KABUL — A UN agency has expressed concern that torture may have been used to extract confessions over the alleged serial poisoning of Afghan schoolgirls, which experts say is more likely to be mass hysteria.
Sweeping arrests were made last month after the government came under pressure to act as hundreds of schoolgirls fell ill and fainted in schools in the northern province of Takhar on an almost daily basis.
The national intelligence agency, the NDS, announced at a news conference on June 6 that 15 suspects – including two schoolgirls – had confessed to being involved in poisoning the pupils.
The authorities blame Taliban insurgents notorious for their opposition to schooling for girls, saying the hardline Islamists have poisoned water supplies or somehow gassed the pupils – winning headlines around the world.
But the human rights unitof the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has raised concerns that the confessions might be suspect.
“The UN is unaware of any forensic evidence to support the allegations that poison has been used in the affected schools,” James Rodehaver, head of UNAMA’s human rights unit, told AFP this week.
“UNAMA has made public its concerns about the use of torture in selected NDS facilities throughout the country, including Takhar, as a means to force persons suspected of insurgency activities to confess,” he said.
“It is also very concerning that NDS publicized the confessions of the suspects in the Takhar case, including of the two schoolgirls. This violates fair trial rights, including the presumption of innocence, of the accused.”
If it is shown that the confessions were forced, it is the duty of the courts to throw the confessions out as evidence, Rodehaver said.
The government denied that the suspects had been tortured.
“This is absolutely wrong, no one was tortured,” said interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi. — AFP