,” the department said in the letter.
International conventions prohibit a country from handing over prisoners if there is a reason to suspect they will become victims of abuse.
Canada has 2,500 combat troops in the southern city of Kandahar, a region where the Taliban are concentrated.
The federal government denied as recently as October allegations that Taliban prisoners had been tortured after being handed over by Canadian troops, dismissing the reports as Taliban lies.
The government did say in November that there was a case that did involve a legitimate complaint, an official in the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.
A political uproar over the issue had prompted the government in May to sign an agreement with Afghanistan that allowed Canadian officials unfettered access to any prisoners handed over by Canada.
“The government’s decision (to stop transfers) amounts to a concession that the May 2007 monitoring agreement has failed to prevent torture by Afghan authorities,” said Jason Gratl, president of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
An Amnesty International representative said the torture of detainees after the May agreement was “predictable and avoidable.”
The groups said they would continue their legal action because Ottawa had not agreed to stop the transfers indefinitely.
Reporting David Ljunggren and Allan Dowd, Editing by Rob Wilson