World Court Inquiry Sought in Afghan Rapes
The International Criminal Court should probe allegations some Canadian officers serving in Afghanistan told subordinates to look the other way when Afghan soldiers and local interpreters sodomized young boys, says one of Canada's leading human-rights lawyers.
University of British Columbia international law and politics expert Michael Byers, who was among a group of academics who sought to have former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet detained as a war criminal, said he plans to ask the ICC to begin its own inquiry into the charges.
In a story published yesterday in the Star, former Canadian soldier Tyrel Braaten said that during his tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2006, he witnessed Afghan interpreters bringing young boys inside buildings at Forward Operating Base Wilson, a remote Canadian base outside Kandahar. The boys were then sodomized by the interpreters and Afghan soldiers, Braaten said.
Other Canadian soldiers have complained to chaplains and military medical personnel that officers told them not to get involved because the sodomy was tantamount to "cultural differences."
If the allegations are true, Byers said, they will reflect more poorly on the Canadian military than the scandal in the 1993 in Somalia when Canadian soldiers tortured and murdered a Somali teenager who snuck into a Canadian base.
"We're spending $18 billion on this mission in Afghanistan and it's engaged the hearts and minds of 33 million Canadians in different ways," Byers said in a phone interview from London. "The rape of children in a conflict zone is at least as serious as the torture of that young Somalian during the Canadian mission there."
Also yesterday, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada said the Ministry of Defence in Kabul is aware of the allegations levelled by Braaten and others, but won't act until it receives more detailed information from Canada. "These allegations go back to 2006, not something that occurred just last week," said Ambassador Omar Samad. "We don't have names, dates and legal testimony."
The Canadian Forces' National Investigation Service is investigating the allegations and is expected to complete its probe in the spring. A military board of inquiry, meantime, is also investigating and is going to extraordinary lengths to find prospective witnesses. In some instances, the board's investigating officers are using Facebook to obtain soldiers' lists of friends and contacting them to ask about the alleged rapes, according to several soldiers contacted in this manner.
Still, Byers said he wants the ICC to investigate because he has "concerns about self-investigation and the demonstrated delays in the Canadian military's investigation of alleged detainee abuse."
Based in The Hague and established in 2002, the ICC can investigate, prosecute and punish serious violations of international law, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The former U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues during the Clinton administration, David Scheffer, said in an interview it would be difficult to coax the ICC to pursue rape allegations "unless a real case could be made that Canada is unwilling or unable genuinely to investigate its own military conduct."
As lawyers yesterday debated murky legal questions, such as whether Canada has jurisdiction to charge Afghan citizens who work for Canada as interpreters, some military sources said they weren't surprised by Braaten's claims.
"It's common knowledge that young boys are used in this way in Afghanistan," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "It's the great dichotomy of Afghanistan. Homosexuality is treated as a cardinal sin, but it's still common for men to have sex with boys."
Moreover, Adams said he wasn't surprised that some Canadian soldiers say they were told to ignore cases of abuse."
"I think (Western soldiers) look the other way about a number of things, like opium production and warlordism. They are looking the other way on almost everything."
During 2006, FOB was regularly being attacked by Taliban armed with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, a possible reason why abuse accusations haven't garnered more scrutiny until now.
"I think it's safe to say that they had other worries, like how they were staying alive," said retired Canadian major-general Lewis MacKenzie.
MacKenzie said while the interpreters would have travelled on and off the base freely, after they were screened by Canadian security, young boys would be another matter. "It would have been abnormal for them to have been allowed on the base."
Asked about protocol for allowing civilians on bases in Afghanistan, a CF spokesperson described it as a "rigorous and robust" program.